The Top Baby Names of the Decade Revealed!

Dec 23rd 2009

In my top secret Baby Name Cave, I've been crunching numbers, calculating formulas, and mixing potions. At last, I emerge with the revelation all of America has been waiting for, the top baby names of the 2000s decade! And the names were...umm...Emily and Jacob, the names that ranked #1 year after year after year. Obviously.

With Jacob in particular on a decade-long run, how could it be otherwise? Yet I felt compelled to bang the gong on this subject after reading a series of news reports with names like Aiden, Emma and Madeline crowned champions of the decade.

As usual, the problem is that reporters take a company's press release about the top names of its customers at face value. In one particularly egregious example, Reuters ran a whole story reporting name stats based on a press release of a personalized gift company. If you read the company's release carefully, they never even claimed the stats were about BABY names -- just the names that their customers chose to be printed on custom CDs.

So here are the facts. Even without knowing the 2009 numbers, I can report authoritatively that Jacob and Emily were the top names of the decade. They would win the honor easily, even if zero Jacobs and Emilys were born in 2009. What's more, Emma -- the top name of 2008 -- isn't even #2 for the decade.

The key to understanding the decade-long stats is that the top of the curve has continued to drop as parents try to avoid popular names.

 popularity of number 1 names over time

What Emma won in 2008 was a war of attrition. The number of Emmas born that year was down significantly from the name's peak, and would only have been enough to rank the name #4 back in 2000. Meanwhile Madison never reached the #1 spot, but hung around at #2-3 long enough in the earlier "fat" years to earn the second overall spot for the decade. Michael has been the steady #2 for boys.

It's too early to predict the name champions of the 2010s, but one forecast looks solid: whatever they are, they'll be less popular than Jacob and Emily were this decade, and an afterthought compared to the once-upon-a-time heights of John and Mary.


p.s. I'm still looking for name-locked parents to participate in a video project, pass it on!


December 23, 2009 1:16 PM

Fascinating! I like the "war of attrition" concept. Except that I think that the year numbers are backwards at the bottom of the graph? Shouldn't it be 2000 to 2008 from left to right?

By SongMonk (not verified)
December 23, 2009 1:18 PM

From the text in the body of the post, it seems like the chart should be labeled with 2000 on the left and 2008 on the right. Would that be correct?

December 23, 2009 1:31 PM

I thought the same thing about the graph.

This makes for an interesting read, especially after yahoo messenger had a news pop-up this morning linking to an article of theirs that has Emma and Aiden (including different spellings) as the number ones. I figured you'd know the real stats!

December 23, 2009 2:41 PM

I think Jacob vs. Aiden depends on methodology. If you count all homophones with different spellings, Aiden is the top name. If you count by individual spellings, Jacob is the top name.

I calculated out the result for all rhymes-with-Aiden spellings for boys in 2008. It turns out 4.5% of all boys born in 2008 have one of the thirty spellings of names that rhyme with Aiden in the top 1000 boys' names--and it only included six sounds (Aiden, Jayden, Caden, Brayden, Hayden, and Zayden)! It didn't even include Graydon, Raiden, or Slayden, which I've encountered.

In comparison, 5.6% of boys born in 1908 were named John. 4.5% were named William.

By knp (not verified)
December 23, 2009 3:24 PM

Linnaeus: Do you know, Does Jacob beat Aiden( for the DECADE?? I don't really know when Aiden started to get so popular.. going to ssa stats now...

December 23, 2009 5:24 PM

I thought the same thing about the graph as you all did. I'm sure when Laura checks back in she will let us know what's up.

I have not had the time to finish compiling my stats for the year. I was 1) tallying up the local births to track what was popular locally 2)tallying all the soundalikes throughout the year (2007) 3) trying to get a handle on the newest additions i.e. risers and fallers in preparation for May. So maybe sometime in January after the holidays and a little vacation for my family, I will be able to post the stats.

