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Popular Baby Names - Changing Times, Changing Cultures

Aug 17, 2007
Nothing reflects changing times and changing cultures more accurately than popular baby names. For example, in 2004, the name "Mohammed" entered the top 20 list of popular baby boy names in England and Wales for the first time. This shows the rapid growth of the Muslim community in the UK over the past generation.

The changes in popular baby names

This is quite a radical change and if we look at the most popular baby names in the UK over the last century there are other major changes. Compare the 2 following lists:

Popular baby boy names - 1904:

1. William, 2. John, 3. George, 4. Thomas, 5. Arthur.

Popular baby boy names - 2004:

1. Jack, 2. Joshua, 3. Thomas, 4. James, 5. Daniel.

As we can see, the only name that has stayed in the in the top 5 over the last 100 years is "Thomas". At the same time, the name "Arthur" has completely disappeared from the top 100 list.

If we look at the lists of popular baby girl names, the changes are even more spectacular:

Popular baby girl names - 1904:

1. Mary, 2. Florence, 3. Doris, 4. Edith, 5. Dorothy.

Popular baby girl names - 2004:

2. Emily, 2. Ellie, 3. Jessica, 4. Sophie, 5. Chloe.

Anyone know any girl under the age of 10 with the names Doris or Dorothy?

Parents tend to be a lot more adventurous when naming their baby girls, which is why the girls' lists tend to show much more variety and individual baby girl names move up and down the list more frequently. Popular baby girl names are perhaps the best indicator of popular culture, for instance, the UK's 2005 list has seen the name "Keira" rise 13 places to 38, and the name "Scarlett" jump 25 places to 47 - based on the popularity of Hollywood actresses, respectively Keira Knightley and Scarlett Johansson.

The difference in boys and girls is even more obvious when you look at the very top of the list of popular baby names; "Jack" has been the most popular baby boy name in the UK for the last 11 years, whereas the most popular baby girl name has changed from "Chloe" to "Emily" to "Jessica" between 2001 and 2005.

Popular baby names - the US experience

Interestingly, in 2004, the most popular baby girl name in the US was exactly the same as in the UK - "Emily". However, only one other name (Olivia) appeared on both lists. The more consistent approach to naming baby boys is again confirmed - 4 boys names appear on both lists (Joshua, Daniel, William and Joseph). Of these, "Joshua" is the highest placed on both lists - number 2 on the UK list and number 3 on the US list.

Amazingly, if we go back 100 years, we see the same patterns. Once again, the most popular baby girl name in 1904 is exactly the same in both countries (Mary), with few other similarities. However, 3 of the top 4 baby boy names are the same (William, John, George) with "William and "George" being the top 2 on both lists, just in a different order.

The differences between baby boy naming and baby girl naming is even more obvious in the US - 7 of the top 10 most popular baby boy names in 2004 were biblical names, including the top 4 - "Jacob", "Michael", "Joshua" and "Matthew". Only one girl's name (Hannah) in the top 10 has a biblical connection.

In fact "Michael" - my own name - provides a great insight into both the changing times and the more conservative baby boy naming attitudes in the US:

* During the 1910s it appeared in the decade's list of most popular baby names at position 436.

* Over the 1920s, it rose to position 52.

* Over the 1940s it entered the top 10 at position number 9.

* Over the 1960s, it became the most popular baby boy name

* It remained in the number 1 position during the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s - 40 years at the top!

* Since the beginning of the new decade (2000s) it has fallen slightly to position 2.

Mighty "Mo"

But what's the latest on "Mohammed"? Well, having reached position 20 in the UK 2004, it actually dropped to position 23 in 2005. Hmmm...was 2004 just an unusual year? Well, no not really - if you look further down the 2005 list you will also see "Muhammad" at position 56 and "Mohammad" at position 70. "Mighty Mo" is on the move...
About the Author
Michael Barrows' website has great info on baby names and lots of baby resources. Get your lists of baby names and free ebook packed with baby tips for new parents, visit the popular baby names website.
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