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.)
- 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.
- 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 “
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.
- 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
Next: A name too sacred for mortals
- 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
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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
- How many: 1.45 million people
The name is a shortened form of medieval and Germanic names that contain the word
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
- How many: 3.7 million people
William comes from the Germanic name Willahelm.
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
- 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.”
- How many: 3.6 million people
David comes from the Hebrew name Dawid, which likely came from the Hebrew word
Famous Davids include musician David Bowie, soccer star David Beckham, and actors David Duchovny and David Schwimmer.
Next: This name means “foreign.”
- 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
- 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.”
- How many: 1.1 million people
The English variant of Susanna, the name Susan derives from the Hebrew word
Next: A famous dictator had this name.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
- 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.
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