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Most popular baby names of every decade

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Patryk Kosmider // Shutterstock

Most popular baby names of every decade

One of the most important and exciting tasks for new parents is picking out their child's name. Whether it's a long-held family name, a biblical name, or a name that holds special meaning for mom or dad, choosing the moniker that your child will carry for life isn't something to take lightly. Over the years, certain names have peaked and then faded in popularity while others stayed at the top of the rankings for multiple decades. And while traditional and biblical names always seem to be in style, we've also seen some more uncommon names become trendy.

The advent of movies and television had a significant influence on society, and baby names were no exception. As pop culture became a bigger part of our lives, the popular baby names of those decades reflected it, with some names seeming to have been pulled straight from the silver screen. We've also seen plenty of unusual celebrity baby names over the years, but how many made it into the top rankings?

Using information collected from the Social Security Administration's historical baby name database, Stacker compiled a list of the top five baby names for both girls and boys in every decade. Stacker's list starts with the 1880s, the year in which the Social Security Administration began recording these data and ends in the 2010s. The data was released in May 2019.

We've included some of the meanings and origins of the names, why they might have been popular during that particular era, and some famous people who shared the top five names of that decade.

Starting with America's early years and taking you through the Great Depression, World War II, hippie generation, '90s grunge, and into the next century, here are the baby names that were the most popular during every decade:

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1880s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (91,668 babies born)
--- #2. Anna (38,159 babies born)
--- #3. Emma (25,404 babies born)
--- #4. Elizabeth (25,006 babies born)
--- #5. Margaret (21,799 babies born)

The 1880s were a time of growth and change in America, with a large influx of Eastern European, Southern European, and Jewish immigrants fleeing religious persecution. The most popular girl names of this era reflect that growth, as the names Mary and Elizabeth are both Hebrew in origin, while Emma comes from the old German word for "whole."

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Pixabay

1880s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. John (89,950 babies born)
--- #2. William (84,881 babies born)
--- #3. James (54,056 babies born)
--- #4. George (47,651 babies born)
--- #5. Charles (46,656 babies born)

Popular boy names in the 1880s had one common theme in that they were all also the names of various kings of England. While America had won its freedom from England more than 100 years earlier, some influence seemed to remain when it came to picking out names for male children. Charles and William are both of German origin, while James and John are Hebrew. Despite being the name of more than one British king, the name George is Greek and means "tiller of the soil."

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1890s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (131,136 babies born)
--- #2. Anna (55,261 babies born)
--- #3. Margaret (37,937 babies born)
--- #4. Helen (37,802 babies born)
--- #5. Elizabeth (33,879 babies born)

Most of the top girl names in the 1890s carried over from the 1880s, and names like Mary, Margaret, and Elizabeth were still very popular. The name Helen, which is Greek in origin, was a new addition, as well as the name Anna, a Hebrew name meaning "Gracious." During this time, the National Woman Suffrage Association had started to gain ground across the country, which possibly led mothers to endow their daughters with strong, meaningful names.

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1890s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. John (80,665 babies born)
--- #2. William (72,244 babies born)
--- #3. James (50,724 babies born)
--- #4. George (43,358 babies born)
--- #5. Charles (36,848 babies born)

Top boy names for the 1890s kept to the status quo, with all the same names that were popular in the 1880s staying in the top five and even maintaining the same order of popularity. Because it was still very common for parents to look to the family Bible for baby names, it's not surprising that biblical names like John and James were trendy. Additionally, the name George was the name of Christian martyr Saint George, the patron saint of England.

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1900s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (161,505 babies born)
--- #2. Helen (69,429 babies born)
--- #3. Margaret (57,921 babies born)
--- #4. Anna (54,918 babies born)
--- #5. Ruth (51,011 babies born)

The names Mary and Margaret were still among the top choices in girl names in the 1900s, as well as Helen and Anna. Added to the list was the name Ruth, a biblical name of Hebrew origin meaning "friend." The popularity of the name may have been influenced by President Grover Cleveland, who named his firstborn daughter Ruth.

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Evgeny Atamanenko // Shutterstock

1900s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. John (84,593 babies born)
--- #2. William (69,319 babies born)
--- #3. James (62,170 babies born)
--- #4. George (43,589 babies born)
--- #5. Charles (36,184 babies born)

The 1900s brought the same popular boy names as the previous 20 years, in the exact same order. While choosing names from the Bible remained a common method of baby-naming, the influence of famous authors such as Charles Dickens, who died in 1870 but was still widely read, might also have been a factor.

