Popular Girls’ Names: The Real Top 10 (or 12 or 13)
What are the most popular girls’ names in the U.S.? If you consult the official Social Security list, or most of the state lists, you’ll get one version. With each name counted individually by spelling — Sophia and Sofia are counted separately, in other words — the national list of most popular girls’ names (I’m going to include the Top 15, for reasons that will become evident) is:
But to Katharine Hales — aka nameberry’s k_lareese — this didn’t look quite right. Hales, an attorney who is studying to be a law librarian, wanted to name her first child Lillian, with the nickname Lily. But when researching the name, she noticed that both Lily and Lillian were in the Top 30. If you added all the spelling and variations of the name together, she wondered, mightn’t you end up with a true popularity number that was significantly higher?
You would indeed, as Hales discovered when she set out to devise the true list of most popular girls’ names. (Of course you can do the same thing for boys’ names too, but aside from the Aiden/Caden/Jayden clusters, there isn’t all that much spelling adventurism that would skew popularity standings.) Considering simply names with different spellings that are pronounced the same, Hales came up with the following list. The number in parentheses represents how many children received all those variations of the name in 2008, the last year officially counted. Hales included the Top 12 because of potential discrepancies in pronunciation and because the numbers are so close at the bottom of the list.
7. Emma (18,587)
The big news here, of course, is Sophia/Sofia‘s ascendancy to Number 1, bumping official top girl Emma all the way down to Number 7. Hailey, Madeline, and Katelyn et al, names with many spelling variations, appear on this list but not the overall one, while Elizabeth, Samantha, and Chloe, with far fewer variations, fall off.
9. Emma (18,587)
The Isabellas reach Number 1 here, and, as Hales suspected, Lily and her sisters are an impressive number 3. That discovery didn’t stop her from choosing the name, which she loves. Lily‘s popularity didn’t bother her, she explained. She just wanted to know what she was really dealing with.
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on January 14th, 2010 at 1:27 am
great blog! and i love sophie/sophia/sofia and im glad they made it up top. i have met a sofie and a sofy as well, but those arent as popular. first to post, yay 🙂
on January 14th, 2010 at 1:48 am
Wow! What a great topic! Thank you so much for your work, Katharine! 🙂
on January 14th, 2010 at 9:54 am
That really sheds some new light on what I thought were the most popular names. Great research!
British American Said
on January 14th, 2010 at 9:56 am
Interesting! We considered Lily back in 2005, but read that it was climbing the charts and I didn’t want a top 10 (or top 50) name.
I personally wouldn’t combine Ava and Eva though. They’re very different in my mind.
I wonder what nicknames all the Isabellas are going with? (I personally don’t know any children with this name.)
on January 14th, 2010 at 10:00 am
Wow, nice! I’m surprised the Micaela variants didn’t show up on any of these lists. Great work!
on January 14th, 2010 at 10:14 am
Great post! The “actual” popularity list does not surprise me at all. I know so many little Sophie/Sophias, Lilys, Kaitlins, Isabellas, Avas etc. And, actually, I don’t hear Emma on kids under 2 as often as I hear these other names so this list makes perfect sense!
British American Said
on January 14th, 2010 at 10:17 am
Oh and to add to the popularity of Emily, I know two families who named their daughter “Emma Leigh” (a hyphenated first name: Leigh isn’t the middle name.) So it sounds like Emily, but perhaps shows up under the stats for Emma?
on January 14th, 2010 at 10:23 am
This blog is why I love nameberry! Totally relevant. Thank you.
on January 14th, 2010 at 10:36 am
Thank you for this!!
on January 14th, 2010 at 10:37 am
Missed one. My cousin’s daughter is a Lilia, nicknamed Lily. Lilia is a variant I’ve seen a few times.
