Here’s the thing about baby name data: the Top 20 is actually kind of dull.
Not the names themselves, necessarily. In order to become one of the 20 most popular given names in the US for any particular year, a name has to be pretty great. Versatile. They’ve usually been worn by some high profile types, be they Biblical patriarchs or borrowings from the silver screen.
But we can see them coming.
By the time a name reaches such lofty heights, we’ve watched it gain for ten, twenty, forty years or more, right? Former #1 Isabella climbed every year from 1990 through 2009 before reaching the top spot. Even newcomers like Jayden don’t debut in the Top 100. Others – think William, James, Elizabeth – are frequent members of the club, as likely to be there in the 1880s or 1940s as they are today.
This might be the most interesting part of the puzzle: fewer children now receive the #1 name. The numbers are startling. In 2013, less than 1% of all boys were named Noah – but he was still the #1 name in the nation.
Fifty years ago, every one of the Top Twenty names was given to more than 1% of boys – and the #1 name, Michael, was the name of choice for more than 4% of all newborns.
It’s reasonable to assume that the most popular names of 2033 might be even less common – which makes prognosticating slightly more of a challenge.
But the real wildcard is this: looking at today’s Top Twenty, about 10% of the names were completely off the radar twenty years earlier – meaning that any set of predictions will inevitably miss some surprises.
So here’s my best crystal ball-gazing effort to predict the Top Twenty Names of 2033, starting with the boys.
Boys: Top 20 Names of 2033
1. Levi – We’ve been trading Biblical #1s for a years now, with from Michael to Jacob to Noah. Like Noah, Levi has a distinctively different sound, and can appeal to parents for lots of reasons. If you’re religious, Levi is an Old Testament patriarch. But if you’re not, he’s a blue jean baby, as American as apple pie. He’s also Matthew McConaughey’s firstborn.
2. Benjamin – There are always some classics in the Top Ten, but they do come and go. Benjamin is very popular in a handful of Northern states right now – he’s #1 in Massachusetts. Gentle Ben falls somewhere between John and Noah, an enduring choice but not a super common one – yet.
3. Charlie – Informal names have ruled the British charts for years, where Alfie has been a favorite. Charlie seems like the US answer, the name of famous fictional boys from Charlie Brown to Charlie Bucket.
6. Knox – I almost put Jax in this spot, but there’s a problem. Jax feels like his appeal is too narrow – he’s very modern, and clearly invented. But Knox has The Dead Poet’s Society seal of approval. He was a preppy surname pick before the Jolie-Pitts gave him a boost, and now he’s a possible ends-with-x name that will strike a chord with lots of parents.
7. Nolan – I didn’t expect Nolan to reach the US Top 100. But now that he has, I’m wondering if he’s destined to go higher. He shares sounds with Noah and Logan, and hey – never count a good Irish name out, especially one with ties to a sports hero.
8. James – I simply cannot imagine the US Top Twenty without him.
9. Theodore – Call him a quirky classic on the rise, a successor to Sebastian and Alexander. Theo is just as friendly and upbeat as Leo, while Ted is as old school as Gus, and Teddy is as darling as Charlie. The Young House Love bloggers chose the name, and so did Michael Fitzpatrick, lead singer of Fitz and the Tantrums.
11. Luca – He’s been a Hollywood favorite, plus he’s big with Spanish-speaking families. If Noah can be a #1 name, and Luke and Lucas have been so popular in recent years, doesn’t Luca seem like a name going places?
12. Cash – Could he be the next Jayden? The name that makes grandmothers blanch, and whisper, “her daughter really named the baby Cash?” not realizing that everyone is naming their babies Cash. I like his associations with Johnny Cash, and his cowboy swagger.
13. Jacob – #1 names tend to hang on for years, fading slowly. After fourteen years at the top, it’s reasonable to assume we’ll still be naming our sons Jacob in twenty years – especially since we’ll start to hear a new generation of boys named after their dads, uncles, and even grandfathers.
14. Liam – If Jacob will still be around, it is a safe bet that Liam – and maybe Noah and Mason, too – will still be in the Top Twenty in two decades’ time. I picked Liam to rank the highest, but any of the current favorites could stick around.
15. Easton – How about this name, almost unheard of until the 1990s, and a recent arrival in the US Top 100? It’s a mix of place name, surname, and direction name – and while I wouldn’t bet on North to catch on, Easton and Weston seem like up and comers, with Easton in the lead.
17. Crosby – This is something of a wild guess, but we’ve seen ends-with-y surname names like Riley and Brady fare well in recent years. Part-crooner, part-NHL star, Crosby feels upbeat and boyish, but not too flimsy for a grown man.
20. Oliver – Parents choosing Oliver are attracted to his timelessness, but Oliver has actually become quite stylish. He’s gained nearly two hundred places in a decade, to #52 – give him another twenty years and he could climb higher.