100 Years of Data Reveals America’s Most Common First Names

Historically, names were derived from words that had meaning. Today, the origins of names don’t play such a big role in society. Some names are more popular than others. We looked at the 20 most popular male and female names for babies born from 1918 to 2017, based on Social Security data.

These names aren’t necessarily the most consistently popular from each year; at times they may have ranked lower. But over the last 100 years, the following names became the most popular ever. (To discover the meanings behind these beloved names, we turned to Behind The Name.)

1. James

James Buchanan portrait
James Buchanan was one of six U.S. presidents with the name. | The White House Historical Association
  • How many: 4.8 million people

Derived from the Hebrew name Jacob, the name James has existed since the 13th century in England. When James VI, king of Scotland in the 17th century, inherited the English throne the name became even more popular. Famous James include English explorer Capt. James Cook; Irish novelist and poet James Joyce; and six U.S. presidents.

Next: The most popular female name will surprise you.

2. Mary

Queen Mary II
Many queens, including Queen Mary II, have been named Mary. | Hulton Archive/Getty Images
  • How many: 3.4 million people

The English form of “Maria,” Mary is derived from the Latin name Mariam and Greek name Maria. The name likely dates back as far as Egyptian times and comes from either the word “mry,” meaning “beloved,” or “mr,” meaning “love.” Used since the 12th century in England, Christians loved the name due to the Virgin Mary.

Two queens of England, as well as Mary Queen of Scots, have had the name. Famous Marys include author Mary Shelley, former first lady Mary Todd Lincoln, actress Mary Tyler Moore, and singer Mary Wells.

Next: You likely know many people with this name.

3. John

John Travolta
John Travolta shares the name with millions of men. | Ian Gavan/Getty Images
  • How many: 4.59 million people

John derives from the Hebrew name Yochanan, meaning “Yahweh is gracious.” Many Eastern Christians in the Byzantine Empire used the name, but it became even more popular in Western Europe after the First Crusade.

Around a fifth of all English males bore it in the later Middle Ages. Famous Johns include American Founding Father and U.S. President John Adams, actors John Wayne and John Travolta, President John F. Kennedy, and musician John Lennon.

Next: A name too sacred for mortals

4. Patricia

David and Patricia Arquette
Actress Patricia Arquette is one of the many famous Patricias. | Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images
  • How many: 1.6 million people

Patricia is the feminine form of Patrick. Derived from the Latin name Patricius, meaning “nobleman,” the name was used a lot in Europe during the Middle Ages. Patricia didn’t become fashionable in Ireland until the 18th century; people believed the name was too sacred to give to mere mortals.

Famous Patricias include actress Patricia Arquette; American authors Patricia Cornwell and Patricia Highsmith; and American jazz singer, songwriter, pianist, and bandleader Patricia Barber.

Next: 4.6 million men claim this name.

5. Robert

Goya Foods' Grand Tasting Village Featuring Mastercard Grand Tasting Tents & KitchenAid Culinary Demonstrations - Day 2
Chef Robert Irvine’s name means “bright fame.” | Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images
  • How many: 4.57 million people

Robert derives from the Germanic name Hrodebert, meaning “bright fame.” The name became popular when the Normans introduced it in England. Famous Roberts include poet Robert Frost, Civil War Confederate army commander Robert E. Lee, and actors Robert Redford, Robert De Niro, and Robert Downey Jr.

Next: A name for a magical being

6. Jennifer

Jennifer Lawrence posing on the red carpet
Many celebrities, including Jennifer Lawrence, share the name. | Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images
  • How many: 1.5 million people

The Cornish form of the Welsh name Gwenhwyfar, Jennifer translates to “fair, white, phantom magical being.” Famous Jennifers include actresses Jennifer Lawrence and Jennifer Aniston; singers Jennifer Hudson and Jennifer Lopez; and tennis player Jennifer Capriati.

