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The Most Popular Boys' and Girls' Names in the U.S.
(and How They've Changed)

Every year, the Social Security Administration compiles the most popular male and female baby names. The names come from Social Security card applications -- 100 percent of them that are completely filled out to include the year of birth, sex and state of birth.

popular baby names

Is your new baby a Jacob or an Emily? If so they've gotten one of the most popular names of 2006.

Some interesting notes about how the most popular names in the nation are ranked:

  • A name must be more than two characters long to be included

  • Different name spellings (like Jenny, Jeni, Jenni) are considered separate names

  • To protect privacy, only the top 1,000 names (and 100 names by state) are listed

  • Names are ranked according to sex, so names that apply to both genders (Casey, Shannon, etc.) will have separate rankings by sex

  • Name data is not edited, which means names such as "Unknown" or "Baby," or those listed with the wrong sex, are included in the count

Names, of course, seem to come in and out of fashion along with hairstyles, slang terms and clothing trends. Just take a tour down the decades of the last century to see how popular names have changed (lists below).

What's in a Name?

The driving forces that make or break a name, and motivate parents to choose it for their child, are varied. Along with wanting to express spiritual and moral values, many parents are also interested in choosing something unique.

"Names are an insight into social trends," says Tristan Hopkinson, brand manager for Bounty, a baby-product marketing company. "They go in and out in cycles. But there are those like John, a constant feature since 1899, which have a fairly long life cycle. And then those which have a shorter cycle, which pop in and out."

popular baby names

Pick your child's name carefully: 56 percent of parents surveyed said their children grew up to be like their name (did you?).

A survey by Bounty revealed that parents' motives for naming their children can be just as diverse as the names they choose:

  • 11 percent were motivated by celebrity names

  • 14 percent preferred a traditional name

  • 26 percent wanted a name that came from their family

  • 4 percent wanted a religious name

  • 25 percent wanted a name that "nobody else had"

Still, while unusual name spellings are increasing, and more and more people are finding motivation to choose names based on TV characters, surnames, fruits, seasons and more, some traditional names still hold strong.

"Although popular myth would have it that we live in secular age, the names with solid moral and spiritual value are still coming through," says Hopkinson.

And names do seem to be important for a person's future. More than half (56 percent) of the parents surveyed "felt their children grew up to be like their name," Hopkinson said.

If you want to know whether your name made the "popularity" cut -- or are searching for the perfect unique name for your coming baby (and want to know what names to avoid) -- here's a list of the top 10 baby names for seven years spanning the last century and beyond (including 2006).

The Top Baby Names of ...

  Boys Girls
1. Jacob Emily
2. Michael Emma
3. Joshua Madison
4. Matthew Abigail
5. Ethan Olivia
6. Andrew Isabella
7. Daniel Hannah
8. Anthony Samantha
9. Christopher Ava
10. Joseph Ashley
  Boys Girls
1. Michael Jennifer
2. Christopher Amanda
3. Jason Jessica
4. David Melissa
5. James Sarah
6. Matthew Heather
7. Joshua Nicole
8. John Amy
9. Robert Elizabeth
10. Joseph Michelle
  Boys Girls
1. David Mary
2. Michael Susan
3. James Linda
4. John Karen
5. Robert Donna
6. Mark Lisa
7. William Patricia
8. Richard Debra
9. Thomas Cynthia
10. Steven Deborah
  Boys Girls
1. James Mary
2. Robert Barbara
3. John Patricia
4. William Judith
5. Richard Betty
6. Charles Carol
7. David Nancy
8. Thomas Linda
9. Donald Shirley
10. Ronald Sandra
  Boys Girls
1. John Mary
2. William Dorothy
3. Robert Helen
4. James Margaret
5. Charles Ruth
6. George Mildred
7. Joseph Virginia
8. Edward Elizabeth
9. Frank Frances
10. Richard Anna
  Boys Girls
1. John Mary
2. William Helen
3. James Anna
4. George Margaret
5. Charles Ruth
6. Robert Elizabeth
7. Joseph Florence
8. Frank Ethel
9. Edward Marie
10. Henry Lillian
  Boys Girls
1. John Mary
2. William Anna
3. James Emma
4. Charles Elizabeth
5. George Minnie
6. Frank Margaret
7. Joseph Ida
8. Thomas Alice
9. Henry Bertha
10. Robert Sarah

Recommended Reading

Does Wearing Shoes Help a Baby Learn to Walk Sooner?

Should New Mothers Breastfeed or Be Encouraged to Give Infants Formula?


The Social Security Administration

The Christian Science Monitor

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