Most Popular Baby Names in the United States
In this section of the site we have data on the most popular baby names since records began in 1880 to the most recent data in 2021. These names are taken directly from the Social Security card applications for births that occurred in the United States.
The table below shows the top 50 most popular boys and girls baby names for the latest year, 2021, with a total count for the number of births registered with that given name.
How Are the Most Popular Baby Names Determined?
Popular baby names, based on the year when they are popular, are determined by the number of people who give their baby that particular name in a single year. This information is collected by the social security administration, on a yearly basis, as people register their babies for a social security card.
This is slightly different from other name data in the US, which is performed by census every 10 years. The reason for the change is because most people don’t want to wait 10 years to be updated on which baby names are the most popular, rather they want to know about the last few years, now. There is still a lag when it comes to the social security administration releasing these numbers, but the wait is far less than 10 years.
Why Are the Most Popular Baby Names Different from the Most Popular First Names?
If you’ve taken a look at the most popular female first names or the most popular male first names in the United States, you’ll see those lists are much different than the ones above with the most popular baby names. Why is this?
Well, you have to remember that the lists of the most popular first names in the US include census data taken of all the people in the United States. Currently, in the US, 6% of the population is under 5 years old, 22.3% is under the age of 18, and 16.5% of the country is above the age of 65.
16.5% is one of the highest levels this percentage has ever been at as the Baby Boomer generation continues to age. Therefore you can attribute at least 16.5% of the names on the popular first names pages to the aging Baby Boomer generation. Thus names like ‘Mary’ and ‘Barbara,’ which haven’t been commonly given to babies for decades, are still at the top of the list because the number of ‘Mary’s’ in the country is still far more than the number of ‘Olivia’s’.
Not to mention that the birth rate in the United States has been on a decline for years as young people find themselves unable to earn a living wage, purchase a large enough house, or afford all of the additional costs that come with raising a child. This means it will be quite a while (likely until many of the Baby Boomers die) before the baby names list more closely resembles those lists with the common first names.
What Makes a Baby Name Popular?
Maybe you are looking at this list and thinking there are many names you have never seen before. Or maybe a name you recognize is on there when you didn’t expect it to be. Either way, you’re wondering just what makes a baby name popular. The reality is, there is no simple answer to this question.
Baby names go through periods of popularity only to fall off the list completely a few years later. Historians can try to guess why people name their kid's certain names, but they will never know for sure. Here are some of the suspected ways baby names become popular.
An Adored Celebrity Has the Name
Americans love their celebrities. They enjoy following the likes of the Kardashians, Kanye West, and Taylor Swift as they go about their daily lives. And when an American looks up to or admires a celebrity, they will frequently name their baby after that celebrity.
Additionally, sometimes when celebrities have kids and give them a name, the general population also falls in love with that name and gives it to their children as well. For example, the name ‘Isla’ which has recently become popular, probably made the list in part thanks to actress Isla Fisher and ‘Liam’ likely made the list thanks to actor Liam Neeson.
Named After a Character
Just as people like celebrities, they also enjoy their books and movies. There are frequent spikes in the occurrence of certain names following the popularity of a certain book or TV show.
This is likely what brought names like ‘Isabella’ and ‘Olivia’ to the top of the list after many years of not being on it. Olivia is the name of a popular character on the long-running TV show Law and Order Special Victims Unit, while Isabella is the name of the main character from the book Twilight.
People Like to Copy Others
Humans are weird. They tend to like things that other humans like. This is why people frequently go to their friends and family for recommendations for products or restaurants to visit. Thus, when an individual hears a name they like being given to another baby, they may decide to give this name to their baby as well just because their friend did so.
Of course, this is hard to prove, however, but it is a theory.
People Remember What They Hear
One of the reasons advertising works and companies pay so much money for commercials is because people tend to remember and think of things they see and hear multiple times. Although they may not realize it, this stays in their mind and affects their buying choices later on in life.
In the same way, people remember the names they hear over and over. So even if your name is ‘Olivia’ and your mom didn’t intentionally name you after the character on the TV show, she may have simply heard it more often as other people named their child the same name. Which would lead to her giving you the name without realizing she named you the most common baby name of 2020.
Baby Names are Sometimes Family Names
It can seem strange that an older name like ‘Eleanor’ is still on the list of top baby names. Likely, this was a popular name generations ago, which is continuing to be passed down through the practice of naming your child after an older relative.
Although this practice is becoming less common, there are still plenty of people out there who name their children after their parents or grandparents, keeping some names on the list which may seem outdated.
Religion or Politics
The final place many Americans get their baby names from is as a result of their religious beliefs or political affirmations. Many religious stories have deep meanings which lead parents to name their children after the figure in the story. ‘Hannah’, a name that has been in the top 50 baby names for decades, comes from the Hebrew word for ‘Grace.’ Hannah is also the mother of Samuel in the old testament.
Religious names are becoming less and less popular as the years go by, but ‘Noah,’ a figure in the old testament who built a large boat, has been on the top list for decades and shows no sign of moving, likely because of the fact that people remember what they hear, as mentioned above.
As for politics, if you look at the 1980s, you will notice a spike in the name ‘Reagan’ which is a prime example of people naming their children after the political beliefs, namely President Ronald Reagan in this instance who was a loved president in the 1980s.
Overall, there is no sure-fire way to say why people are all suddenly naming their babies the way they are, but many scientists believe the above reasons help explain the baby naming situation in the United States a little better.
Popular Baby Names by Year
Are you interested to find out the most popular baby names chosen for each state? The links below will give you lots of information about the popularity of certain names in each US state.
Popular Baby Names by Year
Below is a list of all the years we have data for, with links to the popular baby names for that year.
More Data on Baby Names in the United States
You can also use the links below to research more about the most popular baby names.
Historical Data for Baby Names
If you're interested to see how the trends and popularity of baby names have changed, you can use the links below to view the historical data by decade.
All of the data on this page is sourced from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and excludes any names with fewer than 5 occurrences in any geographic area.