20 Most Popular Baby Names Over the Last Century

Wendy Robinson | Mar 17, 2020 Pregnancy
20 Most Popular Baby Names Over the Last Century
Image: iStock

baby sleeping
iStock

In 1920, the average cost of a house was $6,000. There weren't quite 50 states in the United States yet, as statehood for Hawaii and Alaska was still almost 40 years away. One of the biggest news stories of 1920 was that women finally got the right to vote. It's hard to imagine that a 1920 mom and a 2020 mom would have a lot in common, except for both having to make that big choice about what to name their baby. 

While many of the most popular names of today, like Jaxon, McKenna, and Harper, feel pretty new, the truth is that many of the names that are popular today have been popular for a long time. Classic names like Michael, Elizabeth, Sarah, and John have been popular for over a century. According the the Social Security Administration, the names Michael and John alone were given to over 5% of all boys born from 1918-2018. We thought it would be interesting to look closer at the 100 most popular names from 1918-2018 to see which other names had staying power and which names peaked early and have fallen out of popularity but might be ready to make a comeback for 2020!

  • RICHARD

    1
    ashley.broomall/twenty20.com

    Richard, an Old German name meaning "powerful leader" was a wildly popular name for decades. It had a steady spot in the top 10 most popular boy names from 1920s until the mid-1970s. We can likely thank President Richard Nixon for the decline of popularity starting at the end of his presidency, though the rather unfortunate nickname for Richard probably doesn't help either. 

  • WILLIAM

    2
    5byseven/twenty20.com

    When it comes to names that are consistently popular, it's hard to beat William. William ranks No. 5 on the 1918-2018 list and has never ranked lower than No. 38 for well over 100 years. The name, which has German origins, is strong, masculine, and classic. People love Will and Willie as childhood nicknames, too. 

  • EMILY 

    3
    rohane/twenty20.com

    Emily ranks No. 20 on the 1918-2018 list, but its high rank doesn't tell the whole story. The name wasn't terribly popular for the first 50 years on the list, even falling out of the top 500 names for several years. However, it skyrocketed in popularity in the late 1970s and 1980s and has been in the top 20 ever since. 

  • SOPHIA

    4
    christine_harris/twenty20.com

    The Greek name for wisdom is currently one of the most popular girl's names in the US, but is only No. 96 on the 1918-2018 list. This name was far from popular in for most of the 20th century, ranking as low as 1550 in the 1950s! Sophia, and its nickname Sophie, seem to have real staying power now.  

  • HAROLD

    5
    kpirela/twenty20.com

    Here's the deal: Parents who name their child Harold have to make sure he has a steady supply of purple crayons! This Scandinavian name, which means "army ruler" was ranked No. 62 on the 1918-2018 list but that is only due to its popularity in the early years of the list. Although old-school names like this are making a bit of a comeback, it is still ranked below the top 1,000 names as of 2018. 

  • GRACE

    6
    troyan/twenty20.com

    Ranking No. 83 on the 1918-2018 list, this name has made a major comeback in the last three decades. It was popular as a virtue name in the 1800s but fell out of favor for much of the 20th century. But now the Latin name for "favored or blessing" is back in the top 100 again. It is also quite popular as a middle name. 

  • VINCENT 

    7
    Corayla_Phoenix/twenty20.com

    This Latin name, meaning "prevailing", can work equally as well for parents looking for a name with an artistic vibe (we see you, Van Gogh fans) as Catholic parents looking for a less frequently used saint's name. While it was No. 96 on the 100 year list, it is currently less trendy and has fallen out of the top 100 most popular names. 

  • EMMA

    8
    shanmccauley/twenty20.com

    Emma is charming, sweet, feminine, and easy to spell. It feels classic but not old fashioned, which may be why it is currently so popular. The name, which is German for "entire" or "universal" is currently in the top three for girl's names, though it only ranked as No. 44 on the 100 year list. 

