Too many Madisons? Met Enough Emmas? Over Olivia?

Too many Madisons? Met Enough Emmas? Over Olivia?

By Aimee Tafreshi

In our modern world, how do you determine the perfect baby name for your offspring? TV characters, nature words, place names, superheroes—not many inspirations are off-limits when it comes to thinking of names. Many parents cut through the slush pile by leaning on tradition or personal preference. Yet, not surprisingly, there are names that remain insanely popular each year, and the poured-your-heart-and-soul-into-it pick that sounded so original suddenly blends in like vanilla with the masses.

For those seeking a new twist, I have picked some of the most popular girls’ names from the Social Security Administration’s list and offered some alternatives that tend to be overlooked. . Some may share the same first letter or sound with the original name inspiration, while others may simply evoke a similar vibe or impression.

Riley, along with its various related spellings, such as Rylee, is a very popular name, particularly for girls. Riley burst onto the Top 1000 in 1990 and has reached her highest popularity to date at Number 35. If you love the sound of Riley, consider the following alternatives from further down the list: Finley (Number 204), Allie (255), Leslie (371), Hallie (566), Kailani (875), or Landry (918).

Madison (along with other Top 1000 spellings Maddison, Madisyn and Madyson) made her own debut in 1985 and climbed rapidly up the charts into the Top 10, a position she held for 18 years! Now at Number 11, a mob of Maddies has ruled the playground for 30 years. Should we allow some other names a turn at the swings? How about Emerson (Number 180), Hayden (190), Miriam (294), Megan (384), Leighton (473), Cameron (530) or Matilda (535)?

Ava has enjoyed consistent popularity since the SSA began tracking popularity in 1900. Perhaps inspired by screen siren Ava Gardner or by celebrity baby namers, Ava has shown staying power in the Top 10 for the past decade, currently sitting confidently at Number 4. For parents looking for another baby name with glam, consider these that are lower on the list: Angelina (Number 164), Evangeline (261), Lena (272), Diana (295), Dahlia (412), Viviana (427), Farrah (Number 780) or Rita.

Chloe is a sweet and girlish sounding name that gained traction in the 1990s and entered the Top 10 in 2008. Today, Chloe stands solidly at Number 17 and has perhaps inspired the rapid rise of Zoey/Zoe/Zoie. For those parents looking for an untapped twist on Chloe, how about: Clara (Number 98), Daisy (183), Callie (196), Charlie 207), Keira (245), Carly (389) or Joey?

Emma – Calling to mind Jane Austen’s Emma, this classic name saw a huge surge in popularity from the late 1990s through today, where it currently holds the Number 1 spot. If you want to distinguish your baby from the more than one percent of U.S. girl babies named Emma, consider the following choices: Emery (Number 134), Elise (174), Eliza (175), Louisa (908), or Elinor.

Lillian, currently ranked Number 26, is a beautiful vintage name that lends itself to the graceful Lily/Lilly for a soft-sounding nickname. Lillian peaked in the early 1900s, then resurged in the early 2000s, and we may see it climb even higher. For a retro name with a feminine feel like Lillian, try Adeline (Number 135), June (280), Pearl (628), Emmeline (809), Clementine (819), Celia (Number 858), or Millicent.

Olivia is a name juggernaut with a long history on the SSA list. She currently claims the Number 2 spot, and has remained in the Top 10 since 2001(!). Pop culture figures such as Olivia NewtonJohn and Scandal’s Olivia Pope have cemented her favored status. Parents looking for a hip alternative to this favorite should consider these cooler options: Delilah (Number 116), Fiona (219), Olive (264), Willa (481), Greta (573), Renata (636), Natasha (666), Paola (734), Claudia (741) or Ophelia.

Penelope disappeared from the popularity list for a whopping 25 years before reappearing at the bottom in 2001. Fast-forward to the most recent stats and Penelope has climbed steadily up the charts to a respectable Number 34, thanks to its use by several celebrities. I predict that Penelope will continue to ascend into The top 25 or higher. For those looking to avoid an already popular name on the rise, consider one of these underused picks: Persephone, Esme, Portia, Calliope, or Philippa.

Charlotte, as in the newest member of the British royal family, is a beautifully understated and classic baby name, so it’s no surprise that it broke into the Top 10 last year and will likely keep climbing due to the royal influence. For parents looking to start new traditions, here are some suggestions for your own little princess: Eloise (Number 256), Annalise (409), Beatrice (565), Margot (593), Martha (791), or Amalia (828).

Harper was a latecomer to the popular baby names clique—she made her appearance on the Top 1000 list in 2004, and within a decade, shot up to her current spot at Number 10.  Influenced by the author Harper Lee, celebrity picks, and the trend of names ending in –er, Harper may keep climbing. For those looking to avoid an explosively popular name, here are some viable options, some inspired by other female literary figures: Piper (Number 68), Alice (87), Quinn (97), Parker (227), Juniper (429), Sutton (672) or Palmer.

Hopefully these naming possibilities from lower on the list will inspire original choices for those parents looking for a distinctive girl name beyond the most popular.

About the Author

Aimee Tafreshi

Aimee Tafreshi

Aimee Tafreshi is a former litigator and mother of three young children. She is passionate about all things baby names. She is also a contributing writer for Little World Organics and has written for Fé Fit, Study Breaks magazine and The Daily Texan. She is working on a legal thriller while traversing the globe in support of her husband’s peripatetic career. You can follow her blog at