The Most Popular Names

A Baby Names Post

Three Questions

  • What are the most popular names historically?
    • Mary and John are the most popular names given to babies, but they built up a huge lead in the 1800’s.
  • How popular was the most popular name in different years?
    • About 1.2% of girls today are named Emma, but in 1880, 7.8% of girls were named Mary.
    • About 1% of boys today are named Liam, but in 1880, 8.7% of boys were named John.
  • How has the number of unique names given changed over time?
    • In 1880, 95% of babies were given one of 800 names (400 girl names and 400 boy names).
    • Today, 95% of babies are given one of 12,000 names (7,700 girl names and 4,400 boy names).

The Explosion in Name Variety

In the plots below we see that there has recently been a massive increase in the number of different names used. Between 1880 and 1960 roughly half of baby girls were given one of fifty unique names. For boys, there was even less variety, with half of boys receiving one of just thirty names. Now there are about five times as many (250) unique names on the list that covers half of baby girls, and five times as many (150) on the list for boys. At the extreme, we can see that we’ve gone from 400 names covering 95% of baby boys and girls in 1880 to needing 7,700 girl names and 4,400 boy names to cover 95% of births today.

Lief Esbenshade
Doctoral Candidate

My research interests include teacher evaluation, teacher mobility, and measurement theory.