2016 Baby Names: The Playground Analysis

The real top names with combined spellings

By Kelli Brady

The 2016 SSA list of top baby names says that Noah and Emma are the number one names in the country. However, in your daily life, haven’t you heard more parents yelling out for Jackson or Sophia? To help explain this, the 2016 Playground Analysis is an annual look at the truly more popular names as determined by combining the different spellings of each name. Because on the playground, you may hear a name but not know how it is spelled, and since the SSA list only lists the names as they are given, we need to add up the numbers for each spelling of the names to show where names really rank!

Note: These are the combined spellings of the names in the Top 1000 only. When the numbers from the entire list are added, positions could change. The main name listed below is the spelling given to the most babies in 2016 (SSA Rank is in parentheses). The others are in alphabetical order. Opinions vary on how different spellings are pronounced. I went with my best judgment.


Emma remains on the top of the SSA list for girls. There are minor changes in the Top 10 of the SSA list when comparing the numbers from 2015 to 2016, however there are some pretty significant adjustments to the Top 10 of the 2016 Playground Analysis… Ava jumps up a spot both in the SSA list and the PA list, but after that there is a bit more movement. When comparing the 2015 PA list to the 2016 PA list, Adeline jumps to #6 from #9, Mia drops from #6 to #7, Amelia moves up from #10 to #8, Charlotte jumps from #15 to #9, and Riley moves up from #17 to #10! Emily and Zoey drop from the Top 10. The largest jumps that take place after adding the alternative spellings are by Elena (#94 to #32), Adeline (#63 to #6), Madelyn (#62 to #14), Mackenzie (#85 to #41), and Katherine (#90 to #50).

Birth numbers are another way of showing how this analysis explains what you hear around town. When combining the Top 1000 names in spelling, there were almost 6,000 more girls named Sophia and Sofia in 2016 than named Emma.

1. Sophia (4) – Sofia

2. Olivia (2) – Alivia, Alyvia

3. Emma (1)

4. Ava (3) – Avah

5. Isabella (5) – Isabela, Izabella

6. Adeline (63) – Adaline, Adalyn, Adalynn, Addilyn, Addilynn, Adelyn, Adelynn, Adilynn

7. Mia (6) – Miah

8. Amelia (11) – Emelia, Emilia

9. Charlotte (7)

10. Riley (22) – Rylee, Ryleigh, Rylie

11. Zoey (26) – Zoe, Zoie

12. Emily (9) – Emely, Emilee, Emilie

13. Abigail (8)

14. Madelyn (62) – Madalyn, Madalynn, Madeleine, Madeline, Madelynn, Madilyn, Madilynn

15. Evelyn (12) – Evalyn, Evelynn

16. Aria (23) – Ariah, Ariya, Ariyah, Arya

17. Aubrey (25) – Aubree, Aubri, Aubrie

18. Madison (15) – Maddison, Madisyn, Madyson

19. Layla (30) – Laila, Lailah, Laylah, Leila, Leyla

20. Harper (10)

21. Chloe (20) – Khloe

22. Elizabeth (13) – Elisabeth

23. Avery (16) – Averi, Averie

24. Lily (24) – Lillie, Lilly

25. Ariana (54) – Arianna, Aryana, Aryanna

26. Scarlett (18) – Scarlet, Scarlette

27. Camila (32) – Camilla, Kamila

28. Ella (17)

29. Leah (37) – Lea, Leia, Lia

30. Nora (36) – Norah

31. Brooklyn (34) – Brooklynn

32. Elena (94) – Alaina, Alayna, Elaina

33. Grace (19)

34. Addison (29) – Addisyn, Addyson

35. Victoria (21)

36. Natalie (31) – Nataly, Nathalie, Nathaly

37. Maya (64) – Maia, Miya, Mya, Myah

38. Hannah (33) – Hana, Hanna

39. Lillian (28) – Lilian

40. Allison (49) – Alison, Allyson, Alyson

41. Mackenzie (85) – Makenzie, Mckenzie

42. Sarah (57) – Sara

43. Penelope (27)

44. Kaylee (70) – Caylee, Kailee, Kailey, Kayleigh, Kaylie

45. Hailey (68) – Hailee, Haley, Haylee, Hayley

46. Anna (51) – Ana

47. Skylar (42) – Skyler

48. Paisley (46) – Paislee

49. Savannah (38) – Savanna

50. Katherine (90) – Catherine, Kathryn

Penelope and Savannah rise into the Top 50 of the 2016 PA, while Kylie and Peyton fall out of it.


There is quite a shuffling of the Top 10 boy names in the SSA list when comparing 2016 to 2015. However, when comparing the 2016 PA to the 2015 PA, Jackson remains at the top and nothing else really changes until you see William take over #6 from Jacob, which drops to #7. Then it gets really fascinating! James jumps from #12 to #8, Lucas from #15 to #9, Benjamin from #16 to #10! And while Aiden stays at #2, two other “–ayden” names, Jayden (#8 to #18) and Kayden (#9 to #15) were huge droppers, probably because some of their alternative spellings have dropped out of the Top 1000. Even so, Kayden was still one of the biggest movers when comparing the SSA list to the PA list (#101 to #15), along with Jace (#76 to #36).

