“Have you picked out a name yet?” Expectant parents will be asked that question 1.6 million times. It is the touchstone query connecting our family to yours. “Oh, how cute. My cousin named her baby…”
We choose a baby name for many reasons, Many people choose to name their baby after a favorite relative. Some choose a particular hero or person of influence. Sometimes we simply choose a name because it sounds good with our last name.
But sometimes popular culture and entertainment media play a role. Movie star names were a tremendous influence during the 1940s and 1950s. Television stars replaced their silver screen counterparts in the 60s and 70s.
Daytime dramas, aka “soap operas,” are a fertile ground for inspiring baby names. Does it seem like there are a lot of “Heathers” in their late 30s? Allow me to introduce you to General Hospital’s Heather Webber. Are you in your mid-to-late 20s? You went to school with more than one “Ashley,” didn’t you? Credit “The Young and the Restless” and Ashley Abbott for that one.
The popularity of baby names ebbs and flows. “John” and “Susan” had their day. Now, not so much, but they are sure to make a comeback. “Emma,” “Jacob,” and “Zachary” were considered outdated 30 years ago. Now look at a preschool class roster near you.
Gildshire Magazines decided to have a look at the most popular baby names from the last 100 years. What was popular then and now? Who are the most famous examples of kids born during their decade of greatest popularity? Is your name on the list? Let’s see.
1920s: Robert and Mary: If you didn’t have an Uncle or Grandpa Robert and/or an Aunt or Grandma Mary you may have been in the only one in your school so deprived. The most-famous “Robert” born in the 20s was Robert Kennedy. He was Attorney General during his brother’s Presidency, and a Presidential candidate in his own right. The most-famous Mary born in the 20s was Mary Higgins Clark. She is the author of such books as “Where are the Children?” and “Daddy’s Gone A Hunting.”
“John” and “Dorothy were the next most popular names in the 1920s.
1930s: James and Betty: While Robert (Bob) and Mary continued to be very popular (third most popular, in fact) James and Betty took over the top spot. The most famous “James” born in the 30s was James Meredith. He was the Civil Rights activist whose Supreme Court case forced the University of Mississippi to integrate in 1962. The most famous “Betty” born in the 30s was Betty Shabazz. She was also a Civil Rights advocate, as well as being an accomplished educator.
“John” and “Barbara” were the next most-popular names in the 1930s.
1940s: William and Patricia: If Uncle Billy is your favorite uncle, you aren’t alone. His wife may have gone by “Pat” or “Patty” but Patricia was her name. The most-famous William born in the 40s was William “Willie” Davenport. He was an Army Colonel and Olympic athlete who competed in both the Summer and Winter games. The most famous Patricia born in the 40s was doctor and educator Patricia Bath. She developed eyesight-saving instruments for the treatment of cataracts.
“Richard and “Carol” were the next most popular names in the 1940s.
1950s: David and Debra: These two made their first appearance in the Top Ten during the 50s and promptly took over the top spot. “David” was usually “Dave” but “Debra” had many iterations. It could be spelled “Deborah.” She may have been “Debbie,” or “Deb.” The most famous “David” born in the 50s was Dr. David Ho, whose work has influenced the treatment of HIV/AIDS worldwide. The most- famous Debra born in the 50s was actress Debra Winger. She rose to fame in the 1980s with two hit films, ‘An Officer and a Gentleman’ and ‘Terms of Endearment.
“William” and “Barbara” were the next most popular names in the 50s.
1960s: Michael and Lisa: After lurking in the Top Ten since 1930, “Michael” took over the top spot in the 60s. “Lisa” on the other hand, came from way down the list to claim 1960s supremacy. Some analysts consider the popularity of TV’s “Green Acres” and the role of “Lisa,” as played by Eva Gabor to be a contributing factor. The most-famous “Michael” born in the 60s is basketball legend Michael Jordan. The most-famous “Lisa” born in the 60s was Lisa Perez Jackson. She is a chemical engineer who became the first African-American to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“David” and “Mary” were the next most popular names in the 60s.
1970s: Michael and Jennifer: In a rare example of one decade’s winner defending the title, Michael remained the boy name champion throughout the 70s. Jennifer, like Lisa before her, rushed the podium from back in the pack. The most-famous Michael born in the 70s is actor-singer Michael Buble. He was the winner of Canada’s prestigious Juno Award and is an international singing and recording sensation. The most-famous Jennifer born in the 70s is Jennifer Garner. She stars on stage, small screen, big screen, and in her ubiquitous advertisements for Capital One credit cards.
“Christopher” and “Amy” are the next most popular names in the 70s.
1980s: Michael and Jessica: Look at Mike! That’s three decades of his name and he shows no sign of letting Christopher take over. “Jessica,” popular in the early decades of the 20th Century, takes over Number One on the baby girl side of things. She may be “Jesse,” and she may be “Jess,” but she is probably Jessica just the same. The most famous Michael born in the 80s is Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps. He’s the record-holder with 28 Olympic medals won. The most-famous “Jessica” born in the 80s is singer-actress Jessica Simpson. In addition to acting and singing she is a fashion empire entrepreneur, and a former MTV reality show star.
“Christopher” and “Jennifer” are the next most popular names in the 80s.
1990s: Michael and Jessica: Mike and Jess hold off Christopher and Ashley to defend the crown. The most-famous Michael born in the 90s is football player Michael Sam. He was the first openly-gay athlete to play in the National Football League. The most famous Jessica born in the 90s is singer Jessica Jarrell. She wrote and performs the hit single “Armageddon.”
“Christopher” and “Ashley” will try and win the title when the century changes. Will they be able to do it?
2000s: Jacob and Emily: Michael gave up the crown but it wasn’t to two-decade runner-up Christopher. “Jacob,” left far behind in the 90s, stormed back to win the most popular name title in the first decade of the new millennia. “Emily” is another throwback to a much earlier time. Who are the most famous Jacob’s and Emily’s? Well, we don’t know yet. It may turn out to be the Jake or Em living in your house. How exciting would that be? Michael and Madison were the next most popular. Maybe Mike and Maddie will change the world. Watch for them to do just that!