25 Best-Loved Baby Names of the Past 100 Years

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Image adapted via Flickr/ ‘Playingwithbrushes'

Our names help to identify and define us. They also serve to connect us to our families, and to our past.

Sometimes the best place to look for a name that feels new is to look back. There are many classic baby names that have seen a revival in recent years. These names feel familiar and have an element of the traditional, but they are far from boring.

Of course, there are some names that should just stay in the past. Sometimes there is a reason why a name falls out of favor. But the names here are those that topped the lists in their own day, appealing to many parents then and many parents now.

While looking at your family tree might lead to some interesting and sentimental choices, sometimes broadening the search can help to find more options that appeal to you.

Join me on a walk through memory lane as I review the top 25 baby names for each gender over the past 100 years.

#1

James – 4,866,619 babies had this name as of the end of 2013. Hebrew, meaning supplanter. A supplanter takes the place of someone or something that was there first.

I quite like the name James. It's a strong name that I don't hear too frequently among younger boys.

Mary – 3,611,970 Hebrew, meaning bitter.

Maybe it's just because I live in Colorado and am from Washington (the two states to legalize recreational use of marijuana), but this name will forever make me think of “Mary Jane” — a nickname for marijuana.

#2

John – 4,739,937 Hebrew, meaning God is merciful.

Patricia – 1,566,673 Latin, meaning noble one.

I'm not a fan of the nicknames for this one — “Pat” or “Patty.”

#3

Robert – 4,663,044 Scottish, meaning bright, famous.

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Jennifer – 1,461,186 Arthurian Legend, Arthur's queen.

This name was super popular when I was growing up in the 80s and 90s (as was Megan!). I will also forever think of Jennifer Aniston because I was obsessed with Friends, and what girl didn't want to be her when they were younger?

Portrait of a newborn girl sleeping.
Image via iStock

#4

Michael – 4,274,035 Hebrew, meaning like God.

Elizabeth – 1,460,714 Hebrew, meaning house of God.

“Lizzie” is a cute childhood nickname for Elizabeth, and “Beth” would be nice to use as an adult.

#5

William – 3,749,398 English, meaning resolute protector.

I'm really more of a Prince Harry fan myself. Look how cute he is! In all seriousness, this was my grandpa's name, and it will always hold a very special place in my heart.

Linda – 1,447,270 Spanish, meaning beautiful woman.

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#6

David – 3,532,745 Hebrew, meaning beloved one.

Barbara – 1,419,954 Latin, meaning foreign, strange, exotic, mysterious.

There's a terrible techno song out there that repeats Barbra Streisand's name over and over and over. That is all.

#7

Richard – 2,514,061 English, meaning powerful ruler.

Why is the nickname for Richard Dick? I just don't get it.

Susan – 1,107,871 Hebrew, meaning lily.

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#8

Joseph – 2,429,076 Hebrew, meaning God will multiply.

Margaret – 1,075,828 Latin, meaning pearl.

Margaret is such a sweet name, and the nickname “Maggie” is just perfect.

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Image via iStock

#9

Charles – 2,202,425 English, meaning strong, manly.

Nickname = Chuck. Two-Buck Chuck. Chucky … Perhaps the creepiest movie of all time. I just can't.

Jessica – 1,038,248 Hebrew, meaning rich.

Like Jennifer, this was another super popular name as I was growing up in the 80s and 90s.

#10

Thomas – 2,189,914 Hebrew, meaning twin.

You could decorate your baby's room in Thomas the Train!

Dorothy – 1,009,728 Greek, meaning talented one.

Wizard of Oz throwback. I think this name is actually really cute, but your nicknames might be Dora or Dory.

#11

Christopher – 1,981,942 Greek, meaning Christ bearer.

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Sarah – 996,176 Hebrew, meaning princess.

Another big name for the 80s and 90s, although this one feels more classic to me.

#12

Daniel – 1,833,861 Hebrew, meaning my judge is the Lord.

Karen – 982,864 Greek, meaning purse, innocent.

Neither name appeals to me much. Karen feels dated, and I find Daniel to be fairly boring.

#13

Matthew – 1,535,504 Hebrew, meaning gift of God.

I hope nobody tells my friend Matt what his name means …

Nancy – 980,659 Hebrew, meaning grace.

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#14

Donald – 1,392,452 Irish, meaning great chief.

The duck, Ronald McDonald — just no.

Betty – 978,903 Hebrew, meaning God's oath.

Betty White is my idol, but the name also feels dated.

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Image via iStock

#15

Anthony – 1,374,826 Latin, meaning priceless, flourishing, flower.

Does anyone else want to drink wine, eat pasta, and watch The Sopranos now?

Lisa – 963,461 German, meaning devoted to God.

Yet another very popular girl's name when I was growing up.

#14

Paul – 1,338,796 Latin, meaning little one.

Jersey Shore ruined this one for me.

Sandra – 871,935 Greek, meaning protector of mankind.

This is my sister-in-law's name, and she's pretty great, if that gives you any indication on name quality…

#17

Mark – 1,337,781 Latin, meaning warlike, hammer, defender.

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Helen – 839,049 Shakespearean, appeared in Troilus & Cressida, Cymbeline.

Such a pretty name, but I'm not sure if I like where you'd go for a nickname.

#18

George – 1,279,176 Greek, meaning farmer, to work the earth.

Makes you curious, doesn't it?

Ashley – 831,126 Anglo-Saxon, meaning dwells at the ash tree meadow.

Another childhood throwback.

#19

Steven – 1,269,104 English, meaning crown, wreath.

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Donna – 827,839 Italian, meaning a lady.

Both names feel fairly dated for me, and Donna makes me think of That 70's Show.

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Image via iStock

#20

Kenneth – 1,250,728 Celtic, meaning handsome.

