It’s the fifth most populous state, behind only California, Florida, Texas, and New York.
If you grew up in the United States, chances are you know all about Pennsylvania – at least the eastern part of the state, that played such a pivotal role in the American Revolution. School children and families alike troop past the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia. Betsy Ross’ house and Benjamin Franklin’s print shop are popular tourist stops, too.
But there’s more to the state than just the colonial landmarks. It stretches to the east, crossed by rivers and mountains, with Harrisburg and Lancaster near the middle and Pittsburgh in the west.
Are the names of this Mid-Atlantic state particularly distinctive? At first glance, the answer is no. But maybe it’s hard to see because there are just so many regions and cities.
If you’re after Pennsylvania baby names with ties to the Keystone State, plenty of options emerge.
First, let’s look at the most popular baby names in Pennsylvania.
TOP TEN BOY NAMES IN PENNSYLVANIA
1. LIAM (#1 in the US)
This year, the top name in Pennsylvania matches the US national favorite – upbeat, Irish-ish Liam.
2. NOAH (#2 in the US)
Noah falls from the top spot in Pennsylvania to second place, reflecting national trends.
3. OLIVER (#3 in the US)
A traditional favorite, well-established in the US Top Ten.
4. THEODORE (#10 in the US)
A new entry to Pennsylvania’s Top Ten, Theodore is rising rapidly across the US.
5. BENJAMIN (#9 in the US)
One of Pennsylvania’s most famous sons, Benjamin Franklin was a statesman, inventor, and major figure in early America. Across the state, “Big Ben” Roethlisberger played 18 seasons as quarterback for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Is it any surprise that this classic name ranks higher here than elsewhere?
6. JAMES (#4 in the US)
An enduring classic, never out of style.
7. OWEN (#18 in the US)
Owen fares far better in Pennsylvania than many places in the US.
8. LUCAS (#8 in the US)
Popular across much of the English-speaking world, and Europe, too.
9. HENRY (#7 in the US)
A name both traditional and surprisingly stylish.
10. MICHAEL (#16 in the US)
A long-time #1 name in the US, Michael has fallen in recent generations. But in Pennsylvania, it recently returned to the Top Ten.
TOP TEN GIRL NAMES IN PENNSYLVANIA
1. OLIVIA (#1 in the US)
Tops in Pennsylvania, and tops across the US, too.
2. CHARLOTTE (#3 in the US)
Speaking of top names, Charlotte is popular everywhere – and even a bit more common in the state.
3. EMMA (#2 in the US)
A long-time #1 favorite across the country, and still hovering near the top.
4. SOPHIA (#5 in the US)
The same is true for traditional Sophia.
5. AMELIA (#4 in the US)
Amelia lags just slightly behind its national ranking.
6. AVA (#7 in the US)
No surprises here. Powerhouse mini name Ava is a favorite everywhere.
7. ISABELLA (#6 in the US)
Romantic and strong, Isabella ranks in the Top Ten nearly everywhere – and has for years.
8. HARPER (#11 in the US)
In most of the country, Harper is a literary choice – and very popular. It’s a popular name in Pennsylvania, too – possibly boosted by Philadelphia Phillies MVP Bryce Harper.
9. EVELYN (#9 in the US)
Tailored, vintage Evelyn is a favorite in Pennsylvania, too.
10. MIA (#8 in the US)
Mia fares slightly worse in Pennsylvania, mostly to make space for Harper farther up on the list.
TOP 100 BOY NAMES IN PENNSYLVANIA
Names marked with a * do not appear in the US Top 100.
TOP 100 GIRLS NAMES IN PENNSYLVANIA
Names marked with a * do not appear in the US Top 100.
INSPIRED BY PENNSYLVANIA
For Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright, August Wilson. His most famous works include a series of ten plays known as the Pittsburgh Cycle.
Civil Rights activist Bayard Rustin often worked behind the scenes. Because he was openly gay, he faced discrimination even within the Civil Rights movement. By the 1980s, he’d also become a gay rights advocate. Today, a high school in his hometown of West Chester is named in his honor.
