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popular names 2012

The most popular baby names of 2012 are officially here, with Sophia and Jacob holding onto their Number 1 spots.

Jacob remains the most popular name for boys for the 14th year in a row.  An Old Testament name that means “supplanter” and a cousin of JamesJacob has been in the Top Ten for nearly two decades.

Sophia, which took the crown as the Number 1 girls’ name last year, is a Greek name that means “wisdom.”  It entered the Top 10 in 2006.

Arya and Major were the fastest-rising names for 2012.  Arya’s popularity stems from the show and book Game of Thrones, while Major is a military name featured on reality TV show Home by Novogratz.

Second fastest-risers Gael and Perla are widely used by parents of Spanish descent.

The Social Security Administration announced the 2012 Most Popular Baby Names on their website this afternoon.

The complete Top Ten are:

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Popular baby names go through cycles: They rise to the top, but then in a year or a decade, most fall away to be replaced by….

Well, by new names that are often pretty darn similar to the old ones.  In the 80s, Jennifer was number one, until it was replaced by JessicaEmily held the top spot for several years, and then was supplanted by Emma.

The reason for this same-but-different pattern is so simple and logical it hardly bears stating — but we’ll do so anyway.  Popular baby names, by definition, are those that are favored by a wide range of people.  Except once they become too popular for too long, parents don’t want to choose them, no matter how much they may still like them.

So they look for names that are the same, but different.  That have some twist that makes them new, while retaining the appeal of the originals.

Many of the most popular baby names today have close cousins waiting in the wings, ready to move up and replace the well-liked but overused favorites of today.

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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.

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Popular Baby Names

When we parse the annual Social Security list, we usually focus on the top names–what’s the new Number One, which names have made it into the Top 25, even the Top 100. But there are many names on the Popularity List that actually aren’t all that popular– certainly not commonly enough used  to deter parents who are looking for a distinctive name.

In the lower depths of the list, there are a number of neglected names that were given to fewer than 350 babies across the country last year, real hidden gems sprinkled among the more unusually configured Cloes, Alyvias and Jovanys.  These are appealing names that are recognizable to all, with real history and meaning, but which would still stand out in a crowd (or in a pre-school).

Among them are:

GIRLS

DIXIE — One of the most engaging of the saucy showgirl nickname names, with an added dash of Southern spice.

GIADA — An undiscovered Italian jewel (it translates as Jade) brought into the spotlight by celebrity chef Giada De Laurentiis.

JUNE — Springtime month name starting to come back into bloom.

JUSTINE –An elegant name with deep Latin roots and a righteous meaning.

LIBBY –The lost Elizabeth nickname, sounding so much fresher than Liz and Beth–not to mention Betsy and Betty.

LILIA — A charming, rhythmic, more exotic spin on the well-used Lily.

LIVIA –Not a chopped-off version of Olivia but an ancient Roman favorite used on its own.

MARIN — A shimmering water name, distinctive and sophisticated.

MATILDA — Sweet and feminine vintage classic, with a choice of appealing nicknames–Mattie, Tilda, Tillie; hasn’t caught on despite highly visible image of Matilda Ledger.

OLIVE — Quieter alternative to trendy Olivia; young heroine of Little Miss Sunshine, and pick of cool couple Isla Fisher and Sacha Baron Cohen.

SLOANE — Sleek executive name chosen by comedian Rob Corddry.

TAMARA –With both Russian and Hebrew roots, has a dramatic, creative image.

TESS — Has a lot more substance, strength and style than most single-syllable names; a good middle name choice too.

THALIA –One of the Three Graces, and the Muse of Comedy, in Greek mythology; does at the moment tend to be associated with single-named singer.

BOYS

AUGUSTUS –Old Roman name sounding less and less fusty, especially when softened by nicknames Augie or Gus.

CASSIUS –A Shakespearean name with the patina of antiquity, plus a choice of two cool nicknames–Cass or Cash.

CONRAD –A solid, serious name with literary cred.

CULLEN — Winning Irish surname name–but in danger of increased popularity via being the surname of Edward in the popular Twilight franchise.

DARWIN –Perfect for the son of scientists, but also appealing to any parent looking for a name with a stylish sound and historic significance.

FLETCHER –An occupational (arrow-maker) name with an abundance of quirky charm.

JENSEN — An attractive, rarely heard Scandinavian surname name, attached to both a spiffy car and a current TV teen idol, Jensen Ackles–there were only 192 baby Jensens born last year.

KILLIAN — Dynamic Irish saint’s name; only possible drawback is tie to the trendy brew.

LUCIAN — Adds a gloss of Continental elan to Luke and Lucas.

MAXIMO –Lively Latin route to nickname Max, meaning ‘the greatest’–sole caveat is a link to a video game.

REUBEN –A neglected Biblical boy, resonant and rich, belonging to the founder of one of the tribes of Israel.

REX — One of the few trendy x-ending boys’ names with a real–even regal–meaning.

SEAMUS — This Irish form of James has way more substance and spunk than the dated Sean.

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Why no baby Oprahs?

Celebrities have had an enormous influence on baby names over the past few decades.  Stars’ names like Angelina and Jude, Sienna and Anderson have risen up the popularity list.

Yet for every celebrity that inspires a rash of little namesakes, there seems to be another, equally attractive and popular star whose name doesn’t become famous, at least for babies.  Oprah may have the power to catapult books to bestsellerdom and even to influence presidential elections, but the millions of moms who love her don’t seem to love her name.  Madonna may have legions of fans over several decades, but there’s still only one Madonna.  Okay, two.

Maybe you’ll say that the problem is in the names Oprah and Madonna themselves and true, those might be difficult monikers to carry.  But that doesn’t seem to always be the reason a name doesn’t achieve the star power of its original bearer.

Case in point: Diana.  We were sure, through the long reign of Princess Diana, that her name would rise up the charts.  It’s a beautiful name with classic roots that sounded neither dowdy nor trendy.  But Diana, as a name, never took off.

A lot of the other hot and not celebrity-influenced names are similarly difficult to figure out.

Jada: Hot.   Beyonce: Not.

Ashton: Hot.  Demi: Not.

Tyra: Hot.  Heidi: Not.  

Trista: Hot.  Ryan: Not.

Scarlett: Hot.  Ryan: Still not.

Reese: Hot.  Jake: Well, Jake‘s hot too, but not because of Gyllenhaal.

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