Most Popular Baby Names: Mining the Social Security Administration Database

In time for Mother’s Day, a guide for finding top baby names and interesting tidbits using the online Social Security Administration (SSA) database, from 1880 to 2010. Determine how your name ranks against your kid’s — and vice versa.

My daughter is gaining traction and I’m losing all footing, according to the Social Security Administration’s newly released report of the most popular names in America.

Long forgotten are the days I had to explain the reasoning behind the naming of my daughter, Zoe, who graduates from New College of Florida in two weeks, where in her freshman year she actually had a roommate named Zoe and a third freshman named Zoe lived upstairs.

When my daughter was a baby people would ask me her name, then give me an odd look as if to say, “What the what? You named a kid that?”

The year was 1989 and there was no Sesame Street character named Zoe. (That would come five years later, after the creators of the Muppets decided to address the show’s gender gap and add a female character, which is interesting, since sociology and gender studies are my daughter’s majors.)

Zoe at the time of my daughter’s birth ranked No. 582 on the list of most popular baby names for girls. Linda came in at No. 157.

Flash forward to today and Zoe has climbed up the list to No. 31, up from No. 47 a year earlier. Meanwhile, Linda dropped 68 places, to No. 624.

As my daughter’s name travels up the list — destined to be a Top 20 contender in the years to come (as Linda was for the years 1947 to 1952) — my name loses serious traction year over year.

But that’s the funny thing about numbers: they can be relative.

To wit, the Social Security Administration’s list of “Top Names Over the Last 100 Years.”

From 1911 through 2010, there were 1,446,268 babies named Linda, which places the name in the Top 5, behind Mary (3,696,779), Patricia (1,566,692), Elizabeth (1,455,480) and Jennifer (1,455,078).

As for Zoe? It didn’t even make the list.

Care to do some research of your own?

Visit the Social Security Administration online and search its database of names dating back to 1880. Some of the highlighted searches include:

  • Popular Names by Birth Year and Popularity (with ranking options ranging from “Top 20” to “Top 1,000”)
  • Popularity of a Name Over Time (searchable by a designated number of years that the researcher suggests)
  • Popular Names by State and in U.S. Territories
  • Popular Names for Twins

Using these links I learned, for example, that:

  • Mary ranked No. 1 for 55 years, including every year in a row from 1911 to 1946 and, again, from 1952 to 1961. In 2010, it came in at No. 109, seven spots lower than in 2009, the first year it hit triple digits.
  • Michael, as a boy’s name, has been in the Top 10 ranking for all but 32 years, holding the top spot for 44 of those years. That run ran from 1954 to 1998, with one exception: 1960, when the name David pushed it to the No. 2 spot. Michael in 2010 ranked No. 3, behind Jacob (No. 1) and Ethan (No. 2).
  • The top names for twins in 2010 were Ella and Emma, for female twins; Madison and Mason, for male and female twins; and Jacob and Joshua, for male twins.
  • Top of the list in 1911 for boys and girls were John and Mary; in 2010, the top names were Jacob and Isabella. Over the years, John held up better, placing in the No. 26 spot for 2010 while Mary came in at No. 109. Back in 1880, the first year for which name data is available, both John and Mary topped the list.

Trust me, this gets addictive. So, in closing, here’s the Top 10 Most Popular Baby Names for boys and girls in 2010:

TOP 20 FEMALE NAMES 2010 1880 Isabella Mary Sophia Anna Emma Emma Olivia Elizabeth Ava Minnie Emily Margaret Abigail Ida Madison Alice Chloe Bertha Mia Sarah Addison Annie Elizabeth Clara Ella Ella Natalie Florence Samantha Cora Alexis Martha Lily Laura Grace Nellie Hailey Grace Alyssa Carrie


TOP 20 MALE NAMES 2010 1880 Jacob John Ethan William Michael James Jayden Charles William George Alexander Frank Noah Joseph Daniel Thomas Aiden Henry Anthony Robert Joshua Edward Mason Harry Christopher Walter Andrew Arthur David Fred Matthew Albert Logan Samuel Elijah David James Louis Joseph Joe


Dawn Gundlach May 06, 2011 at 09:14 PM
This definitely reads like our summer camp rosters!
Contact: Brandon@Patch.com May 09, 2011 at 01:53 AM
Very cool -- “Ella” ranks No. 13 on the list in 2010 -- AND in 1880!!! See our chart . . .
Contact: Brandon@Patch.com May 12, 2011 at 05:45 PM
Consider it done, Dann! Visit http://patch.com/A-hwrJ


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