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1000 Baby Names

The Top 10 Baby Names Over the Past 100 Years

Which decade saw two spellings of the same name reach the top 10? Which boys' names never seem to go out of style? And what's the biggest difference between boys' and girls' names in the last 100 years?

We're sharing the answers to these questions and more with our look at the most popular baby names of the past 100 years. Using baby name data from the United States Social Security Administration, we've compiled the most common boys' and girls' names for each of the past decades.

Keep reading for the rankings and our insights!

The More Traditional Gender

One difference between the popular boy and girl names of the last 100 years is how long the names remain popular. The list of girl names includes 59 different names, while the boys' list has a mere 35, meaning that fewer girls' names have attained top 10 status multiple times. Looking at the last 20 years in particular, the difference is striking. Only three girls names — Emily, Elizabeth, and Ashley — were in the top 10 during both the 1990s and 2000s, while eight boys' names maintained top 10 standing. Why are popular boys' names more consistent over time when compared to girls? One possible explanation is that passing down first names from father to son has been more common than from mother to daughter. Or perhaps parents simply feel more creative with girls' names. (If you have another idea, tell us in the comments!)

Boy Names That Never Go Out of Style 

Have you ever noticed that some boy names are common in not only your child's generation, but also your own, that of your parents, and that of your grandparents? The data shows it's not a coincidence. John, James, William, and Robert have made the top 10 baby boy names list for a whopping eight of the past 10 decades. Meanwhile, Michael has appeared in seven decades, Joseph in six, and David, Charles, Thomas, George, and Richard in five each.

Biblical Names

Biblical names have been more popular for boys over the last 100 years than for girls. Of the 35 unique boy names in the lists, 14 (40 percent) are biblical. Meanwhile, only nine of the 59 unique girl names (15 percent) have biblical references: Abigail, Anna, Deborah, Elizabeth, Hannah, Judith, Ruth, Sarah, and Sharon.

The Creative Spellings of the 1950s

Creative spellings are increasingly common these days, but we were surprised to see that this phenomenon first emerged about 60 years ago. In the 1950s, variations of one biblical girl name (Deborah and Debra) both attained top 10 rankings.

Goodbye For Good?

When names drop out of the top 10, do they ever come back? Rarely. William made a return to popularity in the 2000s after a long break during the 1980s and 1990s, and Joseph dropped out during the 1940s-1970s but returned to popularity during each of the past three decades. On the girl lists, most names do seem to say goodbye for good. Elizabeth is the only girl name that fell out of the top 10 decade lists in the past 100 years and then returned.

Top 10 Boys' Names Over the Last 100 Years

Rank 2000s 1990s 1980s 1970s 1960s
1 Jacob Michael Michael  Michael  Michael
2 Michael Christopher Christopher  Christopher  David 
3 Joshua Matthew Matthew  Jason  John 
4 Matthew Joshua Joshua  David  James 
5 Daniel Jacob David  James  Robert 
6 Christopher Nicholas James  John  Mark 
7 Andrew Andrew Daniel  Robert  William 
8 Ethan Daniel Robert  Brian  Richard 
9 Joseph Tyler John  William  Thomas 
10 William Joseph Joseph  Matthew  Jeffrey 
Rank 1950s 1940s 1930s 1920s 1910s
1 James  James  Robert  Robert  John 
2 Michael  Robert  James  John  William 
3 Robert  John  John  James  James 
4 John  William  William  William  Robert 
5 David  Richard  Richard  Charles  Joseph 
6 William  David  Charles  George  George 
7 Richard  Charles  Donald  Joseph  Charles 
8 Thomas  Thomas  George  Richard  Edward 
9 Mark  Michael  Thomas  Edward  Frank 
10 Charles  Ronald  Joseph  Donald  Thomas  


Top 10 Girls' Names Over the Past 100 Years

Rank 2000s 1990s 1980s 1970s 1960s
1 Emily Jessica Jessica  Jennifer  Lisa
2 Madison Ashley Jennifer  Amy  Mary 
3 Emma Emily Amanda  Melissa  Susan 
4 Olivia Sarah Ashley  Michelle  Karen 
5 Hannah Samantha Sarah  Kimberly  Kimberly 
6 Abigail Amanda Stephanie  Lisa  Patricia 
7 Isabella Brittany Melissa  Angela  Linda 
8 Samantha Elizabeth Nicole  Heather  Donna 
9 Elizabeth Taylor Elizabeth  Stephanie  Michelle 
10 Ashley Megan Heather  Nicole  Cynthia 
Rank 1950s 1940s 1930s 1920s 1910s
1 Mary  Mary  Mary  Mary  Mary 
2 Linda  Linda  Betty  Dorothy  Helen 
3 Patricia  Barbara  Barbara  Helen  Dorothy 
4 Susan  Patricia  Shirley  Betty  Margaret 
5 Deborah  Carol  Patricia  Margaret  Ruth 
6 Barbara  Sandra  Dorothy  Ruth  Mildred 
7 Debra  Nancy  Joan  Virginia  Anna 
8 Karen  Sharon  Margaret  Doris  Elizabeth 
9 Nancy  Judith  Nancy  Mildred  Frances 
10 Donna  Susan  Helen  Frances  Virginia 
Image Source: Shutterstock
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