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The REAL Top Baby Names of All Time!

The REAL Top Baby Names of All Time!

What are the top baby names of all time in the US?

There’s an official answer. And then there’s an unofficial, but more revealing, answer that solves the mystery of why some names seem so much more popular than they appear on government records.

The Social Security Administration ranks names based on their spelling, counting variations like Katherine, Catherine and Kathryn separately. Our yearly Playground Analysis groups these alternative spellings together to give a more accurate picture of the names you’ll really hear most often on American playgrounds.

Now we’ve undertaken a Playground Analysis for all time – combining spelling variations to reveal what names are really most popular not just on American playgrounds but in American universities, workplaces, community groups, nursing homes, and even cemeteries.

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Top 10 Girl Names of All Time

The most popular girl names based on combined spellings differ more radically from the government list than the boy names. That’s because more girl names have more spelling variations, both official – think Katherine, Catherine, and Kathryn – and invented.

Seven of the Top 10 girl names switch positions from the official ranking, and two names – Catherine and Deborah in all variations – hop onto the Top 10 from much further down on the list. And these counts aren’t even including the girls named Kathy, Kate, Debbie, Maggie, Betty, Liz and so on, which might skew the results even more.

The real Top 10 girl names in the US from 1880 through 2020, aka all of baby-naming time, follow. The number in parenthesis is where the dominant spelling of each name ranks on the official list.

1. Mary (1)

2. Catherine (39) 

3. Elizabeth (2)

4. Patricia (3)

5. Linda (5) 

6. Sarah (10) 

7. Jennifer (4) 

8. Barbara (6) 

9. Deborah (31) 

10. Margaret (7)

Mary was the #1 girl name from 1880 until 1946, and again from 1953 until 1962, when Lisa finally nudged it out of the top spot for good. It remained in the Top 10 for another decade and only left the Top 100 in 2009. So, while you may not hear a lot of “Mary!” on the playground right now, it’s a historical juggernaut, dominating both the official list and the Playground Analysis.

Other all-time most popular girl names include midcentury favorites Linda and Susan, as well as choices that boomed in the 70s and 80s, like Jennifer and Sarah.

Here are the Top 10 girl names of all time according to SSA data.

1. Mary

2. Elizabeth

3. Patricia

4. Jennifer

5. Linda

6. Barbara

7. Margaret

8. Susan

9. Dorothy

10. Sarah

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Top 10 Boy Names of All Time

The Top 10 boy names are much more stable between the Playground Analysis and the official list, with one notable exception – and it’s a big one.

John vaults to the #1 boy name of all time in the Playground Analysis, trading places with James, which drops to #2.

1. John (2) 

2. James (1) 

3. Robert (3)

4. Michael (4) 

5. William (5) 

6. David (6) 

7. Joseph (7) 

8. Richard (8) 

9. Charles (9) 

10. Thomas (10) 

Every boy name in the all-time Top 10 is a timeless classic that has ranked in the Top 100 since naming records began. The only exception is Richard, currently sitting at #208.

American parents have historically used a much narrower variety of names for their sons than for their daughters, especially towards the top end of the popularity scale. The ten most popular boy names have been given to more than 37 million babies since 1880 – more than twice as many as the ten most common girl names, which represent around 16 million births.

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Combined Top 50 Girl Names of All Time

When variant spellings are combined, there are some significant changes to the all-time top names for girls. Most notable is the entry of Catherine all the way up at #2 – a jump of 37 places compared to the official list!

Catherine owes its dramatic leap to its many variant spellings, several of which have been very widely used in their own right. Katherine, the most popular spelling since 1973, sits at #41 on the official list, and Kathryn is at #74. 

Deborah also jumps into the Playground Analysis Top 10 from #31 on the official list – boosted by popular variant spelling Debra, which itself ranks at #54. 

Other girl names which experience a big rise in ranking when alternative spellings are combined include Teresa (+54 spots to #29), Ann (+35 to #34), Jacqueline (+34 to #48), Christina (+21 to #45) and Carolyn (+20 to #32).