By Anna S (not verified)
December 23, 2009 6:07 PM

Linnaeus - what if you count all spellings of Aidan and Jayden individually, for the whole decade. Are [Aidan] and [Jayden] anywhere near beating Jacob then?

December 23, 2009 7:26 PM

For 2008, yes, by homophone, Aiden and Jayden beat Jacob, and are #1, 2, and 3 respectively. Caden becomes the new #10.

December 23, 2009 7:47 PM

Yep, graph labels ran backwards! Thanks for catching it everybody, it should be fixed now.

As for combining every name you can find that rhymes with Aidan and comparing to John, I'm not sure that makes sense. You're comparing a style on one hand to a single name on the other -- and the fracturing of style into a thousand fine-grained pieces is the core of the story, no? ( the very least, shouldn't you add the likes of Don and Lon to John?)

December 23, 2009 8:13 PM

As for whether Aidan/Aiden/Ayden et al together beat Jacob for the decade, I don't think so. The combined Aidens didn't pass Jacob & Jakob until 2006, and in the early years of the decade Jacob built up a huge lead. E.g. in 2000 there were 36,598 Jacobs, 6,619 Aidans. (Significantly, all of the Aidans together at their 2008 peak don't equal Jacob in 2000. It's not just a story of creative spellings, but of the top names declining.)

I'll leave it to those of you who aren't packing the family for a holiday trip to come up with authoritative decade numbers. :-) BTW, if you do count, think twice about including Adan, the Spanish form of Adam.

December 23, 2009 8:19 PM

You're right that I'm comparing a naming style to a single name, so it is sort of like apples to oranges. However, it's definitely indicative of two things:

1. There's a lot of rhymes-with-Aiden running around, comparatively to other top names now, and it's borne out by the numbers.

2. It's still not as prevalent as single top names John and William were, last century.

So, yes, the fracturing into a thousand fine grains is the core of the story, I agree.

December 23, 2009 8:36 PM

Ah, I think I get it where you're coming from now Linnaeus. Kind of along the lines of this post from ages past?
The "Robert" graph in particular seems to support what you're saying.

December 23, 2009 10:32 PM

Thanks for this! Emily and Jacob are no surprise.

It's fascinating to see that graph.

December 24, 2009 1:44 AM

New babies alert: acquaintance from grad school had twins yesterday: K@itlyn Grace and Aid@n Miles. I love Aid@n Miles and just wish there weren't so many Aidans around- I fell in love with that name when I saw "Desperately Seeking Susan" in the 80's with Madonna and Aidan Quinn. Anyone else remember that movie?

December 24, 2009 9:36 AM

Love the link posted above by Laura. Great connection to the original post. I agree that comparing John and William and Robert to Aidan, Kaylee, and all the other names with several variant spellings IS like comparing apples to oranges. However, it is interesting and fun. Any theories on what caused this shift in naming style Laura?

December 24, 2009 10:28 AM

Interesting, although not surprising! I do find that other entry Laura linked to helpful. I don't remember if we discussed this at the time, but the only girl's name on the old list is Mary. This could easily be just because there were more kings than queens who actually ruled. The only other one I could think of off the top of my head is Elizabeth, but that does actually have other spellings... Anyway it's off topic so I'll stop:)

To catch up a little:
A Rose- You have my mother's maiden name! I love that last name and will probably use it if I do double mns for my kids (my last name doesn't match as well with other people's names). My grandfather on that side was Grandpa Wheelie:).

December 24, 2009 10:28 AM

Oh and Laura, I live in the Boston area, but alas am not pregnant! If you do a meet and greet or anything though I am so there!

By PunkPrincessPhd (NLI) (not verified)
December 24, 2009 12:34 PM

The baby name stats for Northern Ireland have just been released: Jack and Katie for the 4th year. It's surprizing to read the article and see what's considered "trendy" vs "traditional" there - almost the reverse to North America. I'm saddened that no Gaelic names made the top 10 for either gender.