And again, you may be hearing about more baby Jacksons than Noahs because after combining the Top 1000 names in spelling, there were 5,000 more boys named Jackson (and his alternative spellings) in 2016 than named Noah.

1. Jackson (17) – Jaxen, Jaxon, Jaxson

2. Aiden (16) – Adan, Aden, Aidan, Ayden, Aydin

3. Noah (1) – Noe

4. Liam (2)

5. Mason (4) – Maison, Mayson

6. William (3)

7. Jacob (7) – Jakob

8. James (5)

9. Lucas (14) – Lukas

10. Benjamin (6)

11. Michael (8) – Micheal, Mikael

12. Elijah (9) – Alijah

13. Ethan (10)

14. Alexander (11) – Alexzander

15. Kayden (101) – Caden, Caiden, Cayden, Kaden, Kaiden

16. Grayson (37) – Graysen, Greysen, Greyson

17. Matthew (15) – Mathew

18. Jayden (27) – Jaden, Jaiden

19. Oliver (12)

20. Daniel (13)

21. Carter (26) – Karter

22. Logan (18)

23. David (19)

24. Joseph (20)

25. Samuel (21)

26. Henry (22)

27. Dylan (32) – Dillon

28. John (28) – Jon

29. Owen (23)

30. Sebastian (24)

31. Caleb (44) – Kaleb

32. Gabriel (25)

33. Isaac (31) – Issac

34. Luke (29)

35. Anthony (30)

36. Jace (76) – Jase, Jayce

37. Connor (54) – Conner, Conor, Konner, Konnor

38. Wyatt (33)

39. Christopher (36) – Kristopher

40. Andrew (34)

41. Christian (46) – Cristian, Kristian

42. Joshua (35)

43. Mateo (59) – Matteo

44. Julian (39) – Julien

45. Cameron (57) – Camron, Kameron, Kamryn

46. Nicholas (63) – Nickolas, Nicolas, Nikolas

47. Jack (38)

48. Landon (53) – Landen, Landyn

49. Ryan (40)

50. Jonathan (56) – Johnathan, Jonathon

Mateo rises into the Top 50 of the 2016 PA, while Nathan falls.

How does this analysis compare to what you are hearing at the playground?

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21 Responses to “2016 Baby Names: The Playground Analysis”

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JH Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 12:22 am

Gosh, some of the spelling ‘variations’ just look like spelling mistakes. Yikes.

My question for anyone who likes ‘unique’ ways to spell a name is this: If are giving them a unique spelling of a common/popular name, what’s the point? Most people hear your name, not see it. So, if you actually want a unique name, give them one instead of a ‘unique’ & often confusing spelling. I’m not trying to be snarky, I genuinely do not understand the thinking there.

paulapuddephatt Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 5:54 am

The alternative spelling issue is never an easy one. Emma, Charlotte, James and William are always going to come out higher, compared to names like Isabella, Aidan and Jackson, which don’t have one consistent spelling. On the other hand, is Alivia really Olivia? Some of us would say not.

KayM210210 Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 6:09 am

Thanks so much for this, I look forward to this post every year.

Eu Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 8:31 am

@JH: I think that while the name spoken is what you will most often come into contact with, many parents fall in love with a spelling and don’t feel the same about another one. Spelling variation has been going on in English for as long as there have been names, particularly before literacy rates went up in the last century. Is Eleanor more correct than Elinor? Isolde than Ysolda? Then, sometimes people are trying to honour someone, say, Olivia but they spell it Alivia because grandma is Alison, etc.. Or, they are aiming to get closest to the phonetic sound (which is near impossible in English, but anyway). There are lots of reasons, apart from “uniqueness” that someone might choose an alternative spelling.

I agree that some of them are lot the nicest, though.

harvest Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 8:33 am

Emilia (with Emelia as variant) and Amelia are different names. I don’t see why they should be put side by side as spelling variations on this list.

As for the amount of variation when it comes to Adeline and co. – scary!

srudolph Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 8:57 am

@JH I agree! Some of those names scream “mistake”. Micheal, Issac? Someone just hasn’t been paying attention… Maybe it’s because I’m a language teacher, but when I see misspelled names like these (or ones with irrelevant or incorrect accents) I cringe. A lot.

JustBrowsing Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 10:01 am

I bet Liam is actually higher on the PA list – how many of those many Williams will go by Liam?

KatieSpills Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 10:22 am

I think I comment the same thing on this post every year, so here I go again. Haha! But the Adeline variants really bother me (as a mom to an Adeline, I have a vested interest). I don’t understand how Adalynn (and associated spellings) are lumped with Adeline when those names are pronounced differently. I understand they can be considered similar names like Adeline and Adelaide, but (IMO) they aren’t the same name at all–to the ear or on paper.

