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Popular Baby Names: The Top of the Top

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Popular baby names get that way for a reason: Most offer a lot to like to a wide range of parents.  The upshot: the list of 100 Most Popular Baby Names is studded with great names.  While many parents have a horror of choosing a name that’s overexposed, some of the most popular choices are simply too wonderful to resist.

If you love one of these popular baby names, you might feel better about using it when you learn that many fewer babies receive one of the top names now than ever before.  So even though there are certainly a lot of Emmas and Jacobs around, there are many fewer than there were Jennifers or Michaels, Marys or Johns, or any of the other top names of the past.

Here, what we consider the ten best names for girls and boys from the Top 100.

AUDREYAudrey has been rising surely and steadily since the early 1970s, achieving a new fashion status in the past decade, since the death of the incandescent actress Audrey Hepburn.  An ancient saint’s name, it means “noble strength” and also has the stylish A initial.

CHARLOTTE – Is there another classic name more luscious than Charlotte? Like many of our top popular girls’ names, Charlotte combines strength with prettiness.

CHLOE – One of the brightest stars of the popularity list, Chloe has been at or near the very top of the charts in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Europe for many years now but is still climbing in the U.S.  In case you’re still unsure how to pronounce it, it’s klow(rhyming with flow)-ee.  Umlauts and accents not recommended for Americans.

CLAIRE – Clear, airy, straightforward without being the least bit hard, Claire is finding favor as a middle name as well as a first.

EMMA – From the Jane Austen heroine to the revolutionary Emma Goldman, from Madame Bovary to Ms. Peel, Emma offers enough fascinating references to inspire a wide range of parents.  That’s catapulted it to the number one spot, and its crossover with longtime number one Emily along with upstarts like Emilia and Emmy make it feel nearly pandemic.  Yet it’s a simple name with a deep history and an uplifting meaning – healer of the universe – and so it still holds a lot of intrinsic appeal.

GRACELong thought to be an Old Lady name, Grace hit its nadir in 1977 and then began slowly to climb, thrust into the spotlight by the untimely 1982 death of the past century’s most famous and attractive Grace, the princess of Monaco who had been the movie star Grace Kelly.  Becoming one of the most-used middle names of our era.

ISABELLA, ISABELLE, and especially ISABEL – Twenty-five years ago, I knew a little girl named Isabel, at the time a quirky classic desperately deserving of revival.  We championed the name and parents needed little encouragement to adopt it and all its sisters: the Spanish and Italian Isabella, the French Isabelle, the streamlined English Isabel, even the still-quirky Scottish Isobel.

JULIA – An ancient Roman name that has remained in the Top 150 since the beginning of recorded American naming history in 1880, Julia is both strong and lovely.

KATHERINEKatherine is a true classic, often chosen these days to get to the appealing nickname Kate.  To address a recent question on the name’s pronunciation: two syllables or three?  Technically, I suppose, three, though I don’t know anyone who sounds out the middle “er.”  For all intents and purposes, I call it two.

OLIVIA – Another old-fashioned favorite that’s become an unlikely popular girl.  Olivia Newton-John obviously helped, along with Romeo & Juliet’s Olivia Hussey: The name started vaulting straight up the charts in the early 70s.  The Shakespearean Olivia in Twelfth Night was a bereaved countess whom everyone fell in love with.

SOPHIA and SOPHIE – What a difference a letter makes: Sophia is sophisticated while Sophie is spunky.  But the names share a meaning – wisdom – appealing to modern parents who want their daughters to be intelligent as well as sweet and beautiful.  The Sophia form has been popular among European royalty for centuries.

Boys

BENJAMIN – One of the first wave of Old Testament favorites that still sounds appealing several decades in.  And how can you miss with a nickname like Ben?

DANIELDaniel’s been in the Top 50 for the past 90 years (and was pretty darn close to it before that), which means there are a lot of Dans around.  But with great antecedents from Daniel Webster to Daniel Boone to Daniel Day-Lewis to Danny Boy, it’s one of those names with which you can hardly go wrong.

ELIJAH and ELI – Relative upstarts in the Biblical Boys category, Elijah and Eli have only really taken off over the past decade, with Eli just hitting #100 this year.  Their relationship to such feminine favorites as Ella and Ellie has undoubtedly given them a boost.

HENRY – We recently rhapsodized about Henry at length, so we’ll just say that Henry is a true classic, a name of kings, poets, and captains of industry, and also has an offbeat modern charm.

JACKJack is back in a big way, probably bigger than its #39 stature would seem, given that many Johns and Jacksons are also called Jack.  The number 1 name in England with potential to become that in the U.S. too.

JOSEPH and JOSIAHLinda and I disagree about this one, as I love Joseph (and used it for one of my sons) and she much prefers Josiah.  Although the two names are related only by sound and are descended from different Biblical personages, both get you to the eternally appealing nickname Joe.

LUCAS – All the light-filled names for both boys and girls – Lucy, Luke, and on down – are popular and appealing now.  But we’ll stick with Lucas, the more substantial Latin version of the saint’s name Luke, as one of our top of the tops.

NATHANIEL – An unlikely modern hit with deep roots, from Early American author Hawthorne to the Apostle.  More elegant than cousin Nathan.

SEBASTIAN – Shakespearean name, also from Twelfth Night, that is an unlikely masculine hit.  Has tons of character and a modern softness.

THOMAS – Ancient name of saints, kings, and other luminaries from Thomas Edison to Thomas Aquinas that is perennially well-used but has perhaps been underappreciated in recent years for its strength and its stylish simplicity.

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