Check out the link @ BBC if you're interested:

Also, BBC headline: "Miley makes the Top 100" for baby names in Scotland. I wonder if this is in any way influenced by its similarity to Eilidh and Isla?

December 24, 2009 2:51 PM

Thanks for the link, PPP. How do you pronounce Aodhan? I presume Eabha is Eva???

Interesting that they mention Rhianna. The context makes it seem like it is pop-influenced, but I would definitely distinguish Rhianna from Rihanna myself. Rhianna would seem to echo the Welsh Rhian(non) to me, whereas Rihanna is more kr8ive.

December 24, 2009 5:52 PM

Interesting article PPP thanks for the info! Btw, how is Sorcha doing? A month after is there any naming regret or do you feel satisfied. Forgive me if this is not appropriate but I am just curious given your struggle with her name before her birth.

Also, Happy Holidays To ALL!!

By Mirnadaa (not verified)
December 25, 2009 11:11 PM

Paloma update. I ran Paloma by my husband, and he instantly disliked it. He said that it was too exotic/foreign sounding. The funny part, though, is that he said the long "O" sound seemed fat or pudgy to him. That cracked me up. Normally I'M the one with the random associations.

I'm kind of excited about Ursula again, actually.

December 25, 2009 11:29 PM

Mirnada-That is funny. Does he just dislike the long O in that particular name OR is he disliking ANY long O name? Other choices maybe it is is the latter:

By Penny in Australia (not verified)
December 26, 2009 9:52 PM

off topic here (back on to the mash-up topic actually)...

My niecephew (as I have started calling my unborn niece or nephew, due in May - a mash-up in itself) has been given the great moniker 'Tricky', after his/her parents-to-be Tracey and Nick. I was impressed with the name (a friend came up with it alas, not me).

This same friend nicknamed her own unborn niece/nephew Gerbera, after it's parents Gerard and Barbara, and it also quickly caught on in the family.

Thought they were fun 'holding' names!

December 26, 2009 10:21 PM

Penny in Australia-We "named" my first Neon when he was in utero. We felt like it represented the "little light in my tummy" so to speak. My second was "Tinkerbell" or Tinker Bell as some would have it because we already knew she would be a petite little girl.

By Melissa Love (not verified)
December 26, 2009 10:21 PM

I'm hoping to get some advice from the name experts here. :)
My concern is, do the names Charlotte Olivia and Esme/Esmeè Clara "fit" together? I like when names go perfectly together, and I get mixed reactions from people when I ask about the names. So, what do you think? Do they go really well together?

I also like Charlotte with Lillian "Lilly" and Grace.


By Mirnada (not verified)
December 27, 2009 12:51 AM

I'm thinking about Atticus as a boy name now. Hadn't paid too much attention to it before, because I thought it was too trendy. I'm hearing it much less than many other boy names, though (lots of Henrys, Becketts, Milos, Finns, and Quinns in my circles). I still remember someone's comment awhile back that it's a name used by someone who stopped reading after high school, and I was initially turned off by it's seeming to facile, but...

I don't think my husband is going to go for Simon, and Atticus has a similar serious, studious feel to it - and goes really well with my husband's last name. And Atticus Finch - both the character in the book and Gregory Peck's portrayal of him -- is a pretty great, I'm tossing it around.

Atticus F0nt3n0t

What do you think? I think they sound surprisingly handsome together, considering I hadn't thought of it seriously before. And I'm not big into nicknames, so I actually like that there aren't any obvious ones.

December 27, 2009 2:04 PM

Melissa Love, personally, I wouldn't pair Charlotte Olivia with Esme Clara. For starters, I think Esme and Charlotte are very different styles. But what bothers me more than that is the difference in popularity between the two. Maybe other people don't take this into account, but I always feel like sibling names should match somewhat in popularity... Charlotte is a top 100 name, and Olivia is a top 10 name, so they're both what I would consider wildly popular. On the other hand, Esme doesn't even crack the top 1000. I think pairing Charlotte and Clara as first names makes more sense, and Charlotte and Lillian or Charlotte and Grace both make good pairs. For what it's worth, Clara is one of my all-time favorite names, so I'm not hesitant to recommend it as a first name!

