American Names · Analysis

Analysis: The ABC’s of #1 Names (A-M)

Hello there, and happy (belated) holidays! 

Recently, I put together a list of every #1 name per letter of the alphabet since 1880, which you can read here.  Below you’ll read the first part of my analysis, for the letters A-M.  

The top ‘A’ name for women changes frequently, and I feel that whatever the top name is tends to be a sign of the times, or at least the trends.  Ava is currently the top name, and I suspect that Amelia will be next, considering that she’s already the most popular baby name in the U.K. and quickly rising here.  Consider that two decades ago, Ashley was #1. 

Men’s ‘A’ names run more traditional (as men’s names generally d0).  Arthur was often #1 until 1947, though Albert was sometimes #1 in the first two decades of the century.  Anthony ran from 1948-1978 and then popped up again in 2007; dignified Andrew dominated the 80s and 90s, excepting two years (1995 and 1996) when Austin was #1.  However, the current top #1 is Alexander, possibly reflecting the recent trend towards ancient Greek and Roman names. 

Bertha and Bessie alternated as #1 ‘B’ names until Beatrice emerged in 1913.  Interestingly, Billy became the #1 boys’ name for this letter a few years after the girls got Betty, who reigned supreme from 1917-1934.  Besides being favorable to nicknames, the letter ‘B’ is also distinguished because the top girls’ name was once an alcoholic beverage.  Brandy was #1 between 1975 and 1982, partly due to a song.  Masculine ‘B’ names often seem fairly modern (Bruce, Brandon, etc.), though lately the favorite is classic Benjamin, which was also #1 between 1880 and 1909).

The top ‘C’ name changes very frequently for women, but hardly for men.  Until 2014 only two men’s names dominated the #1 spot for this letter – Charles (1880-1964) and Christopher (1965-2013).  Carter took the reigns in 2014.  Christine, Christina, and Crystal all reached the top spot during the first half of Christopher‘s reign…a whole lotta Chris!  Often, similar-sounding names will rise in conjunction, or one will rise after the other.   Charlotte is currently the #1 feminine ‘C’ name, following a twelve-year stint by Chloe (which like Brandy, is now related to alcohol; Chloe is a popular wine brand). 

“Hey there, Delilah!”  Delilah is the current most popular ‘D’ name for girls…and yes, the song did propel her rise.  Many top ‘D’ names for ladies relate to music.  Donna, which had been #1 for the letter between 1943 and 1949, was once again #1 between 1959 and 1967…after the Ritchie Valens song of the same name.  “Dawn (Go Away)” was a song by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, though it took a couple years before the name’s successful coup against DonnaDestiny, of course, reminds of Destiny’s Child and the original name of Miley Cyrus (though I’m not sure how much either affected the name, which was already rising throughout the 90s).  There hasn’t been much variation in men’s ‘D’ names, though interestingly Dewey was a one-hit wonder in 1898 (end of the Spanish-American war; Nancy’s Baby Names has a fascinating post on names inspired by that conflict). 

‘E’ is one of the most stable letters for both men and women.  There are only 3 men’s names (Edward, Eric, and Ethan) and only 4 women’s names (Emma, Elizabeth, Ethel, and Emily) that have been #1 since 1880.  Ethel is a one-hit wonder from 1896 that interrupted what would have been a 104-year streak for my name, Elizabeth (which is the most consistently popular women’s name in the U.S., according to a Behind the Name analysis).  Emily dominated the 1990s and early 2000s (and, but recent years have seen a return to Emma, which was the first #1 ‘e’ name in the early 1880s.  The boys’ names for this letter only change once before the next new ‘e’ name.  I predict Elijah will soon overtake Ethan, though.

‘F’ is another stable letter for both genders.  Frank was #1 for 110 years!  Only since 1991 has there been any variation among the boys’ names.  It’s tended to alternate between Francisco and Fernando, though Finn is one of the new arrivals of 2015 (thank you Star Wars!).  Regarding the ladies: the top ‘f’ name only changes up once every thirty years or so.  The longest-lasting name was Frances, with a tenure of 55 years between 1910 and 1965.  Faith has been #11 since 1995 (when it replaced Felicia), but I think if any name has the potential to unseat Faith it will be Finley or even Felicity.  I’d love to see Florence return, though. 