  • ADAM

    9
    danielhalis/twenty20.com

    Names don't get much older than this Hebrew choice, which means "man" or "son of red earth." According to biblical tradition, this name was given to the first man and it has been in use ever since. It is currently ranked outside the top 100 list, but came in at No. 44 on the 1918-2018 list due to its popularity in the 1960s-1980s. 

  • EVELYN 

    10
    mardari.lilu/twenty20.com

    The French name Evelyn is a perfect example of a name that has fully transitioned from boy name to unisex to girl name. This name, which means "life", was No. 60 on the 1918-2018 list but is currently in the top 30 in the US. We love all the great nickname options, including Eve, Evvie, and Lyn. 

  • KEVIN

    11
    SBphoto/twenty20.com

    We need to talk about Kevin. And why this name, which has been popular for years but has seemed to fall out of favor. Kevin was ranked No. 23 on 1918-2018 list but isn't even in the top 200 any more. We're not sure why, given that Irish names continue to be so popular and this one has a great meaning: "handsome beloved." 

  • HELEN

    12
    dingo/twenty20.com

    Oh man, this is a name ready for a comeback! Helen, which is Greek for "shining light" or "sun ray" is lovely and elegant and was wildly popular for decades, even spending years in the top 10. It began to lose popularity in the mid-20th century and has never really recovered. It is still out of the top 500, which is crazy because this name is objectively great!

  • JERRY

    13
    veronicoleman/twenty20.com

    With a spot smack dab in the middle of the 1918-2018 list, Jerry has been ranked as high as 23rd. It's an English name derived from the more formal name Gerald. While there are many famous Jerrys, including Seinfeld and Garcia, the name is currently out of the top 1,000 most popular names for boys. 

  • RUTH

    14
    masharotari/twenty20.com

    The No. 40 name on the 1918-2018 list is a Hebrew name that is both biblical and making a comeback. Fans of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg might be driving the increase in popularity or parents choosing it might love that it means "friend or companion." Ruth is another name that enjoys popularity as a middle name as well. 

  • WILLIE 

    15
    dariariabova/twenty20.com

    We mentioned in a previous slide that William has been one of the most consistently popular boys names for centuries. The fact that the derivative name Willie ranks as high as No. 82 on the 1918-2018 list is proof of that popularity. Willie has also had some popularity as a girl's name in the tradition of Charlie and Frankie. 

  • JUDY

    16
    caitlinrheaphotos/twenty20.com

    Judy is the spunky and less formal version of the name Judith. It ranked No. 62 on the 1918-2018 list but has been less used since the 1960's. It's another fine Hebrew name choice and means "praised."

  • JOSE

    17
    carolinaE/twenty20.com

    The name Jose, which is the Spanish version of "Joseph" is ranked No. 53 on the 1918-2018 list, largely due to its steady increase in popularity since the 1950s. Fun nickname options include Pepe, Pepito, and Chepe. 

  • WALTER 

    18
    evgeniapetzer/twenty20.com

    We love the recent trend of "little old man" names getting popular again! Walter is adorable for both a 1-year-old and an 80-year-old! Walter was ranked No. 60 on the 1918-2018 list, largely due to its popularity in the 1920s-1950s. It was once ranked as high as No. 21, but dropped off a lot in popularity in the 1990s. We think that means this name with German origins is about to make a comeback. 

  • MADISON

    19
    Hanni/twenty20.com

    The fact that Madison ranks No. 80 on the list is a sign of how wildly popular it got in the 1990s and beyond. This name, which has British origins, went from being almost never used to being in the top five for years, though it is now merely a top 20 name. Popular nicknames include Maddie and Maddy. 

  • LOGAN

    20
    crystalmariesing/twenty20.com

    While it is a top 10 name now, Logan ranks only No. 92 on the historical list. This Gaelic name means "small hollow" and is starting to see more unisex usage in the US. Fans of the character Wolverine may be drawn to this name as well. 

baby names

More Slideshows