Lo Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 11:01 am

I completely understand parents who fall in love with one spelling of a name while the more common spelling leaves them cold. I adore Theresa but find Teresa uninspiring. And my daughter Clare is named after St. Clare and also has a hint of the Irish. She has several Claires in her grade but she enjoys being the only Clare.

jaygeekay Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 11:06 am

I look forward to this every year as well. A couple notes: Lillian and Lilian make the Lilys much higher, but of course we can’t know what the children are mostly called (others have commented about this with Liam). On the boys’ side, Grayson and Greyson are usually Gray and Grey – I’d be interested to see what the number is on Boys Called (Sounds like) Gray.

Does anyone do this with families of names or with common nicknames? It would be fun to see the ranking of “Might be Called Adi” or “Rhymes with Aiden” or “Starts with Ev.”

Thanks for this 🙂

Lisaahs Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 11:25 am

In terms of the Adeline vs. Adalynn question, I think it’s because it’s the same as Madeline and Madalyn. Some people pronounce those names the same and some people don’t. The only “Madeline” I know pronounces the last syllable “lyn.” I would imagine it’s the same for Adeline and Adalynn. For some people they are different names, but for others they are just spelling variations.

clairels Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 12:05 pm

Thanks, this is my favorite Nameberry post every year!

Madelyn Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 12:18 pm

Thank you so much for this data analysis. I look forward to this post more than the SSA list every year.

I’m a Madelyn who was born in the 80s, so to see Madelyn’s monumental rise and to hear it said almost daily at the grocery store/park/Target/etc. is quite fascinating to me. My aunt happens to have ANOTHER Madelyn spelling variation that was not listed– Madelynne. She has always been called “Lynne.”

Suzannah Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 12:44 pm

I understand why the SSA can’t take spelling variations into account on its list, so this list is so much more informative. Nora and Norah, Sarah and Sara, Emily and Emmalee are essentially the same name when you want to gauge their popularity.

ARead Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 2:42 pm

This is really interesting!! Always a fun read each year.

But I really fail to grasp how anyone could pronounce “Adeline” and “Adelynn”, etc. the same way. Adeline is a beautiful name with tons of history and vintage charm. Adelynn is a modern invention that’s cute but I don’t see how anyone could pronounce it “Ad-uh-line”.

Overall an interesting post and great concept but this mistake on last year’s Playground Analysis bothered me, too, so I just had to say something! Wonder if Adeline and its one or two variations would be as mega-popular as it is when lumped in with all the “-lynns”. Would it make the top 50?

ARead Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 2:50 pm

Sorry! Meant to say *when it’s NOT lumped in with all the “-lynn’s”!

NameFreak! Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 3:08 pm

This is Kelli… the author of the article. 🙂 I totally agree with those of you who have commented on the -lyn/-line names. Since we can never know how each parent intends to pronounce the names given, I have to go by my best judgment, and I have heard -line names pronounced like -lyn names more often than not, so I group them together. Same with Elena/Alaina and Amelia/Emelia. Mia/Mya names are complicated as well. This analysis can be a head-scratcher to put together, and believe me I have wrestled with a lot of these names, but it is a lot of fun and I hope it helps prospective parents with their choices!

Penguinkin Says:

May 16th, 2017 at 5:26 pm

I look forward to this article!!!!
I find it so interesting looking at unique or unusual spellings that sound just like some very common names- it makes no sense to me. If you are going to call your son Benji why put Benjamin on the birth certificate, or why choose Benedict and only use the more expected Ben?
I would like to see an article on the most expected nicknames heard on the playground. I would also love to see an article on non sound a like names ( those that are truly more individual) and those that do not have sound a like nicknames.
My sons are Sawyer and Hartley and the only mistaken identity is sometimes people hear ‘Harley’. Otherwise they do not shorten to ‘ordinary’ short forms or nicknames and do not have sound a like names. I’m trying to find a third such option incase baby no3 is a boy also!!!

The Hottest Trends in Baby Names Today – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

May 18th, 2017 at 9:11 am

[…] 21 times, and Adley at 19 times. Add (hmmmm) to this the status of Adeline and sisters as the sixth most popular girls’ name of 2016 when all spellings are combined and you have the major baby name trend for girls of the […]

Fifteen Things I Learned in May {2017} | Says:

May 31st, 2017 at 1:16 pm

[…] were being taken into consideration, these statistics would be quite different; I love Nameberry’s annual Playground analysis which lists the “real” top fifty names based on combined spellings. According to those […]

Baby Names in the News this Week – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry Says:

June 14th, 2017 at 10:44 pm

[…] a son called Caiden Zane. Caiden is more popular than it might appear: it’s #312 in the US, but combined with other spellings like Kayden, it leaps to […]

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