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1910s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (478,639 babies born)
--- #2. Helen (248,155 babies born)
--- #3. Dorothy (207,476 babies born)
--- #4. Margaret (189,233 babies born)
--- #5. Ruth (173,678 babies born)

Mary was still the #1 choice for girl names in the 1910s, but Margaret was edged out by the names Helen and Dorothy. The name Dorothy is of Greek origin and means "gift of God." The ongoing popularity of the name Helen may have been related to the continued success of Helen Keller's biography "The Story of my Life," which was published in 1901.

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1910s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. John (376,318 babies born)
--- #2. William (303,020 babies born)
--- #3. James (275,076 babies born)
--- #4. Robert (239,189 babies born)
--- #5. Joseph (179,302 babies born)

While John, William, and James remained first picks for boys in the 1910s, The names Robert and Joseph had also become very popular. As John and James, Joseph, which is of Hebrew origin and means "God shall add another son," was most likely taken straight from the Bible.

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Max Pixel

1920s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (701,754 babies born)
--- #2. Dorothy (368,871 babies born)
--- #3. Helen (290,402 babies born)
--- #4. Betty (283,093 babies born)
--- #5. Margaret (245,008 babies born)

The roaring 1920s were a time of economic growth, social change, and the advent of a more urban culture that included music, movies, and young women called "flappers," who danced, smoked, and drank despite prohibition laws. The name Betty, a diminutive of Elizabeth, made its way to the top of the baby name charts during this time. "Betty" was also the name of a young woman in a popular comic strip created by artist Charles Voight, which ran from 1920 to 1943 and may have inspired parents to name their daughters after the glamorous character.

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Oksana Kuzmina // Shutterstock

1920s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Robert (576,364 babies born)
--- #2. John (564,063 babies born)
--- #3. James (515,309 babies born)
--- #4. William (512,400 babies born)
--- #5. Charles (298,034 babies born)

The name Robert took the lead in the 1920s, while Charles made its way back into the top five after dropping off in the 1910s. Famous film actor Charlie Chaplin might have had something to do with the renewed popularity, as movies had become a big part of American life, and Chaplin's career was at its peak during this time.

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1930s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (572,956 babies born)
--- #2. Betty (300,383 babies born)
--- #3. Barbara (296,404 babies born)
--- #4. Shirley (229,359 babies born)
--- #5. Patricia (220,576 babies born)

The names Mary and Betty held the #1 and #2 spots into the 1930s, but the names Barbara, Shirley, and Patricia also became very popular. One of the most famous Shirleys of the era was child actress Shirley Temple, who starred in more than 25 films between 1932 and 1939. With people turning to movies to help distract themselves from the Great Depression, it's quite likely that "Little Miss Miracle," as she was known, was one of the reasons the name became so widely used.

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1930s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Robert (590,734 babies born)
--- #2. James (547,396 babies born)
--- #3. John (487,878 babies born)
--- #4. William (416,673 babies born)
--- #5. Richard (330,449 babies born)

Robert was still the #1 choice for boy names in the 1930s, with James, John, and William following close behind. The name Richard made the list as well. It's a traditional name of German origin, which means "strong ruler." Famous Richards born in the 1930s include talk show host Richard "Dick" Cavett and actor Richard Chamberlain.

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1940s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (640,031 babies born)
--- #2. Linda (531,640 babies born)
--- #3. Barbara (425,249 babies born)
--- #4. Patricia (411,403 babies born)
--- #5. Carol (292,325 babies born)

During the 1940s, World War II meant women had to step outside of their traditional roles and into "men's jobs," which brought lasting change to society. Alongside these changes, names for girls were evolving too. Mary was still the all-time favorite, but more modern names like Carol and Linda had made their way into the top rankings. Singer Jack Lawrence made the name Linda even more popular with the release of his single, "Linda," in 1946. He wrote the song for Linda Eastman, his attorney's baby daughter, who was later known as Linda McCartney, the wife of Beatles front-man Paul McCartney.

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1940s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. James (795,680 babies born)
--- #2. Robert (758,037 babies born)
--- #3. John (711,533 babies born)
--- #4. William (556,414 babies born)
--- #5. Richard (477,417 babies born)

While the top boy names in the 1940s were the same as the 1930s, the name James took over the #1 spot, with Robert and John dropping into second and third place. Going to the movies had become one of America's favorite pastimes, so it's possible celebrities like James Stewart and James Gleason had something to do with the sudden boost of the name's popularity. President Theodore Roosevelt also had a son named James, who played an active part in Roosevelt's early political career.