Below, the Top 50 girl names of all time when variant spellings are combined.

Names are listed in their most popular form overall, together with their official rankings and total combined births, plus the most common alternative spellings. All recorded spellings are included in the figures, but only those given to at least 1000 babies since 1880 are listed due to length.

1. Mary (1) – 4,153,826 births – Merry, Merri, Merrie, Meri, Marry, Marye

2. Catherine (39) – 1,891,495 births – Katherine, Kathryn, Katharine, Cathryn, Kathrine, Katheryn, Catharine, Cathrine, Kathryne, Katherin, Kathyrn, Katheryne, Catheryn, Katharyn, Kathrin, Catherin

3. Elizabeth (2) – 1,710,372 births – Elisabeth, Elizebeth, Alizabeth, Elizbeth

4. Patricia (3) – 1,575,417 births – Patrisha

5. Linda (5) – 1,531,962 births – Lynda

6. Sarah (10) – 1,520,450 births – Sara, Sarrah, Sera, Cera

7. Jennifer (4) – 1,508,555 births – Jenifer, Jeniffer, Jenniffer, Jennyfer, Jennefer, Jennafer

8. Barbara (6) – 1,443,221 births – Barbra

9. Deborah (31) – 1,335,633 births – Debra, Debora, Debrah, Debbra, Debera, Deborha

10. Margaret (7) – 1,281,785 births – Margret, Margarette, Margarett, Margarete, Margrett

11. Susan (8) – 1,134,771 births – Suzan, Susann

12. Dorothy (9) – 1,133,956 births – Dorthy, Dorthey, Dorothey

13. Karen (15) – 1,081,773 births – Karin, Karyn, Caryn, Caren, Karon, Keren, Carin, Karan, Caron, Karren, Kerin, Kerrin

14. Jessica (11) – 1,065,104 births – Jessika, Jesica, Jesseca, Jessyca, Jesika

15. Betty (14) – 1,062,476 births – Bettie, Bettye

16. Michelle (25) – 1,059,073 births – Michele, Michell, Mechelle, Michel, Machelle, Mishelle

17. Helen (12) – 1,030,579 births – Hellen, Helyn

18. Nancy (13) – 1,016,723 births – Nanci, Nancie, Nancee, Nancye

19. Anna (17) – 1,009,960 births – Ana, Annah, Ahna

20. Lisa (16) – 989,123 births – Lesa, Leisa, Leesa

21. Emily (19) – 968,708 births – Emilie, Emilee, Emely, Emmalee, Emalee, Emelie, Emmaleigh, Emili, Emiley, Emileigh, Emilly, Emeli, Emalie, Emaleigh

22. Ashley (20) – 966,267 births – Ashlee, Ashleigh, Ashly, Ashlie, Ashely, Ashli, Ashlea, Ashlei

23. Carol (24) – 958,337 births – Carole, Karol, Caryl, Carroll, Carrol, Karyl, Caroll

24. Sandra (18) – 919,335 births – Sondra, Saundra

25. Kimberly (21) – 914,670 births – Kimberley, Kimberlee, Kimberli, Kimberlie, Kymberly, Kimberely, Kemberly, Kimberle

26. Donna (22) – 856,069 births – Dona, Dawna

27. Rebecca (29) – 855,086 births – Rebekah, Rebeca, Rebecka, Rebeka, Rebbecca, Rebekka, Rebekkah, Rebeccah

28. Laura (26) – 850,264 births – Lora

29. Teresa (83) – 843,881 births – Theresa, Teressa, Tresa, Thresa, Theressa, Treasa, Terresa, Tereasa, Terisa

30. Stephanie (30) – 830,790 births – Stefanie, Stephany, Stefani, Stephenie, Stephani, Stephaine, Stefany, Steffanie, Steffany, Stephannie

