We often see “top lists” of baby names — top ten names of 2005, the trendiest, the coolest, the most popular names of the decade — and so on. Readers find these lists endlessly fascinating, often using such lists to help them choose the name for their own offspring. But now, in what is most likely the first appearance of this set of data, comes the mother of all names lists: The Top 100 Baby Names Of The 20th Century (USA). For parents who want to know what the really enduring names are, at least in the United States, this is the list to beat all lists.
This definitive compilation of data, spanning the years from 1900 to 1999, is based on an analysis performed by the publishers of the baby names website http://www.babynamesgarden.com. This “best of the century” list, based on Social Security Card applications for births in the United States, determines and ranks the top 50 boys’ names and the top 50 girls’ names spanning the entire 20th century. It was compiled using the same methodology as used by the Social Security Administration in compiling their most popular names of the decade lists, i.e. by totaling the raw numbers. But in the analysis by Baby Names Garden, the time period studied is the entire 20th Century.
There are plenty of surprises: Donald in the # 13 all time spot; Dorothy in the # 9 spot for girls, followed by Betty at # 10, to name a few. It may surprise people to see Patricia at the # 2 all-time girl’s spot. Plus, there are some fascinating trends revealed by the data, such as the top 10 boys’ names accounting for nearly 35 million names over the century, while the top 10 girls’ account for only about 15 million names, clearly demonstrating the huge variety of girls’ names versus boys’ names, going back to 1900.
Just as they do today, Biblical names make a strong showing on the list. On the boy’s side, no fewer than six biblical names appear in the all-time top ten; on the girl’s side, two names have biblical roots. This discrepancy between boys’ and girls’ biblical names, with boys’ always being more popular, holds true today.
Given the greater volatility over time of girls’ names, it is not surprising to see that some superstars of the 20th Century, such as Linda, which ranks # 3 in the century, has fallen precipitously — all the way to # 416 by 2005. Poor Betty, # 10 in the 20th Century, has fared even worse — the name has not ranked in the top 1000 since squeaking onto the list at # 918 in 1996.
What names are still hot? Amazingly, five boys’ names from the top dozen of the 20th Century – Michael, Daniel, Christopher, Joseph and William – are still in the top twelve today. For girls, only Elizabeth (#12 in 2005) shows that kind of endurance. For more than 100 years, parents have been very traditional in picking boys’ names but ready to take a chance on something new when it comes to girls’ names.
So what were the Top Baby Names of 20th Century? Here are the top ten for each gender:
How are the superstars of the 20th Century, James and Mary, performing today? True to form, the boy’s name, James, is still not far from the top. It ranked # 17 in 2005. Mary, while not slumping like some of her sister names, is not doing so well. In 2005, she was # 73. More ominous for Mary, she has been trending downward since she last held the # 1 spot back in 1961. But even if Mary falls out of the top 100, it may only be temporary. Consider the name Emily, the hottest girl’s name for the last ten years. 45 years ago, when Mary was # 1, Emily was # 265. Names, like most fashions, ebb and flow with the tastes of the day.
You can see the numbers behind these rankings, plus the full list of top 50 boys’ and top 50 girls’ names of the 20th Century, at http://www.babynamesgarden.com/decade.aspx