Next: A name fit for the gods

7. Michael

Michael Phelps at the Rio Olympics
Swimmer Michael Phelps is just one of the many famous people with the name. | Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images
  • How many: 4.3 million people

Michael comes from the Hebrew name Mikha’el, which translates to “Who is like God?” Nine Byzantine emperors were Michaels, and the name was common in Western Europe and Britain during the Middle Ages and 12th century, respectively. Famous Michaels include musician Michael Jackson, basketball player Michael Jordan, actor Michael J. Fox, swimmer Michael Phelps, and jazz singer Michael Bublé.

Next: A pretty name with a beautiful meaning

8. Linda

Hulk Hogan, wearing a white tshirt while holding hands with his wife, Linda
Linda Hogan is just one of the many Lindas. | Vince Bucci/Getty Images
  • How many: 1.45 million people

The name is a shortened form of medieval and Germanic names that contain the word linde, meaning “soft, tender.” The Spanish and Portuguese word linda means “beautiful,” lending another aspect to the name.

Famous Lindas include singer Linda Ronstadt; actresses Linda Hunt, Linda Hamilton, and Linda Blair; Canadian model Linda Evangelista; musician Linda McCartney; and American journalist Linda Ellerbee.

Next: A kingly name

9. William

Many men share the name with the future king of England. | Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
  • How many: 3.7 million people

William comes from the Germanic name Willahelm. Willahelm comes from the words “wil,” which means “will, desire” and “helm,” which translates to “helmet, protection.”

After William the Conqueror became the first Norman king of England in the 11th century, the name became very popular. Other famous Williams include authors William Faulkner and William Shakespeare; actors William Shatner and Will Smith; and singer Willie Nelson.

Next: A queenly name

10. Elizabeth

Queen Elizabeth II Visits Frankfurt am Main
Queen Elizabeth II isn’t the first queen with the name. | Chris Jackson/Getty Images
  • How many: 1.44 million people

Hungary’s Saint Elizabeth, a 12th-century king’s daughter, popularized the name. Derived from the Greek version of the Hebrew name Elisheva, Elizabeth means either “my God is an oath” or “my God is abundance.”

The name became wildly popular in England when Queen Elizabeth I ascended the throne in the 16th century. Famous Elizabeths include the current British Queen Elizabeth II; actresses Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Hurley, and Elizabeth Banks; and poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning.

Next: This name means “beloved.”

11. David

David Muir
Journalist David Muir shares this ancient name with many. | Bennett Raglin/Getty Images
  • How many: 3.6 million people

David comes from the Hebrew name Dawid, which likely came from the Hebrew word dwd, meaning “beloved.” This name dates back to the 10th century B.C. when the second king of Israel — famous for defeating Goliath — bore it. David has been used in Britain since the Middle Ages and enjoyed immense popularity in Wales and Scotland.

Famous Davids include musician David Bowie, soccer star David Beckham, and actors David Duchovny and David Schwimmer.

Next: This name means “foreign.”

12. Barbara

Barbara Walters is on stage is a green outfit talking into a microphone.
Barbara Walters is just one of the famous Barbaras. | Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images
  • How many: 1.41 million people

Barbara is derived from the Greek word barbarous, which translates to “foreign.” Saint Barbara, the patron saint of geologists, stonemasons, architects, and artillerymen, popularized the name in the Middle Ages. Famous Barbaras include actress Barbara Stanwyck, country music star Barbara Mandell, and entrepreneur Barbara Corcoran.

Next: A very brave name

13. Richard

Richard Nixon
Former President Richard Nixon might have tarnished the name a bit. | Keystone/Getty Images
  • How many: 2.5 million people

Richard translates to “brave power,” which comes from the Germanic words ric, meaning “power, rule” and hard, meaning “brave, hardy.” The name has been popular since the Normans introduced it to Britain, and three kings of England were named Richard.

Famous Richards include former president Richard Nixon, entrepreneur Richard Branson, actor Richard Gere, and comedian Richard Pryor.

Next: This name means “lily” or “rose.”