December 27, 2009 2:06 PM

Oh, and Mirnada, I do like Atticus, and I agree that it sounds very nice with your husband's last name.

December 27, 2009 2:18 PM

Melissa Love, other names from the top 300 or so that I think would pair nicely with Charlotte Olivia are:

Abigail (the most popular, at #8)
Miranda (although I guess there's the SATC connection there, so maybe not...)
Alice (the least popular, at #326)

December 27, 2009 6:18 PM

Melissa Love-I have a different take on the whole idea then Clementine though I agree with her points. Why not do it this way:
Olivia Claire
Charlotte Esme
Esme Charlotte
Claire Olivia

I do agree that Esme and Charlotte are widly different styles but I think what throws me most is that IMO Esme Clara just doesn't flow. That's why I changed it to Claire in my examples.

Mirnada-Atticus is a name I would never have thought of either. I personally LOVE Simon (despite the chipmunk association). I think it is studious and a bit spunky. Maybe the equivalent of Beatrice. I also think a 2 syl fn goes best with your 3 syl LN but that's just me. Maybe something like Adam, Spencer, or Eric would be good for me.

By Chimu (not logged in) (not verified)
December 28, 2009 12:47 AM

@ Melissa Love - I also don't think Charlotte Olivia and Esme Clara pair well together, but they are not the worst pair I've ever heard! Both Charlotte and Olivia are top 10 names where I am. Esme and Clara are far less popular. I think Lillian and Grace are more in keeping with the style of Charlotte Olivia, if that is what you are looking for.

@ Mirnada - I like Atticus with your surname. Will your husband go for that?

By knp (not verified)
December 28, 2009 5:43 AM

Melissa Love: I think Charlotte Olivia is quite pretty. And a Charlotte and Esme sib set seems to be quite lovely. To me they both evoke a spunky, yet pretty, old-fashioned vibe and do not clash at all. (I think popularity matching with siblings is quite unneccessary-- go with names you love).

My only dislike is the flow of Esme Clara, like zoerhenne. I think I'd like Esme Claire better, or maybe a 3syl. mn to follow the pattern of Charlotte Olivia. like...
Esme Catherine,
Esme Sophia,
Esme Lucia,
Esme Isabelle
Esme Abigail...
I'm trying to use 'soft' sounds here mostly to reflect your other names

By Mirnada (not verified)
December 28, 2009 10:55 AM

Oddly, my husband goes for Atticus, but not Simon. I think the nerdy "beat me up" associations with Simon are just too strong for him.

At the moment, I have to confess I like the smart/quirky sib set of Ursula and Atticus, and I think it suits us, but God knows I have plenty of time to change my mind again...

Simon's not off of the list, but I know that when it comes down to it, my dh might not want it, so I need to think of similar feeling names that he likes. He's not opposed to Elliot, for instance, which is also a little serious/sweet/studious to my mind.

Melissa Love:

I think that Charlotte and Esme can "go" together. I agree that they're of widely different popularity levels, but they have a similar old but new vibe to them. I do agree, though, that Claire or Clare would work better rhythm-wise than Clara.

By Beth the original (not verified)
December 28, 2009 11:20 AM

Mirnada: Ursula and Atticus are nms, quite*, but I think they are very groovy together! Both are dactyls, double dactyls with your husband's last name. (Dactyl = DUH-duh-duh, so for a double dactyl think "Emily Dickinson").

Does Ursula have a nickname? Would Atticus? They are both very formal names -- though I'm a definite believer in names that a kid can grow into.

*keeping in mind that my style is deadly dull WASPy kings and queens of England, god help me, so no offense to you I hope.