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1950s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Mary (625,568 babies born)
--- #2. Linda (564,317 babies born)
--- #3. Patricia (459,638 babies born)
--- #4. Susan (437,736 babies born)
--- #5. Deborah (430,519 babies born)

With more than 600,000 baby girls named Mary in the 1950s, it seemed like the name couldn't be shaken from the #1 spot. Linda and Patricia were also still on the list, and the names Susan and Deborah debuted as the other two most popular names. One of the most famous Susans of the era was actress Susan Hayward, and England's Queen Elizabeth II named her first Pembroke Corgi, which she received as a gift for her 18th birthday.

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Zach Vessels // Unsplash

1950s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. James (843,531 babies born)
--- #2. Michael (837,199 babies born)
--- #3. Robert (830,179 babies born)
--- #4. John (797,717 babies born)
--- #5. David (769,685 babies born)

James was still holding at #1 for boys in the 1950s, but Michael had also become quite popular, debuting at #2 with more than 800,000 baby boys given the name. Michael is of Hebrew origin and is the name of the archangel in the Bible's Book of Daniel. David, which means "beloved" and is also of Hebrew origin, was the other new addition to the top choices, with more than 760,000 boys bestowed with the name in the 1950s.

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1960s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Lisa (496,976 babies born)
--- #2. Mary (355,224 babies born)
--- #3. Susan (287,654 babies born)
--- #4. Karen (286,047 babies born)
--- #5. Kimberly (259,076 babies born)

The 1960s brought political protests, social change, and upheaval across the whole country. That upheaval even impacted name choices, when after more than 80 years in the #1 spot, the name Mary slipped to #2, surpassed by the name Lisa. Susan was still in the top five, and the names Karen and Kimberly debuted as well. Famous Lisas born in the 1960s include actress Lisa Bonet and journalist Lisa Ling, and singer Elvis Presley named his baby girl Lisa when she was born in 1968.

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1960s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Michael (833,217 babies born)
--- #2. David (734,032 babies born)
--- #3. John (713,500 babies born)
--- #4. James (684,851 babies born)
--- #5. Robert (650,842 babies born)

Michael peaked at #1 for boy names in the 1960s, with another 800,000+ baby boys given the name during this time. David moved up to #2, and James, while still very popular, dropped to #4. The name John moved up from the #4 spot to #3, which was perhaps due in part to the popularity of President John F. Kennedy.

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Oksana Kuzmina // Shutterstock

1970s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Jennifer (581,763 babies born)
--- #2. Amy (268,999 babies born)
--- #3. Melissa (253,283 babies born)
--- #4. Michelle (249,144 babies born)
--- #5. Kimberly (229,107 babies born)

The name Jennifer, which means "fair spirit" and is of English origin, was #1 for girl names in the 1970s. While the name seemed to have come from nowhere, it's probably no coincidence that the very popular movie "Love Story," released in 1970, had a lead character, played by Ali MacGraw, named "Jenny." The name Mary had completely fallen off the list by now, replaced at #2 by Amy, followed by Melissa, Michelle, and Kimberly.

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1970s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Michael (707,647 babies born)
--- #2. Christopher (475,606 babies born)
--- #3. Jason (462,935 babies born)
--- #4. David (445,949 babies born)
--- #5. James (444,946 babies born)

The name Michael was still holding strong at #1 in the 1970s, with new contenders Christopher and Jason at #2 and #3. Both Christopher and Jason are of Greek origin, and Christopher translates to "Christ-bearer" while Jason means "healer." Famous Christophers born in the 1970s include Coldplay frontman Chris Martin and actor Chris O'Donnell, while comedian Jason Sudeikis and actor Jason Momoa are also kids of the '70s.

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1980s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Jessica (469,487 babies born)
--- #2. Jennifer (440,871 babies born)
--- #3. Amanda (369,721 babies born)
--- #4. Ashley (352,187 babies born)
--- #5. Sarah (272,613 babies born)

Acid-washed jeans, big hair, and New Wave music were all popular in the 1980s, but as far as baby names go, Jessica was the winner. More than 450,000 babies were given the name Jessica during this time, knocking Jennifer from the #1 spot. Pop culture had become an ingrained part of American society, so the obsession with Jessica could be attributed to popular celebrities like actress Jessica Lange, or fictional characters like Jessica Rabbit from the 1988 movie, "Who Framed Roger Rabbit."

