40 Fun Facts About the Most Popular American Baby Names of the Last 100 Years

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Baby naming trends come and go. Some names spike and then drop out of view while others stick around for years. The Social Security Administration's list of the top names over the last 100 years shows how many people have been given a particular name since 1917. Some names accrue numbers slowly, by maintaining a low level of popularity over a long period of time, and some rack up the numbers by being wildly popular for a few years. Boy names tend to be less variable than girl names, so their overall numbers are higher. By the numbers, the first six most popular names are boy names, with the most popular girl name first making an appearance at 7th place overall. The second most popular girl name comes in at 15th. Here are some other things to know about 40 of the most popular U.S. names of the last 100 years, organized into 20 boy and 20 girl names.

BOY NAMES

1. JAMES

The most popular boy name over the past 100 years is James. More than 4.5 million boys have been named James, nearly 3 percent of all boys born during that time. Though it has ranked as low as the 19th most popular name, it was number 1 from 1940-1952.

2. JOHN

John, like James, has stayed consistently popular for boys, though it has slid from number 1 to number 28 over the last 100 years. In 1923, more than 5 percent of all boy babies born that year were named John.

3. ROBERT

Like James and John, Robert has stayed consistently popular over the years. It hasn’t appeared in the top 10 since the end of the 1980s, though. In 1934 Robert, and its variations of Bobby and Bob, all made the top 100.

4. MICHAEL

Michael is the most common boy name for people currently alive. It has not been out of the top 10 names given to baby boys since 1943, and had an unbroken streak at number 1 from 1961 to 1998. In 2016 it was still ranked at number 8.

5. WILLIAM

William is another steady classic, like James, John, and Robert, that has maintained its consistent level of popularity. It did have a brief, minor dip in the 1980s and '90s, but it’s back on top again, or nearly, ranking as the number 3 name for boys, ahead of the other classics, in 2016.

6. DAVID

David has been another steady classic, but it only reached number 1 once, in 1960. But that was a big year for births, so almost 86,000 babies got the name David in that year alone. Dave was also a big hit that year.

7. RICHARD

The name Richard had its biggest year in 1947, and stayed in the top 10 until 1970. In 1959 there were also over 13,000 babies named Ricky, as well as thousands of Ricks.

8. JOSEPH

Joseph’s peak year was 1917, but it has been in the top 25 for the 100 years since. It has never reached number 1 though.

9. THOMAS

There were more than 45,000 baby boys named Thomas in 1955. Its popularity began to decline in the 1970s, but it remains one of the top 50 boy names.

10. CHARLES

Charles ranks 10th of all boy names over the last 100 years, with over 2 million total. It has maintained a steady general popularity, but hit its peak in 1929.

11. JOSHUA

Joshua is the 22nd most popular name of the past century, but it's notable in that it is the highest ranking name that was neither consistently popular over the whole time, nor a baby boomer name. Joshua didn’t break the top 100 names for any year until 1971, and it achieved peak popularity in 2006.

12. KEVIN

Kevin, the 23rd most popular name of the last 100 years, started to spike in popularity at the beginning of the baby boom, reaching a peak in 1963, when more than 30,000 baby boys got the name. It was the first in a string of popular Irish names ending in n, possibly establishing a preference for boy names ending in in/an/on that has continued through the current decade.

13. BRIAN

Brian, another Irish name ending in n, is the 24th most popular boy name overall. It was not particularly popular during the baby boom years, but peaked later in 1977.

14. JASON

Jason is a classic name from Greek mythology, but it was not commonly given to boys in the U.S. until it suddenly spread like wildfire in the 1970s. Its rise was swift, high, and relatively short, making it, according to certain measures, the trendiest boy name of the past 100 years.

15. RYAN

Ryan, a common Irish last name, took off as a first name in the U.S. in 1971, the year after the hit movie Love Story was released, starring Ryan O’Neal. The name Jennifer, a character name in the movie, took off at the same time and went on to dominate the girl name list for years. Ryan also fit it well with the trend toward other boy names ending in n, like Brian and Jason.

16. GARY

Gary is the 31st most popular boy name of the last century. It peaked during the boomer years, boosted by the popularity of actor Gary Cooper.

17. JACOB

Jacob was a rather old-fashioned sounding name when it cracked the top 100 in the mid 1970s, but after a 14-year run as the number 1 baby name for boys starting in 1999, it established itself as the name of a new generation. Just within that time frame, it became the overall 32nd most popular name of the last 100 years.

18. SCOTT

Scott is the 39th most popular boy name of the last 100 years. It’s notable because it was primarily a surname until it began to rise in popularity as a first name in the 1950s and '60s. Many last names became popular first names in the following years (Tyler, Jackson, Cooper, etc.).

19. ALEXANDER

Alexander, which peaked in popularity in 2009, is the 47th most popular boy name of the last 100 years. Unlike most popular boy names, which tend to have one or two syllables and begin with a consonant, Alexander starts with a vowel and has a whopping four syllables.

20. NOAH

Noah is the current number 1 boy name (as of 2016), and though it only broke the top 100 starting in 1995, it already ranks 85th on the most popular of all time. It's part of a newer trend toward biblical names ending in a vowel sound, like Elijah, Jonah, and Isaiah.

GIRL NAMES

1. MARY

The most popular girl name over the past 100 years is Mary. Almost 3.5 million girls have been named Mary—about 2 percent of all girls born during that time. It was the number 1 or 2 name from the beginning of record keeping until 1965, when it started to slide. In 2016 it was ranked at 127.