By CB, nli (not verified)
December 28, 2009 12:18 PM

Melissa Love - I think Charlotte and Esme are a lovely pair. For me, the spread in popularity is more a plus than a minus. I don't see popularity as being a true aspect of style (though it is a quality of a name to be considered).

Mirnada - Ursula and Atticus are great together imho. Like Beth the original, nms, exactly, but the kind of names that make me happy when others use them. :)

OT - I know an 18 year old couple that is expecting a girl. They announced the name - L1ly Abig@il Mlastname. They plan on using the initials - LAM - as the go by name.

Not bad for a couple of kids, huh?

December 28, 2009 12:39 PM

CB-Lily Abig@il is quite nice but with the LN and using the nn of LAM I think they are setting themselves up for a problem. I think Lam as pronounced like the animal lamb is VERY cute for a child. But as we all know, kids are cruel and it will undoubtedly be turned into Lame (with a long A) if anyone outside the family uses her nn or knows her initials. I am always weary of initials that come close to spelling anything.

Mirnada-Ursula and Atticus seem to make a great sibset. They are not for me personally (especially with a strong aversion to Ursula due to an evil teacher when I was young) but seem to be suited to you. I am also curious about nn's though if you plan on using any.

knp-Great suggestions for MelissaLove. I agree that the 3 syl mn flows better with Esme.

December 28, 2009 1:15 PM

Mirnada--I read a book where a character named Ursula was known as "Sully", if you happen to be looking for nicknames.

New baby alert: Ell@ Gr@ce, little sister to S@vannah, Hunter, and D@wson. They announced the first name a while ago, and I was a little surprised they picked something so popular, since the other kids' names aren't quite as popular. Although now that they announced the middle name too, I guess they were going for sound, not popularity! I think it sounds nice with their last name though.

December 28, 2009 1:17 PM

Melissa Love:
Charlotte Olivia and Esme Clara sound fine to me. But I like knp's point on the 3-syllable mn. The one name I keep seeing to match the basic pattern is Esme Calista.

Ursula and Atticus are a strong pair. If the husband likes them, great! As for the beat-upability of Simon, I'm surprised that he likes Elliot. Regarding the problems he has with Paloma, does your husband say Pah-Loh-Mah or puh-LOW-muh? Pah-Loh-Mah, the more Spanish version, is quite pretty to me. However, it can be Anglicized to puh-LOW-muh, especially in some accents, in which case the name sounds more like "plump."

By Mirnada (not verified)
December 28, 2009 3:25 PM

I don't think we would use any real nicknames for Ursula or Atticus. I kind of like the thought of a toddler gamboling around with a grown up name, personally. My husband kind of likes Uli (sp?), but I don't love nicknames that end in an "E" sound, having been traumatized by being called Mandy as a child and having a hard time shaking the nickname. I also hate how really handsome names like David, Samuel, Matthew, and Nicolas get shortened to generic, monosyllabic personality-less names like Dave, Sam, Mat, and Nick. Consequently, I'd rather not use a nickname for school, etc., but would just use pet names within the family. Those don't necessarily have anything to do with the given name, though, and my husband is a champion at coming up with them.

Maybe dh will come around to Simon, though (I know, it's surprising he goes for Elliot when he doesn't love Simon), and Anya's still on the list.

It's taking longer than I had thought it would for us to get pregnant, though, so it seems like I have tons of time to flip flop. :)

By Mirnada (not verified)
December 28, 2009 3:27 PM

Beth the original, your caveat made me laugh!

December 28, 2009 3:36 PM

OOh,Miranda I love your style! I daydream about having twin girls named
Ursula and Octavia after my two favorite female sci-fi authors, Leguin and Butler. Love your boy names too!

By mekiki (not verified)
December 28, 2009 9:42 PM

Don't worry TOO much about how Esme Clara sounds, because most people will just call her Clara.
How about Clara Esme?
How about Clara something and Esme something? Aren't both of those pretty and short and French?