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1980s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Michael (663,742 babies born)
--- #2. Christopher (554,904 babies born)
--- #3. Matthew (458,976 babies born)
--- #4. Joshua (396,590 babies born)
--- #5. David (383,723 babies born)

Boy names in the 1980s weren't too far different from the 1970s, with Michael retaining its #1 spot and Christopher at #2. The names Matthew and Joshua also became popular during this time, coming in at #3 and #4. Former teen heartthrob and actor Matt Dillon starred in many movies during the 1980s, which certainly could have increased the popularity of the name.

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1990s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Jessica (303,094 babies born)
--- #2. Ashley (301,803 babies born)
--- #3. Emily (237,232 babies born)
--- #4. Sarah (224,338 babies born)
--- #5. Samantha (224,000 babies born)

It was still all about Jessica in the 1990s, with more than 300,000 baby girls given the name. Jessica was closely followed by Ashley at #2, and Emily, Sarah, and Samantha rounded out the top five. The name Ashley, which is of English origin and means "Ash tree," is actually considered a unisex name. It was primarily a man’s name into the 1900s, and was the name of Scarlett O'Hara's love interest in the 1939 movie, "Gone with the Wind."

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yifanjrb // Shutterstock

1990s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Michael (462,327 babies born)
--- #2. Christopher (360,212 babies born)
--- #3. Matthew (351,615 babies born)
--- #4. Joshua (329,124 babies born)
--- #5. Jacob (298,345 babies born)

For the fourth decade in a row, Michael was #1 for boy names in the 1990s. The names Christopher and Matthew retained their #2 and #3 spots, with Joshua and Jacob coming in fourth and fifth. There were plenty of famous Michaels in the spotlight during this time, which probably helped keep its #1 status. From music superstar Michael Jackson to sports phenomenon Michael Jordan, as well as boxing champ Mike Tyson and actor Michael J. Fox, the name Michael was hotter than ever.

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Evgeny Atamanenko // Shutterstock

2000s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Emily (223,690 babies born)
--- #2. Madison (193,152 babies born)
--- #3. Emma (181,257 babies born)
--- #4. Olivia (156,000 babies born)
--- #5. Hannah (155,698 babies born)

The new decade brought a new assortment of popular girl names, with Emily coming in at #1, followed by Madison at #2, then Emma, Olivia, and Hannah. The name Madison, a derivative of Madeline or Maud, had slowly grown in popularity after the release of the 1984 movie "Splash," in which actress Daryl Hannah plays a mermaid by that name. By the 2000s, it was one of the most-used baby names in the U.S.

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Pixabay

2000s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Jacob (273,844 babies born)
--- #2. Michael (250,554 babies born)
--- #3. Joshua (231,926 babies born)
--- #4. Matthew (221,513 babies born)
--- #5. Daniel (203,720 babies born)

The 2000s saw the recycling of many boy names that had been popular in previous decades, with Jacob topping the list during this time, followed by Michael, Joshua, and Matthew. The name Daniel came in at #5, with more than 200,000 baby boys given the name. While Daniel hasn't always made the top five boy names, it has always been high on the list for most-used baby names in the U.S. Famous Daniels in the 2000s include actors such as Daniel Craig, Daniel Day-Lewis, and Daniel Radcliffe of "Harry Potter" fame.

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Marlon Lopez MMG1 Design // Shutterstock

2010s for girls

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Emma (177,410 babies born)
--- #2. Sophia (166,986 babies born)
--- #3. Olivia (165,581 babies born)
--- #4. Isabella (156,709 babies born)
--- #5. Ava (140,979 babies born)

It felt like a return to romance in the 2010s, with the name Emma at #1 and Sophia, Olivia, Isabella, and Ava rounding out the top five. As always, celebrity influence was a factor, and the popularity of actresses such as Emma Stone and Olivia Wilde might help explain the number of baby girls named after them. The name Ava, which came in at #5, is also the name of several celebrity children, including actress Reese Witherspoon's daughter and Bon Jovi rocker Richie Sambora's daughter.

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Stockforlife // Shutterstock

2010s for boys

- Most popular baby names:
--- #1. Noah (163,657 babies born)
--- #2. Liam (152,994 babies born)
--- #3. Jacob (152,020 babies born)
--- #4. Mason (146,079 babies born)
--- #5. William (145,893 babies born)

The 2010s finally knocked some of the more traditional boy names out of the top five, with Noah coming in at #1. The name William, which hadn't made the top five since the 1940s, also came back into play, with more than 145,000 baby boys given the name during this time. America's never-ending fascination with the British royals, primarily Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton, might have been part of the reason for the name's resurgence.

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