14. Susan

Susan Lucci and Tony Dovolani have their arms around each other as they get feedback from judges.
Susan Lucci shares the name with more than 1 million women. | ABC
  • How many: 1.1 million people

The English variant of Susanna, the name Susan derives from the Hebrew word shoshan, meaning “lily” or “rose.” After the Protestant Reformation, the name became quite popular and people began spelling it “Susan.” Famous Susans include women’s rights activist Susan B. Anthony, actress Susan Sarandon, diplomat Susan Rice, and journalist Susan Sontag.

Next: A famous dictator had this name.

15. Joseph

Barack Obama and Joe Biden share a laugh, both in suits
Joe Biden’s name is just a bit more popular than his friend Barack’s. | Olivier Douliery-Pool/Getty Images
  • How many: 2.4 million people

Joseph comes from the Hebrew name Yosef, meaning “he will add.” Joseph was a popular Jewish name in the Middle Ages and later became fashionable in Spain and Italy when Saint Joseph became well-known. Famous Josephs include Polish-British author Joseph Conrad, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, politician Joe Biden, and NFL player Joe Montana.

Next: A lovely name to behold

16. Jessica

Jessica Alba speaks onstage for Passion Play: How Jessica Alba and Mario Batali Created Multichannel Marvels during the Fast Company Innovation Festival at 92nd Street Y on October 25, 2017 in New York City.
Jessica Alba is one of many actresses with the name. | Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Fast Company
  • How many: 1 million people

The name originated in the Shakespeare play The Merchant of Venice and belonged to Shylock’s daughter. It didn’t gain popularity until the middle of the 20th century. Jessica comes from the Hebrew name Yiskah, meaning “to behold.” Famous Jessicas include actresses Jessica Lange, Jessica Alba, and Jessica Biel; athlete Jessica Ennis; and country singer Jessie James.

Next: Twinning

17. Thomas

Tom Hanks is one of the most popular men with the name. | Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images
  • How many: 2.17 million people

Thomas is the Greek version of Ta’oma’, an Aramaic name meaning “twin.” After the Normans brought the name in Britain, it became popular thanks to Saint Thomas Becket, the 12th-century Archbishop of Canterbury. Famous bearers include actors Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise; U.S. President Thomas Jefferson; and inventor Thomas Edison.

Next: A noble name for a noblewoman

18. Sarah

Sarah Jessica Parker standing in a blue fringe dress while holding a blue purse down at her side.
Sarah Jessica Parker has two popular names on this list. | Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
  • How many: 996,000 people

Sarah translates from Hebrew into “lady, princess, noblewoman.” It didn’t become popular in England until after the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s. Famous Sarahs include actress Sarah Jessica Parker, comedian Sarah Silverman, politician Sarah Palin, and singer Sarah McLachlan.

Next: A manly man’s name

19. Charles

Prince Charles walking outside
Prince Charles is yet another example of British royalty with popular names. | Chris Jackson/Getty Images
  • How many: 2.14 million people

Charles comes from the Germanic “Karl,” which means “man.” Charles the Great, aka Charlemagne, popularized it in Europe, and it became the name of many kings across the continent. The name became even more fashionable in the 17th century, thanks to King Charles I’s reign.

Famous Charles include naturalist Charles Darwin, novelist Charles Dickens, French statesman Charles de Gaulle, and American cartoonist Charles Schulz.

Next: A pearl of a girl

20. Margaret

Margaret Cho
Margaret Cho shares the name with about a million women. | Santiago Felipe/Getty Images
  • How many: 993,000 people

Margaret derives from the Latin name Margarita, which comes from the Greek word margarites, which means “pearl.” Christians seeking to honor Saint Margaret, the patron of expectant mothers, used the name in the Middle Ages.

amous Margarets include authors Margaret Mitchell and Margaret Atwood; Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon; comedian Margaret Cho; Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; and anthropologist Margaret Mead.

Read more: The Most Popular Dog Names of All Time May Surprise You

Check out The Cheat Sheet on Facebook!