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?
Do any of the other current Top Ten names have a chance of reaching #1?
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?
C in DC says
I think Mia has the best shot of reaching number one because it has the fewest alternate spelling options. I think part of its appeal is its simplicity. I can’t decide if I want Lydia to head to the top 10 or not. We “picked” the name in 1992, even if we didn’t use it until 2008. If it does get more popular, at least people will guess that my Lydia is younger than she actually is.
Brilliant analysis – I will have to steal it some time! 🙂
Thanks, Anna! It would be great to see if the patterns look the same in Australia – or if it’s totally different. I wonder if it would work at the state level. Hmmmm …
I just realised we don’t have yearly national data like the US, so it will be somewhat a work of imagination … but I will still do it!
This is fascinating, happy about Alice coming back! (or maybe she never left *shrug*)
Sidenote: Ariana Grande was a Nickelodeon star not a Disney Channel one.
the Mrs. says
Such a helpful list! I like it because it can help me project which name will NOT be a top ten contender, so my children don’t have the Mary, Linda, Jennifer experience. Brilliantly done, Abby!
Elizabeth Johnson says
I’m pretty sure that Harper will be in the top 10 in the 2015 list.
I just wanted to add that Evelyn is extremely popular with the Spanish-speaking community where I work in an elementary school. In fact, we have at least one Evelyn per classroom in a school of over 1000 students and often more than one. Since it seems to work in the Spanish-speaking families (I heard the name was popular in California first, I am in Georgia) and it matches the classic revival trend, I wouldn’t underestimate its future rise!
Ooh, interesting, Brittella! I hadn’t realized that!
Whether or not she still does, recently my daughter really liked the name Lydia. You’ve pegged 2029 as the outside year for that name to reach the Top 10. My daughter will turn 28 in 2029, exactly the right age to be considering using the name on an actual person. It’s fascinating to me that your stats and her taste seem to converge on that one!
Now that is fascinating! I know someone my age who wanted to name her daughter Hannah for YEARS, only she never had a daughter. (And I don’t know if she would use the name today if she happened to have a daughter now. But Hannah was her Lydia.)
If I was betting, I’d say Ariana has too many variant spellings to make it to number 1. Top 10? Maybe.
I’d give Alice, Harper, Piper, and Nora better than average odds of reaching top 10. You never know what happens, but I’d peg Alice or Harper as the more likely #1s in that group.
Evelyn, I suspect is riding on the popularity of the Avas. If Ava or Eva isn’t going to make the top 10, I don’t think Evelyn will either.
*NB Ava, Harper, and Amelia are top 10 names in my state already. Also in my local top 10: Avery and Lillian. Charlotte is our #3!
Excellent point about Ariana’s multiple spellings – I hadn’t realized considered the impact.
Fascinating! I always wonder about what it is that drives the rise of the most popular names- are people responding gradually to to the increased frequency with which they hear the new names and liking it more each time until they give it to their own child, or are the most popular names appealing for some other reason to the people in a position to be naming? ie, are new hot names largely the chaotic product of chance increases in frequency, or were the seeds of their popularity planted much earlier in the cultural experiences of that generation of parents?
For a while I’ve leaned towards the latter idea, mostly because I ADORED so many of the most popular girls names now from a very young age, long before I was a name geek or discussing names with any of my peers, and long before they were to be heard on many infants – it seems likely that if six year old me in 1989 though Olivia, Isabella, Sophia, and Abigail were the most beautiful names*, that others in my generation felt the same (although why? That’s another question). These rapid rises seem to support the idea, too- for these names to shoot so high so quickly makes it seem unlikely that their popularity is attributable entirely to gradually rising familiarity among the public- they seem to have been “waiting in the wings” for some of the people who loved them to become parents.
*I still find these names aesthetically appealing but would not use them myself due to their extreme popularity.
I’m in the right cohort to be naming babies now, and I also have loved Olivia and Sophia and Abigail since girlhood.
(And Natalie, which is fairly popular, and Melanie, which doesn’t appear to be getting any love right now?)
I think you’re right.
This is so interesting! I have been keeping an eye on a name I love and hope to be able to use – Skylar. I wish is wasn’t gaining popularity so fast. This puts a new spin on it. Thanks.