Generational names

Let’s take a look at how the most popular names have changed over time. Here are the top five most common names in the most recent decade in the dataset (2005–2014), my own generation (1985–1994), my parents’ generation (1955–1964), and my grandparents’ generation (1925–1934).

1925–19341955–19641985–19942005–2014
1JohnDavidMichaelEthan
2WilliamRobertMatthewOlivia
3RobertMichaelJessicaLiam
4MaryJohnChristopherEmma
5JamesJamesRyanJacob

Until recently, the top of the charts have been dominated by traditionally male names. There are fewer distinct names in the “boys’ names” dataset, and due to that (and additional cultural factors), it is more top-heavy than the girls. However, this has changed over the last thirty years as names become increasingly diverse across all genders.

Proportion of recorded birth certificates bearing one of the top ten male names or top ten female names

Several of the biggest names maintained their popularity across generations, with four of them — John, Robert, James, and Michael — appearing in more than one of the top-5 rankings above.

The historical frequency of four chart-topping masculine names

In contrast, the most popular feminine names are more generational. Susans and Jessicas, for instance, were virtually unheard of 25 years before their peak and had mostly faded away 25 years after.

The historical frequency of four chart-topping feminine names

The top ten feminine names of each generation are almost entirely disjoint.

1925–19341955–19641985–19942005–2014
1MarySusanJessicaOlivia
2MargaretKarenAmandaEmma
3DorothySandraSarahEmily
4ShirleyLindaAshleyAva
5PatriciaDeborahJenniferSophia
6JoanPatriciaStephanieElla
7ElizabethBarbaraNicoleChloe
8HelenBrendaSamanthaIsabella
9BarbaraDonnaMelissaHannah
10JeanDebraBrittanyAbigail

Once again, the overall trend is towards name diversification, both within and across generations. The top ten names between 2005 and 2014 were Ethan, Olivia, Liam, Emma, Jacob, Emily, Lucas, Ava, Sophia, and Logan, none of which were in the top 25 of my generation.