If you combine spellings, I’d guess that Mackenzie, Kylie and Kaylee and Riley are also higher up on the list than is shown by the official statistics. I used to keep track of names in my state as a hobby and the combined spellings of those names were always up there in the top 20, along with the usual suspects of Kaitlyn, Emily, Madeline, Hailey, etc. I think I once counted 20 spellings of Kaitlyn, ranging from Caitlin to Kaytlynn to Keightlin. There are so many rhyming variants of popular names as well, from Payton to Tayten to Haylin to Jaylee to Shaylee to Mylee (I spotted several Miley/Mylee/Myleigh/Mylies on the list several years before Miley Cyrus hit it big. I think people used it as a variant of Kylie.) I would pronounce Eva as EEE-vuh, as would most people in this region of the country, but I have run into at least one Mia who pronounced the name as My-uh.
on January 14th, 2010 at 10:46 am
I’d agree about Emma Lee/Emma Leigh. Those are names that could show up under either Emma or Emily on the stats. I’ve seen those a couple of times too. And Hana/Hanna/Hannah is probably still popular even if it’s losing steam. Ella/Ellie is also an undercounted popular name since both are incredibly popular on their own and as nicknames for Isabella, Elizabeth, Eleanor, Ellen, Gabriella and probably any other name that has “el” in it. Ella is in the top 10 in a number of localities. Bella/Belle is probably headed there.
People also like to mix up spellings of other names, but maybe not to the extent that it would affect the popularity ratings — Juleah/Jewelia for Julia. Then there’s Katharine/Katherine/Kathryn/Catherine, which would probably increase in popularity if you counted its various legitmate spellings and would go up even more if you added Kate and Katie/Katy, both also very popular as nicknames for Katherine and Kaitlyn.
on January 14th, 2010 at 11:19 am
Excellent post! We did a similar analysis when considering Maxwell as a name for our little guy, but after taking into account variations that would likely lead to the nn Max, we decided against it.
on January 14th, 2010 at 11:22 am
I would be interested in seeing something that talked about the most popular names by region. Though maybe the top 20 wouldn’t vary all that much. I’ve looked at the difference between states and there is actually quite a bit of difference. My daughters name–Mia–is in the top 10 in some states and not even in the top 50 (I think) in other states. It seems like it’s popular in urban areas, but not so in rural. Anyway…I don’t think Mia and Mya are the same name at all, they have a similar feel, but that’s it–but that’s just me.
Pamela Redmond Satran Said
on January 14th, 2010 at 11:30 am
Good point on Max, Oztok5 — that is definitely one of the boys’ names whose popularity is far different when all the variations are considered. Alex would be another, Samuel and Sam, plus of course the Aiden/Jayden contingent. There may also be a less visible crossover with Jack coupled with Jacksons, Johns, and even Jonathans who are called Jack.
on January 14th, 2010 at 12:07 pm
Thank you for all your kind words. I had a fairly hard time when combining some of the names because it is so subjective. That is part of the reason for the longer list. It at least gives a better sense of the most popular names.
British American, I can definitely understand what you mean by the Ava and Eva being different names. I know that many do view them differently. I actually combined them because I know a couple Evas pronounced ay-va. Also, my great-grandmother was an Ava that always commented that all her friends with the same name spelled it Eva. And, not a good namesake, but Eva Braun pronounced her name Ay-va. So, I thought the best thing to do was to combine them and add the disclaimer.
Phaedra, I was a little surprised that Michaela didn’t make it higher, either. It was still fairly high when combined, but not higher than the ones listed.
Andrea, I guess I did miss Lilia. Of course, there were only 290 Lilias in 2008, so it wouldn’t tip the scale too much. But thanks for noting that it should be included. Also, some of the names you listed (Katharine, Riley, Mackenzie..) are a lot higher than the official list. Of course, I had to cut off my list at some point, so they didn’t make it.
As for Emma Lee/ Emma Leigh, I think that Emma and Emily combined potentially be combined. If they are, Emily regains number 1. But, Emma still remains on the list standing on her own, so I didn’t combine them.
