Earlier this month, the new US popularity data came out showing that Charlotte had entered the US Top Ten. It was a big week for the name, because just a few days earlier, we’d learned that Will and Kate had named their new princess Charlotte.
I’d predicted that Charlotte was a future #1 name in the US, sometime around 2033.
But will Charlotte really make it that high? And is that too far in the future? What does the trajectory really look like for #1 names for girls?
I went digging into the data, and the results have me rethinking my predictions!
Number One Names: An Overview
Because boys’ names are relatively stable, I decide to exclude them from this study. I also dropped Mary, since Mary was #1 way back in 1880, and we don’t know what her path to the top might have looked like.
That still leaves us with nine names that have ranked #1 for girls in the US from the twentieth century through today:
- Linda – Entered the US Top 100 in 1936. Reached the Top Ten in 1940. Became #1 in 1947.
- Lisa – Entered the US Top 100 in 1954. Reached the Top Ten in 1959. Became #1 in 1962.
- Jennifer – Entered the US Top 100 in 1956. Reached the Top Ten in 1966. Became #1 in 1970.
- Jessica – Entered the US Top 100 in 1978. Reached the Top Ten in 1976. Became #1 in 1985.
- Ashley – Entered the US Top 100 in 1978. Reached the Top Ten in 1983. Became #1 in 1991.
- Emily – Entered the US Top 100 in 1973. Reached the Top Ten in 1991. Became #1 in 1996.
- Emma – Entered the US Top 100 in 1993. Reached the Top Ten in 2002. Became #1 in 2008.
- Isabella – Entered the US Top 1000 in 1998. Reached the Top Ten in 2004. Became #1 in 2009.
- Sophia – Entered the US Top 1000 in 1997. Reached the Top Ten in 2006. Became #1 in 2011.
Some of these names had previously ranked in the Top 100, of course – but for our purposes, I’ve used the dates that led up to the name ranking #1.
So how long does it take a future #1 name to climb from relative obscurity to the top spot?
- To go from Top 100 to Top 10: There’s a range of 4 to 18 years, with an average of 8.11 years. If the longest and shortest times are excluded, the average is slightly shorter, 7.29 years.
- To go from Top Ten to #1: There’s a range of 3 to 9 years, with an average of 5.78 years. If the longest and shortest times are excluded, the average is 5.71 years. So … not much difference!
What does this mean? It suggests that if Charlotte reaches #1, it will be in either 2019 or 2020 – far earlier than my earlier prediction.
It’s also worth noting that names don’t go from #252 to #3. Yes, big jumps happen. But not blink-of-an-eye, meteoric-rise jumps.
Number One Names: How Long Can They Hold On?
How long do number one names hold the top spot?
This is the part where the crystal ball gets really foggy.
Linda and Jennifer held on for 15 years each; Emily, for a dozen. Lisa, Jessica, and Ashley held on for 8, 6, and 5 years, respectively.
But the latest round of number one names have short tenures. Emma peaked at #1, then immediately gave way to Isabella. Isabella held on for two years before being replaced by Sophia. And Sophia made it just three years before Emma reclaimed the title.
What does that mean? I suspect that the long reigns of number one names like Jennifer and Linda may be a thing of the past. Baby names generate lots of attention these days, and hearing that a name has reached #1 probably discourages at least some parents from using it. (Though there’s no reason to fear a very popular name!)
Plus, it takes many fewer births to make a #1 name. Back in the days of John and Mary, 5% of children might receive the #1 name. Noah was given to fewer than 1% of all boys born in 2014, and still stayed in the top spot. Emma was given to just 1.07% of girls, and ranked #1. That suggests greater volatility is likely.
So if Charlotte reaches #1 in 2019 or 2020, there’s almost no chance that the name will hold on until 2033 – despite the numbers that tell us that names have done so in the past.
Number One Names: What About Ava?
We’ve already talked about Sophia, Isabella, Emily, Emma, and Charlotte. That leaves five current Top Ten names that have been number one names.
Do any of them have a chance?
- Olivia – If the model is correct, Olivia has probably missed her chance. The range for this name go from Top Ten to #1 was between 2004 and 2010.
- Ava – The same is true of Ava. Ava should have reached #1 no later than 2014 – this year. Still, that’s not quite as far behind as Olivia, so maybe there’s still a chance in 2015.
- Abigail – Abigail also should have made it by 2010. I have a tough time imagining Abigail a #1 name in the US in 2015.
- Madison – Madison feels like a name that has peaked and is declining, and the numbers reflect that. According to the model, Madison’s window to join the number one names club was between 2000 and 2006. While Madison was a very popular choice, surname names for girls don’t have the broadest possible appeal. We’re not likely to see one become #1 any time soon.
- Mia – I’ve saved Mia for last. Why? Turns out Mia’s window is 2014 to 2020 – plenty of time to peak. It’s also true that Mia has a lot in common with other #1 names. It has broad appeal as a Spanish-English crossover, feels traditional(ish), and has a very current sound. I’ll be keeping a close eye on Mia going forward.
It’s much tougher to think about what might happen with the fast-rising Top 100 names of the moment. A few that are interesting:
- Ariana – Kelli pointed out that Ariana became the more popular spelling for the first time in 2014. Credit two things: the tremendous success of Disney Channel star turned pop sensation Ariana Grande, and Ariana’s potential appeal to Spanish-speaking families. According to the ranges, Ariana should reach the Top Ten by 2018 – if Ariana will rise that high.
- Evelyn – Will Evelyn make the Top Ten? I have my doubts. The model gives this name until 2020.
- 2021 is the latest year both Amelia and Sofia are expected to enter the Top Ten. I think both have a shot. I’m especially watching Sofia. Because of the spelling’s popularity with Spanish-English speaking families, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sofia does crack the Top Ten, and even become the more popular spelling.
- Harper – I expect Harper to replace Madison as to go-to surname name for girls soon – very soon. The model gives Harper until 2029 to reach the Top Ten. 2029 is also the outside year for Scarlett, Kennedy, Ellie, and Lydia.
- Annabelle and Piper are slated to reach the Top Ten by 2030 – again, if they climb that high.
- 2031 is the outside year for Penelope, Paisley, Nora, and Mila.
- Newcomers Eleanor, Alice, and Hadley have until 2032.
- According to the model, Grace and Victoria have already missed their window to reach the Top Ten.
I’m tempted to put one of those mutual fund-style disclaimers on this whole post: Past performance is not indicative of future results. And yet the difference between Linda’s trajectory and the path followed by Sophia or Isabella isn’t so very different.
What do you think of these predictions? Do you think there’s more volatility in given names that there was ten years ago? Do you think Mia is a future #1? Which of the current favorites will reach the Top Ten?