What are the most popular names for American babies?

Each Mother’s Day in the United States, the Commissioner of Social Security publishes the most popular baby names based on all social security card applications for children born the previous year. The latest available lists of the top ten boys’ and girls’ names, relating to the year 2011, are as follows:

Position Boys Girls
1 Jacob Sophia
2 Mason Isabella
3 William Emma
4 Jayden Olivia
5 Noah Ava
6 Michael Emily
7 Ethan Abigail
8 Alexander Madison
9 Aiden Mia
10 Daniel Chloe

Several points can be made about these lists.

Firstly, it is a stable pair of lists. Jacob has been top of the male list since 1999, while Emily has only just fallen a little after having been in the top three female name from 1996-2008.

Secondly, for all the ethnic diversity of the USA, both these lists are remarkably Anglo-Saxon. None of the boys’ names except Jayden and Mason would be out of place in the UK and, of the girls’ names, only Madison would look odd in Britain.

Thirdly, there some distinct similarities between the most popular names in the USA and the UK. Five of the top ten American boys’ names and six of the top ten American girls’ names are in the top 20 for UK names of the appropriate gender. In the United States, two of the top four boys’ names begin with ‘J’, while this is the case for four of the top ten boys’ names in Britain. Emily is the sixth most popular girls’ name in the USA and it is the fifth most popular girls’ name in Britain.

As in many countries (and possibly even more so), in the USA names come in to and fall out of fashion very rapidly. Take Jacob which has topped the boys’ names list for more than a decade; the name was hardly used at all until the 1960s when it suddenly exploded into popularity. Or consider the girls’ name Emily; this was a modestly-used name in gentle decline until, again in the 1960s, it became incredibly popular.

I’m fascinated by the different names and naming practices around the world and I have written a major essay on the subject here.


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