Also, I think that the boys’ names would have some variation, too. I don’t think that the list would be as different as the girls, but it might be worth looking into.
on January 14th, 2010 at 12:45 pm
I actually did a post about this very topic when the names came out last year on cafemom in my baby name group. I knew WAY too many children with names that were in the top 15 or so but I couldn’t understand why they didn’t appear to be more popular on the SSA list. When I realized that they didn’t combine the spellings I was kind of surprised. Their list doesn’t give a TRUE account of a lot of those more “popular” names if you’re looking to split hairs on popularity. I think the biggest offender was the Jacob/Aiden situation. After I added up the births by spelling there were 27,981 for Jacob and all its variations and 31,532 for Aiden and all its variations. Not to mention that Jaden and all the variations would have made that name #2 with 27,090 babies given that name last year. I really did my research on this one…it is nice to see that someone else is as interested in this as I am! You’re awesome k_lareese!
on January 14th, 2010 at 1:06 pm
I guess my name has truly jumped the shark now that there are yooneek spellings (Alivia, Alyvia, etc.). Sigh…
on January 14th, 2010 at 1:51 pm
I was also very interested in this topic recently when I started looking for a name for my second child. Thanks for the work! Here is a site that has combined spellings for all girl and boy names in the top 1000: http://www.namenerds.com/uucn/pop.html
After combining the spellings for the top 1000 names, the list is really only 748 names long for boys! And only 648 names for girls!
Another reason, not mentioned here, that I was interested in this list is that I want a name for my baby that she won’t have to spell her whole life. A name with no spelling variations or maybe only one other unknown spelling.
on January 14th, 2010 at 3:14 pm
I really notice the regional variants when I look at the different states. William is the most popular name in a lot of the south and Ryan is still more popular on the east coast than it seems to be elsewhere. A list that came out for a Baltimore hospital a few days ago had what I’d consider very old-fashioned names for girls — Mary, which is also much more popular in the south — is in the top. I notice that the honor rolls for southern grade schools often have a lot of Marys, but they are invariably Mary plus — Mary Kate, Mary Win, Mary Grace, Mary Mac, Mary Elizabeth, etc. — so most of the Marys are probably actually girls with double first names.
Mia is not a tremendously popular name in North Dakota or elsewhere in the Midwest, though it’s definitely in use along with Maya and there’s a lot of spelling variantion like Mya, Meah, Miah, etc. It’s high up on the Hispanic list at Hispanic Babycenter so maybe it’s a name that is more popular in areas with a high Hispanic population. Isabella is also popular with Hispanics, judging from Hispanic Baby Center, and Italians as well as other groups, but it’s not quite as popular in N.D. as in some other areas with high Hispanic and Italian populations. North Dakotans seem to trend towards trendier names for both boys and girls.
on January 14th, 2010 at 3:25 pm
Here are the state by state comparisons for 2008 at Wikipedia:
on January 14th, 2010 at 3:42 pm
Fantastic post! Back when we had our daughter we too had Lillian nn Lily on the short list, but a similar venture into the SSA stats, along with coming across so many local Lilys made us rethink. We still loved the name and used it in the middle.
It’s fun to see how the other names shuffle out with the variant spellings – and it is tough to decide which names to group, wjen to stop, and where to draw the line…. even with the relatively easy task of looking specifically at Lily group names.
It’s definitely something we considered… and we were thankful that it wasn’t really an issue with regard to our son’s name!
on January 14th, 2010 at 5:47 pm
on January 14th, 2010 at 6:37 pm
We almost have our minds made up for the name Evelyn…and then I saw that if it was added to the Ava/Eva group and it makes me feel like its more popular than I thought it was. I didn’t see it as a “variation” on Ava or Eva, I saw it as a variation on Eve (much less popular). Any input??
on January 15th, 2010 at 4:28 am
I know people naming their children Avalyn so I think Evelyn will end up being lumped together with those…which is sad because it truly is a more classic name. But with the “lyn” trend one the rise no names ending with that sound are safe! The same goes for the “lee” names.
on January 15th, 2010 at 10:47 am
This is great!