Betsy Ross sewed the original American flag – or so goes the story. There’s at least one other seamstress with an equally credible claim. But it’s easy to see how this name would be just right for a daughter born in Pennsylvania.
Born in Philadelphia, legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday puts her adopted name on the list. She was born Eleanora Fagan – another lovely given name, but not nearly as famous.
Sculptor Alexander Calder, best known for his mobiles, was born in Philadelphia.
Pioneering environmentalist Rachel Carson was born in the western part of the state.
An artist surname name inspired by Pennsylvania native Mary Cassatt.
For jazz pioneer and long-time Philadelphia resident John Coltrane.
Benjamin ranks far higher on the list of Pennsylvania’s most popular boy names than elsewhere in the US. So why not his surname, Franklin, too?
Born Fred – not Frederick – this Pennsylvania native is known to the world as Mr. Rogers.
Famous ballerina Gelsey Kirkland was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
For dance pioneer Martha Graham.
As in Harrisburg, capital of the state. The capital city was named for James Harris, Sr. An immigrant from England, Harris located to the area and operated a ferry across the Susquehanna River, becoming a respected local leader.
As in Honus Wagner, legendary baseball player for the Pittsburgh Pirates and Hall of Famer. Born outside of the city, his legal name was Johannes, shortened to Hans, before evolving to the name he made famous.
While military commander turned president Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower was born in Texas and raised in Kansas, his family had deep Pennsylvania roots. He and Mamie maintained a working farm in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, used as a getaway from Washington DC, as well as a place to entertain world leaders. Today it’s open to visitors as part of the National Park Service.
A virtue name perfect for children born in the same state as history-making Independence Hall.
As in Independence Hall, the building where the Continental Congress ultimately approved the Declaration of Independence.
Pennsylvania’s Joan Jett hasn’t lived in Pennsylvania since childhood, but she was born in the suburbs of Philadelphia, so she makes the list. Or her adopted stage name does. Jett got her first guitar at the age of thirteen, started calling herself Joan Jett, and co-founded The Runaways a few years later before embarking on a solo career.
Working at the University of Pittsburgh, Dr. Jonas Salk developed the world’s first polio vaccine. Hailed as a miracle worker, Salk also became a humanitarian, refusing to profit from his discovery. Polio was all-but eradicated in the following years as a result of his work.
What’s so Pennsylvania-centric about classic Kate? Ice hockey fans will know the answer. Kate Smith, the First Lady of Radio and a major star during World War II, recorded a famous version of “God Bless America.” It was played before Philadelphia Flyers’ home games. And, in the 1970s, during a series of significant games, Kate Smith herself came in person to perform – winning most of them.
The Liberty Bell is an inescapable symbol of the city of Philadelphia, and a symbol of freedom everywhere.
As in Lucretia Mott, suffragette and abolitionist.
Born in 1864, Nellie Bly became a world-changing journalist. Inspired by the fictional Around the World in 80 Days, she completed the journey in just 72. She went undercover in a mental institution, exposing the need for reform. Throughout, she was a tireless advocate for greater opportunity for women.
The state takes its name from William Penn. “Pennsylvania” means “Penn’s Woods.” Born into a prominent family, Penn would use his inheritance to establish the American colony around the ideals of religious tolerance. An adult convert to the Quaker faith, he brokered a deal to bring Quaker immigrants to his newly-established land.
It sounds unlikely, and yet, Philadelphia started out as an Old Testament place name, meaning “brotherly love.” It was used in small numbers for years, doubtless borrowed from the Bible. One notable bearer? Philadelphia Austen Hancock, an eighteenth century English socialite and aunt to the famous novelist Jane Austen.
If you know your Rocky movie history, the story begins with a down-on-his-luck prizefighter called Rocky Balboa. One of cinematic history’s most famous training sequences ends with the Italian Stallion finally running to the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s considerable steps.
In the west, Pittsburgh is the Steel City, famous for heavy industry.
Do you have any favorite Pennsylvania baby names?
First published on April 6, 2023, this post was revised and re-published on July 20, 2023. Happy Pennsylvania Day!