Holly and Ivy: Two Festive First Names in History

Holly and Ivy, Festive First Names in History by Elizabeth Walne. Imagery of a little girl, holly and ivy motifs and my cedar tree logo.

If you’ve followed me for a little while, you’ll know I love names—first names, surnames, middle names, nicknames, place names – whatever.

As it’s Christmas, I’ve prepared a little post about two festive names that show two entirely different trends up to 2021: Holly and Ivy.

Ivy: the comeback queen

Let’s start with Ivy. If you know lots of children, you probably know one. If you know lots of over 80s, you also probably know one (or more!). Perhaps you know both?

Ivy was a very popular name in the Edwardian period. In 1905, she almost reached the top 15 girls’ names for England and Wales. Ivy remained buoyant throughout the war years before beginning a decline. By 1925, she had slumped to below position 30 in the charts, and by 1935, below 70. The name then fell out of the top 100 altogether. And there Ivy stayed, in relative obscurity, for more than 70 years.

In 2012, Ivy sprang back into the top 100, at around no 88. The following year, she shot up to the 60s, the next year the 50s and by 2015 ranked at 42. But Ivy wasn’t done; in the last figures available, those for 2020, she had risen a staggering 221 places in ten years to sit comfortably as the sixth most popular baby girl’s name of the year.

Ivy is following a pattern repeated by several other names. Many of our children’s Great Grandparents’ names are once again desirable. A similar pattern of loss and revival is evident for Emily, Ella, Lily, Ruby and Grace. Where it comes to boys’ names, you can compare Lewis, Arthur, Albert, Henry, Harry and Stanley to find a similar trend. Where the boys are concerned, there are shorter periods in obscurity, and often names reappear as shortened versions, e.g. Albie, Freddie and Alfie, making comparisons a little more difficult.

Holly: an early 2000s heroine

So how about Holly? Holly follows a different pattern (or perhaps, it may turn out she is where Ivy was 90 years ago). She appeared in the top 100 in the early 1980s and quickly rose to around position 22 by 1990. Holly attained peak popularity with parents in the early 2000s before falling away after 2010 in an almost perfectly symmetrical arc.

That said, there are still Hollys being born (in December, I wonder?), and Holly remains in the middle of the top 100 charts for England and Wales, only recently losing ground to Molly, who had tracked her closely since 1996.

Holly is one of several names that gained popularity for the first time through the 1970s, 80s and early 90s, only to fall away again by a greater or lesser extent in recent years. If you went to school in England in the late 1990s and 2000s, you almost undoubtedly knew Jessicas, Sophies, Katies, Megans and Ellies, for example. All of them shared the stage with Holly.

Try first name charts for yourself

Learn more about your own names of interest with the tools provided by the ONS for the last 100 years or so and last 25 years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reclaim Jane (February 2022)

What happens if you cast aside the carefully referenced report and try and fill the gaps left by the records? Reclaim Jane is an attempt to find the woman behind the snippets of archival evidence.

Read More »