It’s true that when you combine spellings it changes the stats. I have often wondered that in the past.
I agonize over my love for Ava but hesitate to use it due to it’s popularity. I personally would not have lumped Ava with Eva so Ava would probably get bumped down the ladder if you remove the Eva’s from it’s count.
So if there are 20,000 Ava’s/Eva’s in the States in 2008, that means about 400 per state, maybe 10 per county. I live in a county with a million+ people. Is it really so many Ava’s that I should shy away from a popular name that I happen to love?
Pamela Redmond Satran Said
on January 15th, 2010 at 11:21 am
Excellent question, Angela, and one that is close to many parents’ hearts. One point I’d make is that Ava is number 5 on the popularity list all by itself, so it’s pretty popular no matter how you slice it. But if you really love a name, that’s the best reason to choose it. You just have to decide not to wince every time you meet another Ava. But my son’s name is Joseph, called Joe, and though it’s perennially a top name, he has NEVER been in class with another Joe or even met one his age!
on January 15th, 2010 at 2:57 pm
I do love Ava, but being a nameberry fan, don’t know if I could go with a name that’s on the most recent “Beyond…” book’s cover.
When I starting having children in 2000, “Beyond Jennifer, Jason, Madison and Montana” was my bible for names. Back then, Ava was on the fitting in/standing out list and was one of my top picks. But then I had 3 beautiful boys in a row. Now I’m ready to use Ava 10 years later and it’s number 5. Bummer.
on January 15th, 2010 at 4:08 pm
Really interesting. A few months back I started noticing how many different spellings there were of Madeline and was really surprised when I figuered out that it was actually a Top 10 name when all of the spellings were accounted for. A good rule may be that when a name has a lot of different spellings/variations, it’s probably more popular than you realize.
on January 15th, 2010 at 4:29 pm
@ Angela and Pamela,
I think we would all love to see an updated “Fitting In/Standing Out” list for 2010. That has always been a very useful list for expectant moms. We all want to find that happy balance.
on January 15th, 2010 at 10:49 pm
Angela, since your county is more populous than most, there are almost certainly more than 10 babies named Ava/Eva. Here’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation: ((1,000,000 people in the county) divided by (300,000,000 people in the US)) times (20,000 Evas). This gives about 66.
But if you like the name, don’t worry too much about the popularity.
on January 16th, 2010 at 12:28 pm
Another note about the number of names per county/state: if I’m thinking about that number per individual year, it doesn’t seem like that many of the same name, but if I compound those numbers over several years (which is really what happens when a name rises and falls on the list), a significantly larger group of the same name results. So the “50” Avas per county per year easily becomes hundreds over just a few years of using the name, and the prevalence with which you hear the name on the playground becomes so high that suddenly it seems like every little girl is named “Ava” or “Isabella” or “Sophia”. That’s too many for me as I’m trying to avoid a top name for my daughter!
on January 17th, 2010 at 6:15 pm
Great, GREAT post!
on January 11th, 2011 at 10:03 pm
Nat, I agree that Evelyn stands on its own. It’s a name that was in use long before Avalyn or whatever.
Actually, Evelyn started its life in England as a boys’ name, so it has nothing to do with Eva/Ava. Consider that you can also spell it Eveline, which is the French spelling. It should be pronounced the same as Evelyn, but people who don’t know will probably say it to rhyme with Caroline, which started out pronounced Carol-een (French), then went to Carolyn, then to Caroline, rhyming with nine, which really is a mispronunciation.
on April 14th, 2011 at 6:52 pm
I COMPLETELY disagree, because my aunt runs the naming facility in all American hospitals,and she has the most popular American names of ALL time!She says that the most popular name[i was informed of this when my baby was just a few days old] is Caitlin!
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