This is a nice, strong name, but I don't love the nicknames Ken or Kenny.

Kimberly – 825,188 English, meaning land belonging to Cyneburg, royal fortress meadow.

#21

Andrew – 1,220,464 Greek, meaning manly, valiant, courageous.

Carol – 813,104 Teutonic, meaning strong, strong-woman.

This is my fabulous mother-in-law's name. I love her, but the name is not something we'll be passing on to our kiddos. The definition of her name is a perfect way to describe her; she's the strongest woman I know. That's her smiling after her second ever hole in one!

#22

Edward – 1,183,885 Anglo-Saxon, meaning guardian.

Scissorhands.

Michelle – 802,726 French, meaning gift from God.

Very pretty name, and I like the nickname options — Shell, Shelly, Mish.

#23

Joshua – 1,162,595 Hebrew, meaning God is salvation.

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Emily – 776,588 German, meaning hardworking, industrious, eager.

This one feels overused, along with Emma.

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Image via iStock

#24

Brian – 1,155,378 Celtic, meaning strong.

Amanda – 769,412 Spanish, meaning love, worthy of love, precious thing.

When I searched for the definition of this one, the name Diamanda came up. Yikes.

#25

Kevin – 1,147,194 Irish, meaning handsome child.

Melissa – 746,598 Greek, meaning bee, honey.

I like the meaning of the name Melissa. Who knew?!

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Would you name your child any of these baby names? Which are your favorites?

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What do you think?

25 Best-Loved Baby Names of the Past 100 Years

I have a constant craving for adventure and love to pack as much fun into life as I can. Becoming a mom to one sweet boy has caused me to slow down - a little, and provided me with a wonderful new way to find joy in life. I try my darndest to soak it all in, as I have already found life to move a lot quicker since welcoming this little hunk of love into it. I am married to an amazing man, and I'm still trying to figure out how to embrace the changes in our relationship that have come with new pa ... More

Tell us what you think!

15 comments

  1. Profile photo of Amie Amie says:

    I think some of the commentary was rather rude and down right mean. I know it may have been an attempt at humour. ..and some were… but, for example “Helen” … what’s so bad about “Ellen” as a nickname? And why does every name need one anyway ? Also, Stephen (Steven) isn’t dated, 4 generations in my family have this name, and if I have a boy, it will be 5. It’s a beautiful boy’s name. *sigh* the rude comments just realy made me mad. Maybe keep opinions off of lists like this, and keep them on social media, or with your friends ? On a positive note, I do think name lists with definitions are useful. So, thanks for compiling the list.

  2. Profile photo of Member Member says:

    Wow. Just, wow.
    In my opinion, your opinions are hideous.
    That is all!

  3. Profile photo of rebecca rebecca says:

    My son has 3 names also and I am happy that none of them made the list. His grandfather’s would be also. Since 2 of his names are their middle names. I was surprised mine wasn’t on this list since growing up there was always another Rebecca.

  4. Profile photo of Carrie Carrie says:

    Amanda is my sister’s name and she is amazing. There was just a little too much of personal opinion in this article. This made me realize why many choose not to say the names of their children prior to them being born. I don’t usually comment, but this made me feel the need to…

  5. Profile photo of tutonejenny tutonejenny says:

    I named my daughter Karen Ann. Apparently my 2 year old has a name that is dated, according to Megan Klay. (Like one person’s opinion matters). I named her after my mother-in-law who died of cancer, so she has a name that is special to this family.

    • Profile photo of Megan KlayEditor Megan Klay says:

      That’s very special that you named your daughter after your mother-in-law who passed from cancer. I’m sorry to hear about your family’s loss. My dad passed from cancer as well. My commentary on this post is definitely just my opinion, and was not intended to make anyone feel any different about the name they chose for their child. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Profile photo of Aloma Aloma says:

    My daughter name didn’t made the list. Her name is Alesia it means Help in Greek. A lot of people loves her name.

  7. Profile photo of Ashley Ashley says:

    Yay none of my babies names are on the list. I’d like to think we picked out names that weren’t heard everyday.

  8. Profile photo of Kayle Kayle says:

    I don’t believe many of the girls names. But of course I chose Trista Cecilia and Alora Arial for my girls. I was very surprised that Timothy (Joseph) and Zachary (Edward) weren’t on the list! My Michael James was though.

  9. Profile photo of Jeanne Jeanne says:

    My son has three names – Paul John Christopher – apparently, all three are on “the list” lol. Stephanie – my daughter – her name is the female version of Steven or Stephen. Her middle name is “Jill” – which was not on the list! Neither has any “nicknames”.

  10. Profile photo of Jeanne Jeanne says:

    My son has three names – Paul John Christopher – apparently, all three are on “the list” lol. Stephanie – my daughter – her name is the female version of Steven or Stephen. Her middle name is “Jill” – which was not on the list!

  11. Profile photo of Stanton Stanton says:

    Why isn’t this just a list?! No one really wants to page through 25 slides of names.

  12. Profile photo of Alison Alison says:

    For #10, I love the nicknames of Dot or Dottie for Dorothy.
    For #19, both of those names make me think of That 70’s Show – Steven was Hyde’s first name (but I always had the biggest crush on him…)

    And for all 25, I have to be honest, I’m really glad the name we are giving my daughter wasn’t on the list. I’d rather her have a unique name that isn’t too strange, and I LOVE the one we settled on!

    • Profile photo of Megan KlayEditor Megan Klay says:

      Hi Alison! Your nickname suggestions for Dorothy are cute! I really like Dottie. 🙂 And you’re right about Steven! Totally forgot and definitely thought he was the cutest on the show. I’m happy to hear you love your daughter’s name, I’m a fan of unique names myself. Thanks for commenting!

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