Atticus, hmm....
That's funny that someone said it was a name someone used who stopped reading after highschool. Really funny!
My brother and I were in a park (with my mom, husband, and my two kids). There was some guy talking loudly to his kid (on a baseball team) named Atticus. My brother said that he wanted to punch Atticus's dad in the face. (I assumed it was because he didn't like the name, but maybe because he was giving his kid a bit of a hard time.) HOWEVER, my brother doesn't have any kids yet, and also isn't a fan of my daughter's name. To tie this in with some of the other comments here, her name is Clara, and he says it's a fat name

By mekiki (not verified)
December 28, 2009 9:43 PM

Um, I mean most people will just call her Esme. I'm clearly pushing Clara.

By Mirnada (not verified)
December 28, 2009 10:50 PM

I love, love, love Clara. It seems sweet, ,kind, smart, not snooty, and elegant to my ear. My husband thinks it sounds like a cow name, so it's not on our list. That just goes to show you how widely associations can very, I suppose.

December 29, 2009 1:31 AM

Mirnada - I don't think of Simon as a geeky, getting beat-up kind of name. But I've known heaps of Simon's and most of them were quite popular and/or sporty so that is more my association. I do think Simon can be in the same class as Elliot though and both of them are lovely names! I quite like Atticus, but Ursula is nms. I do think they make quite a lovely sibset though. Interesting I love Octavia so maybe my style is a bit all over the place. I know I have an aversion to names starting with /U/ so that is probably my issue with Ursula.

Re Clara - I am a big fan of Clara. I do have cow associations with the name but only in a fun cute kind of way. I think Clara is an underused sweet name!

December 29, 2009 9:54 AM

Clara a cow name? Perhaps a deep-seated connection to Clarabelle Cow?

December 29, 2009 11:38 AM

Mirnada-That you ended up with the nn of Mandy is interesting to me. My dd has a little friend named Miranda and I would NEVER think of that as a nn for her (or that name in general). However, I have always liked it as a nn for Amanda so I guess the above would not be a big stretch.

Linnaeus-Esme Calista sounds so feminine and sophisticated. Its making me love both names a whole lot.

By Guest (not verified)
December 29, 2009 12:28 PM

Mirnada, my DH said the same thing about Clara.

By PunkPrincessPhd (NLI) (not verified)
December 29, 2009 12:42 PM

Sorry for the late reply - holiday chaos.

@Valerie: Eabha is actually pronounced as "Ava", while the Irish approximation of "Eva" is Aoibhe. Counterintuitive, I know. Aodhan is mostly pronounced as "Aidan", although technically the "dh" should make a soft "g", so think "EE-ah-gan". The base form, Aodh (from which Aidan descends) used to be anglicized as "Hugh", if that makes any sense.

@zoerhenne: Thanks so much for asking! She's growing like a weed (in the 95% for height! Her short mom is sooo happy!).

As for namer's remorse, not really - not in the "I wish she was Aoibheann" sense. She definitely feels like Sorcha to me. The only issue is with the pronunciation, which DH and I had kind of agreed to compromise on (his "Sorsha" vs my "Sor-a-ka"). Of course, since his way is apparently "easier", everyone on both sides of the family is using his version. It annoys me a little, especially when we're asked her name and he automatically replies "Sorsha". It makes me feel like I've had to compromise *again* on our daughter's name - like I'm the exception in calling her by her "proper" name. BUt I feel like I created the situation by not insisting on the correct version to begin with. Sigh. more drama :)

December 29, 2009 1:07 PM

If it's any consolation, PPP, I don't quite understand why Gaelic languages use the Roman alphabet (or a close approximation of it) anyway. It just seems too far removed from the actual phonetics involved.

However, given how much I've heard my own (quite common) middle name mangled, I understand the importance of intuitive orthography and patience in what can be extreme Anglicization.

Doesn't mean it's any fun, though. :)
(Just think, you could have had people calling your daughter Owie-bean!)