31. Ruth (23) – 829,531 births – Ruthe

32. Carolyn (52) – 822,861 births – Caroline, Carolynn, Karolyn, Carolyne, Karoline, Karalyn, Carolin, Caralyn, Caraline

33. Melissa (28) – 803,280 births – Melisa, Malissa, Mellissa, Mellisa, Milissa, Melyssa, Meliza

34. Ann (69) – 791,749 births – Anne

35. Amy (36) – 788,655 births – Aimee, Amie, Ami, Ammie, Aime, Amiee, Amee

36. Amanda (27) – 787,369 births

37. Kathleen (33) – 755,171 births – Cathleen, Kathaleen, Kathlene, Katheleen

38. Sharon (32) – 754,851 births – Sharron, Sharen, Sheron, Sherron, Sharan

39. Cynthia (34) – 720,600 births – Cinthia, Synthia, Cinthya

40. Emma (35) – 711,009 births – Ema

41. Shirley (37) – 696,662 births – Shirlee, Shirlie, Sherley, Shirly

42. Christine (47) – 686,422 births – Kristine, Christene, Cristine, Christeen, Kristeen, Kristene

43. Nicole (46) – 681,246 births – Nichole, Nikole, Nicolle, Nichol, Nickole, Nicol, Nicholle, Niccole, Necole

44. Maria (53) – 680,919 births – Mariah, Mariyah, Mariya, Marya, Maryah, Miriah

45. Christina (66) – 680,212 births – Kristina, Cristina, Krystina, Christena, Krystyna, Khristina

46. Rachel (50) – 674,355 births – Rachael, Racheal, Rachell, Rachele, Raechel, Raychel, Rachal

47. Angela (38) – 672,602 births – Angella

48. Jacqueline (82) – 661,144 births – Jacquelyn, Jaclyn, Jacklyn, Jaqueline, Jacquelin, Jacquline, Jackeline, Jacquelynn, Jacqulyn, Jackelyn, Jaquelin, Jacquelyne, Jaclynn, Jaquelyn, Jacqualine, Jacklynn, Jackelin, Jackqueline, Jacquelene, Jackqualyn

49. Kelly (74) – 658,627 births – Kelli, Kellie, Kelley, Keli, Kellee, Kellye, Kelle

50. Virginia (40) – 650,450 births

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Combined Top 50 Boy Names of All Time

As well as using a narrower variety of names for their sons than for their daughters, American parents have also historically been less inclined to choose non-dominant spellings for their boys’ names.

Robert, David, Richard, Charles, Paul, Ronald and Jack are all among the Top 50 boy names with no alternative spellings totalling more than 1000 births since 1880. On the girls’ side, only Amanda and Virginia qualify.

However, there are still several boy names which make significant gains compared to the official rankings when variant spellings are combined. 

Alan jumps 47 spots to #45, thanks to the popularity of Allen, which was actually the most common form in the US until 1943. Sean leaps 42 spots to #38 – boosted by Shawn, which has had several stints as the more popular spelling. Steven and Brian also climb significantly compared to their official rankings: up 9 and 10 places, respectively.

Here are the Top 50 boy names of all time when variant spellings are combined. As above, names are listed in their most popular form overall, together with their official rankings and total combined births, plus the most common alternative spellings.

1. John (2) – 5,314,646 births – Jon, Jhon

2. James (1) – 5,193,651 births – Jaymes

3. Robert (3) – 4,830,411 births

4. Michael (4) – 4,576,710 births – Micheal, Mikel, Mikael, Mikal, Mykel, Mikeal, Mychal, Mickel, Mikell, Mychael, Mykal

5. William (5) – 4,147,638 births – Willaim, Wiliam

6. David (6) – 3,640,245 births

7. Joseph (7) – 2,660,280 births – Joesph, Josef, Joeseph, Jozef

8. Richard (8) – 2,570,038 births

9. Charles (9) – 2,406,662 births

10. Thomas (10) – 2,354,759 births – Tomas

11. Christopher (11) – 2,154,956 births – Kristopher, Cristopher, Kristofer, Cristofer, Kristoffer, Christofer, Christoper, Khristopher, Christopher, Christpher, Chirstopher

