Popular Baby Names: The Top of the Top

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 NewtonJohn 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 DayLewis 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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22 Responses to “Popular Baby Names: The Top of the Top”

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Charlotte Vera Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 1:46 am

Great post! Of course, everyone’s list of the best of the top 100 will be different, but you’ve made some fabulous choices. As much as I miss having a more obscure name, it’s somehow flattering to realise that people are finally beginning to recognise its appeal.

LyndsayJenness Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 2:07 am

Sophia, Olivia, Chloe and Audrey are some of my very favorite names. I’m happy they’re popular because even though I won’t have one of my own, my son will undoubtedly be friends with them!

Good list, mine would be nearly the same.

abbey Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 7:07 am

Most of these, I’ll freely admit, make me yawn. The two which stand out are Audrey and Sebastian which are in my top five for each sex.

I’m not impressed Audrey has caught on so much in the popularity stakes. It was my grandmother’s name and was to be the name of our first child if a girl. He wasn’t… and now I’m not sure if I’d like to use it. I’m pretty sure it’ll go in the middle spot now as that’s where we use family names.

Stacy Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 8:07 am

Many of these are favorites of mine… our main requirement is that they not be in the top 20.

Sebastian was our #1 boy name until some friends used it for their baby (although my husband still find the idea of naming boy-girl twins Sebastian and Viola hilarious) and over Thanksgiving my sister-in-law told us she had 5 kids with the name! Nathaniel is in our top two, and Benjamin comes up a lot for us, too. And Daniel and Thomas come up as middle names for us a lot.

Girls, we discussed Olivia and Sophia a lot until we realized just how popular they were, although we still like Sophia as a middle name. Claire is my middle name, and we’ve thought of using it, too. I really like Juliana, although my husband isn’t as much of a fan, and Katharina, instead of just Katherine, is in our top two for girls.

Kiki Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 8:35 am

I think the issue with popular/common names comes down to 3 things.

1.) A parent really just wants to stand out in which case they usually go for something wacky and unheard or. Celebrities do this mostly, probably just because they can.

2.) The parents come up with a name they love but don’t hear much (such as Audrey) and think “That’s perfect. Familiar and yet unusual,” but by the time they have conceived or given birth the name is vaulting up the popular charts. The name they loved so much, that was special to them has now been almost ‘stolen’ by everyone and it no longer expresses the special feeling they attributed to it.

3.) This one is the biggest issue for me. Let’s say hardly any girls were called Jessica (Crazy to imagine but go with it) and I loved the name. It was exactly what I wanted. When I imagined a Jessica I could just see her as my daughter. But then it gets popular and every other girl is called Jessica and they can’t all look and act the same. So I wonder how much this special name, this name that feels just right as MY child can really represent what I think it does if it also represents all these other very different girls too? When you find a perfect name you just know. It feels like your child’s name sometimes before you’ve even met that child and when everyone else uses it then what does your child mean to you? That they’re just another one of those Avas or Aidens? That they’re not something special and unique and miraculous to you and deserve a name that feels more like you really looked around for THEIR name instead of just sticking them with something popular.

It’s probably a crazy way to look at it but it’s sort of how I feel.

Of course you also have to bare in mind your country. A popular american name may not be a popular name in the UK. Mallory and Maddison never made the jump over and more religious sounding names, like Elijah and Noah, have never been that popular in my experience either. People keep saying Max and Freya are getting more popular and yet I’ve never met any child with these names (well apart from one Freya but she’s at least in her mid-teens now.)

km903 Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 9:12 am

My name was not in the top 10, or even the top 20, in the years near my birth. It was, however, really close to the middle of the top 100. There were five other girls with my name in my grade in elementary school, and people were always confusing us. When I got to college, I was one of three just on the floor of my dorm, so the boys on our floor gave us helpful nicknames: Nerdy ___, Slutty ____, and ____ from California (I was the nerdy one, for the record). There are also variations that sound enough like my name to create varying degrees of confusion. I know that I will not be able to eliminate the possibility of my children being one of several in their classes with that name, but I would prefer something far enough down on the popularity list and that I don’t hear frequently in my city, so that at least they have a fighting chance. Popularity certainly isn’t the only factor, but it’s a factor that I will definitely consider, particularly since there are so many wonderful names out there.

Kim Bee Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 9:54 am

I named my daughter Isabel (yay for having Nameberry’s preferred spelling!) even though I knew it was incredibly popular. I picked the name out 18 years before, when my grandfather Isadore passed. It was so special to me and I loved it so much, I went with it, despite its popularity. I chose the Isabel spelling because it was the most succinct. I have a long, unruly spelled last name, so I wanted the simplest spelling with the least amount of letters. Now if I could think of other multisyllabic names with short spellings, I’ll be good for #2.

British American Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 10:22 am

Good picks. 🙂 I personally know of preschool children with the 10 ‘best’ boys names. I named my son one of them. I would have preferred it if Henry wasn’t in the top 100 names and rising – but it was too good of a name not to use just because of that.
One friend has sons named Lucas and Daniel. 🙂

I personally know less real life examples from the girl’s list. I don’t know any Audreys, but I know two Aubreys. (One is Aubrie.) My favourite from the girl’s list is Charlotte – but my husband didn’t agree, when we were naming our daughter. I thought Lottie would be a cute nickname and then it sounds similar to my father in law’s name: Charles. I think my husband thought it had too many letters in it. (Now that my daughter is in preschool and learning to write her name, I do like that she only has 4 letters to write.)

I don’t know any Claires but I do know a Claira. And I’ve met a Clara or two before.