Like ‘B’ names, top ‘G’ names have included more nicknames.  Gail (short for Abigail) was #1 in the 50s, and Gina (short for Georgina, Virginia, and many others) trended from the 1960s to the late 1980s.  Nowadays parents have gone back to the classics – Grace has returned as #1.  The top men’s names starting with ‘G’ tend to be more formal (George, Gregory, etc.), excepting Gary.

The highest ‘H’ names represent the most plant names out of the alphabet.  Holly was the one-hit wonder of 1964 and Heather dominated for almost a quarter-century between 1967 and 1991.  Currently, the #1 girls’ name for this letter is unisex Harper

Except for the years Hunter was #1 (1992-2011 and 2013), the men’s top ‘H’ name has always been something that could shorten to Harryincluding Harry itself.  Harold reigned from 1915 to 1951, but most other years have belonged to Henry (including 2015.) 

‘I’ is a volatile letter for men’s names.  The most consistent name was Ian, which ran #1 between 1967 and 1996.  Otherwise the last 136 years have meant gladiatorial combat between Isaac and Ira for the top spot.  A few other names have come through – Irving was popular in the teens and Roaring Twenties, Ivan sporadically won in the 30s, 50s, and 60s, and Isaiah was especially trendy in the late 90s and early years of the millennium.  Lately, though, it’s back to Isaac.

Biblical names represent all the top men’s names for ‘J.’  Surprisingly, this includes Jason.  More curiously, only New Testament names reached #1 until the 1980s.  Since 1983, both top ‘J’ names, Joshua and Jacob, have come from the Old Testament.  

The top ‘J’ name for women changes every decade or two.  Jessica actually had the longest consecutive reign, from 1985-2005.  This, followed by Josephine (1901-1920) and Jennifer (1966-1984).  I also find it interesting that so many of the ‘J’ names are somehow related to John, like Jean and Joan; even Jennie (popular in the 1880s) was once considered a nickname for JaneJulia is now America’s favorite ‘J,’ though maybe not for long.  Both Jade and Josephine are on the rise, while Julia is falling. 

‘K’ always strikes me as a very modern letter.  Sure, Katherine was once the top ‘K’ name, but look at some of the more recent ones, like Kimberly and Kaylee.  As of 2015, Kennedy is the most popular ‘K’ name for baby girls.  For men, ‘K’ is a Celtic letter.  Three of the four top men’s names for this letter have originated from Scotland or Ireland.   

In my opinion, the most outstanding fact about a top ‘L’ name is that Linda was the first women’s name to be more popular than Mary.  The top ‘L’ name changes every generation or so, and sometimes they return decades later.  Laura, first #1 in the 1880s, returned in the 1980s.  Lillian, #1 between 1888 and 1923, returned in 2013 and 2014. 

The first four masculine ‘L’ names contain related pairs.  French Louis was the first #1 ‘L’ name for boys in the late 19th and early 20th century, and Spanish Luis was popular in the 1980s and 90s.  Lawrence was briefly the favorite in the 30s, followed by a long period of Larry.  Lately the favorites have been Logan (1995-2010) and Liam (2011-Present).

Michelle was the first ‘M’ name to overtake Mary in 1967, and every decade since then has produced another #1 ‘M’ for girls.  You can bet this means Mia will only last a few years…I think Mila could be the next #1.

Judging by history, it’s very possible Michael may eventually return as #1 for ‘M.’  Not that it will happen in the next ten years, considering he did just come off a 75-year run.  Or he could surprise us and turn out like Mary, meaning some other name would eventually replace Mason as king of the letter.

Hope you’ve enjoyed this longer read!  The full list is up here, and I will post my analysis for the letters N-Z shortly.  Let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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