12. Steven (21) – 2,152,266 births – Stephen, Stevan

13. Daniel (12) – 1,954,124 births – Danial, Danniel

14. Matthew (13) – 1,695,960 births – Mathew, Mattew

15. Brian (25) – 1,574,184 births – Bryan, Bryon, Brien, Brion

16. Mark (18) – 1,495,523 births – Marc

17. George (14) – 1,476,513 births – Gorge

18. Anthony (15) – 1,461,143 births – Anthoney

19. Donald (16) – 1,413,906 births

20. Paul (17) – 1,392,012 births

21. Andrew (19) – 1,306,877 births – Andru

22. Edward (20) – 1,297,545 births – Eduard

23. Kenneth (22) – 1,291,124 births – Kennith, Kenith, Keneth

24. Jeffrey (29) – 1,286,409 births – Jeffery, Geoffrey, Jeffry, Geoffery, Jeffory

25. Joshua (23) – 1,230,328 births – Joshuah, Jashua, Joshue

26. Kevin (24) – 1,189,531 births – Keven, Kevan, Kevyn

27. Eric (35) – 1,139,009 births – Erik, Erick, Erich, Aric, Arik, Errick

28. Jason (28) – 1,090,101 births – Jayson, Jasen, Jaysen, Jacen, Jaison, Jaycen

29. Nicholas (33) – 1,089,906 births – Nicolas, Nickolas, Nikolas, Nicklaus, Nicholaus, Nikolaus, Nicklas, Nickolaus, Niklas, Niklaus, Nicolaus

30. Timothy (27) – 1,081,639 births – Timmothy

31. Ronald (26) – 1,080,524 births

32. Jonathan (37) – 1,049,525 births – Johnathan, Jonathon, Johnathon, Jonatan, Jonathen, Johnathen, Jonnathan, Jhonatan

33. Jacob (30) – 994,074 births – Jakob, Jaycob, Jakub, Jakeb, Jaykob

34. Ryan (31) – 956,157 births – Rian, Ryon, Rhyan, Rion, Ryen

35. Gary (34) – 953,942 births – Garry, Geary, Garey

36. Frank (32) – 912,954 births

37. Larry (38) – 809,104 births – Lary

38. Sean (80) – 805,563 births – Shawn, Shaun, Shon, Shan, Shaan

39. Brandon (44) – 802,841 births – Branden, Brandan, Brandyn, Brandin

40. Justin (39) – 792,512 births – Justyn, Justen, Juston

41. Samuel (40) – 788,131 births – Samual, Sammuel

42. Benjamin (42) – 787,065 births – Benjiman, Benjamen, Benjaman, Benjamine

43. Scott (43) – 786,387 births – Scot

44. Raymond (41) – 778,207 births – Ramond

45. Alan (92) – 723,486 births – Allen, Allan, Allyn, Alen

46. Henry (46) – 718,922 births – Henri, Henery

47. Gregory (47) – 716246 births – Greggory

48. Alexander (48) – 714,014 births – Alexzander, Aleksander, Aleksandr, Aleksandar, Alexsander, Aleczander, Alekzander

49. Jack (45) – 713,324 births

50. Patrick (49) – 683,332 births – Patric, Patryk

Are there any names on these lists that surprise you? Any you'd like to see return to the Top 50 now? Share your thoughts on our forums!

About the Author

Kelli Brady

Kelli Brady is a stay at home mom of two who needed an outlet for her name obsession. She found it at NameFreak!, a blog dedicated to a wide variety of name-related whims and fancies. You can also follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Her eBook, Name-alytics, is a look at the history of the Top 100 names in the United States. Check it out at https://gumroad.com/l/name-alytics!

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