Oh my husband, who isn’t very into baby names, really likes Grace. It was the one name he really liked – but an old classmate had used it for his daughter and so that put him off using it personally.

Kayt Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 10:56 am

As a Katherine, I have to say that my mother generally says my name as KATH-a-rin more than KATH-rin or KATH-er-in. The middle syllable is a little swallowed, if that makes sense, but it’s definitely there.

As for the list, I love Audrey and Grace, but not enough to use them. I think the problem is that I don’t love them. It doesn’t have anything to do with them being popular just as much as the name itself.

susan Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 11:04 am

I deeply love so many of these names. Girls: Claire, Katherine and Olivia. Boys: Daniel, Henry, Jack, Nathaniel, Sebastian, and Thomas. It makes me happy that popular names aren’t as popular as they used to be. Also, where I live (in SoCal) Olivia and Henry aren’t as popular as they are on the East Coast. But Daniel is even more popular in California than in the East. Oh, well, I love Daniel anyway.

E @ Oh! Apostrophe Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 1:34 pm

Loving Audrey. Loving Sebastian.

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December 1st, 2009 at 1:48 pm

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namefan Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 4:25 pm

From the girl’s list I like Audrey, Claire, and Isabella. I’m meh on the boy’s list except for Sebastian, which I’m really liking right now.

Lucy Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 5:22 pm

I think you have both chosen really well! If I had to pick, I think my boy’s list, in particular, would be nearly exactly the same. From the girl’s list, I especially love Audrey, Grace, Olivia, Katharine, Julia, Isabel and Charlotte- all beautiful classics, even though they are popular at the moment.

LilacaRose Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 6:32 pm

I pretty much love all of these, and even though I’m a name nerd, I have no problem with using classics. They help a child fit in, what is so wrong with that? I was the only Lucinda out of dozens of Sandras, Cynthias, and Patricias. Even though I also love unique names and I love my own name, perhaps I would have had a happier childhood if I were named something more common at the time.

rachelmarie Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 7:03 pm

I love so many of the names in the top 100… And hate the popularity of them. Hopefully by the time I have kids, they’ll have moved down in popularity.
I especially love:
Claire – one of my favorite girl’s names at the moment
Charlotte – just gorgeous
Isabel – loved this name for as long as I can remember
Sophia – it’s just so pretty
Henry – this one has been a staple on my favorites for awhile
Jack – love this name! Another favorite
Lucas – I know a few great Lucas’ but I slightly prefer Luke
Thomas – this name is just wonderful and classic

Who knew the top 100 had so many wonderful names? Haha. I love this blog post 🙂

Lemon Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 11:18 pm

I know my view is in the minority, but if a name is great and I love it, then I honestly don’t care about it being popular and my child potentially not standing out. A name may make a child stand out by first impression, but it is the child’s character and personality that truly make him or her stand out. The trick is in letting a child truly become his or her name, and finding a name that allows him or her to do just that.

Pam and Linda, you made some excellent choices! My favorites up there are Charlotte, Henry, and Nathaniel. For girls, I do like Claire, Emma, Olivia, and Sophia as well. Thank you for giving these “over-used” favorites some much-deserved applause. After all, as you said, they didn’t get to be in the Top 100 for nothing! They are attractive names.

Wishing everyone happy naming!

peach Says:

December 1st, 2009 at 11:50 pm

These are some perennially classic names, many of which I like but only a few of which I love enough to consider for my own kids. Audrey, Henry and Thomas have been favorites of mine for a long time. I didn’t realize Sebastian was so popular but I’m glad it’s being appreciated.

I know babies/little ones with these names (in Northern California): Audrey (many), Claire, Emma, Isabel, Olivia (many), Sophia (several), Elijah (several), Jack, Joseph, Nathan.

Diana Says:

December 2nd, 2009 at 10:46 am

I like most of the names on the list because they are good names though all of them are not my particular favorites. I considered the name Julia when I was pregnant, and also Claire–which is my Grandma’s name. Boy, they wouldn’t have fit my daughter at all now that I know her!

Some have become over-exposed to the point that at one time I liked them and now I don’t. But that’s sort of the way it is with popular names I think. I have always had the rule, preferable not in the top 100, definitely not in the top 20–but now my daughters name is in the top 20, which really bugs me….I like to be original.

But I tell myself that actually I am original because I’ve liked the name for 25 years….long before it became popular. 🙂

Patricia Says:

December 3rd, 2009 at 12:27 am

Love these lists, Pam and Linda! And I was excited to see Chloe included, as we’re waiting for baby Chloe to be born in less than 2 months. Three of my five granddaughters’ names made your list too — Emma, Kate/Katherine (Cate), and Sophia/Sophie, but only one of the grandsons’ names is included – Joseph. All 11 grandsons have top 100 names, all except one in the top 30, so I would need a few more slots to come up with my top names of the top 100.

I enjoy your blog so much. And please keep the boys’ lists coming: grandson #12 (who was ‘supposed to be’ a girl, yet again…) is on his way!

udontneedtoknow Says:

August 6th, 2010 at 11:08 am

my aunty took the name nathaniel away from me and my mom, we were going to name it that but she nicked it.
how mean ;(

calimom Says:

September 29th, 2011 at 10:43 pm

I really like this list. My kids are 4.5 and 1.5 years old. Several of these names were on my list (I wanted popular/current names since our last name is very unusual). I went with Audrey instead of Sophia (I love both) and Alexander instead of Sebastian or Jack. So many Jacks and Sebastians in my son’s school and Alex seems less common even though it is #6 on the SSA. I’m surprised William didn’t make your list.

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