2. PATRICIA

After Mary, the second most popular name for girls over the past 100 years is Patricia. Though it never made number 1 for any particular year, it stayed close to it through the baby boom years, from 1946-1964. Over 53,000 baby girls were named Patricia in 1952.

3. JENNIFER

Jennifer had a spectacular post-baby-boom rise to the number 1, and it stayed in that position from 1970 until 1984, the year of its peak popularity. It probably got its long-term boost from the 1970 film Love Story, starring Ali MacGraw as a beautiful, tragic character bearing the name.

4. ELIZABETH

Though the name Elizabeth had its year of greatest popularity in the early 1900s, it has stayed consistent over the last 100 years, resisting and weathering trends, hovering near the top 10, and neither spiking nor dropping off in popularity.

5. LINDA

In contrast to Elizabeth, the window of popularity for Linda was relatively brief. It was mostly confined to the baby boom years, but its spike was so dramatic that it qualifies as the trendiest baby name in American history. The number of Lindas rose sharply, putting the name at number 1 in 1947, after a Buddy Clark song, "Linda," topped the charts. It fell just as sharply after a few years, and by 1978 was down to 100th place.

6. BARBARA

In the early Hollywood film era, glamorous actresses like Barbara La Marr, Barbara Bedford, Barbara Kent, and Barbara Stanwyck gave the name Barbara a boost. It stayed in the top 10 from 1927-1958, but dropped off quickly after that.

7. SUSAN

Susan, like Linda and Patricia, was a quintessential baby boom name. At its peak in 1960, over 39,000 baby girls were named Susan.

8. JESSICA

Jessica’s rise to popularity started a little after the Jennifer craze began, but it was probably bolstered by Jennifer and other popular J names like Jason and Joshua. It stayed in the top 10 through the 1980s and '90s.

9. MARGARET

Margaret was far more popular in 1917 than it is 100 years later, but its decline in popularity has been very slow and gradual, meaning that although it hasn’t made the top 10 for decades, it manages to rack up enough numbers year by year to put it at number 9 overall for the century. Over 1 million baby girls have been named Margaret.

10. SARAH

Sarah is another slow-burn classic, varying in popularity a bit over the years, but never swinging wildly. It performed most modestly during the baby boom years. It reached its peak in 1993, when over 24,000 baby girls were named Sarah.

11. KAREN

Though it did first rise from seemingly nowhere at the end of the 1930s, Karen belongs to the latter half of the baby boom years, peaking in 1965. It had a slower decline than other baby boom names like Linda and Susan.

12. ASHLEY

Ashley is the 17th most popular name for girls of the past 100 years, but it didn't even crack the top 1000 until 1964. It was traditionally a boy name, notably as the name of Scarlett O'Hara’s love interest in the hugely popular novel and film Gone with the Wind. It got a big boost as a girl's name in the early 1980s, when it was the name of a female character on the soap opera The Young and the Restless. The name stayed in the top 10 until 2005.

13. CAROL

Carol is another name that started as a boy name; it's a version of Charles. It became popular as a girl name in the 1920s and reached peak popularity 1941.

14. MICHELLE

Michelle had a huge spike in popularity to 4th place in 1966, after the Beatles song “Michelle” became a hit. It stayed in the top 10 for 15 years, making it the 21st most popular girl name of the last 100 years.

15. EMILY

Emily spent over a decade as the number 1 girl name, from 1996-2007. As of last year it was still in the top 10, and it’s become the 22nd most popular name of the past century.

16. SHIRLEY

Shirley, like Linda, was another trendy name, rising quickly to a high level of popularity and then falling off. It reached its peak in 1936, when Shirley Temple was a child superstar and over 35,000 baby girls were given the name.

17. JACQUELINE

In 1960 John F. Kennedy announced his candidacy for president. The next year the name of his glamorous wife shot up almost 50 places to become the 37th most popular name for girls. The name reached a peak in 1964, after Kennedy’s assassination, when almost 12,000 girls were named Jacqueline. It never reached top 10, or even the top 30, but it stayed popular enough to become the 72nd most popular girl name of the last 100 years.

18. MADISON

The name Madison was not on any list of girl names until the movie Splash came out in 1984. In the film, a mermaid (played by Daryl Hannah) finds her way to New York, where she decides to take the name Madison after seeing a street sign for Madison Avenue. The movie was a hit and so was the name. By 2001 it had become the number 2 name for girls, and it's become the 90th most popular name over the last 100 years.

19. KAYLA

A fictional character also gave rise to Kayla, the 100th most popular name of the last 100 years. According to the baby-naming guide Beyond Jennifer & Jason by Linda Rosenkrantz, the spark that started rocketing Kayla up the name list in 1982 was the introduction of a character by that name on the soap opera Days of Our Lives. It spent 17 years in the top 20.

20. EMMA

Emma is the current number 1 name for girls (as of 2016) and the 50th most popular girl name of the past 100 years. It was also popular in the year 1900, but it declined in popularity to a low of 461 on the list for 1976. It then started gradually rising to return to the top 20, where it's now been since 1999. Names go in and out of style, but Emma proves that they can go out and come back after a long absence.

5 Fast Facts About Billy the Kid

On September 23, 1875, Billy the Kid was arrested for the first time. Whether you think he was a misunderstood old West hero or nothing but a cold-blooded killer, it's impossible to argue that he was an interesting man. Here are five facts to prove it.

1. HIS "REAL" NAME IS A TOPIC OF DEBATE.

Billy the Kid's real name? Henry McCarty. Or maybe William Bonney. Or Henry Antrim. Take your pick. He was born Henry McCarty, but there's some speculation that his dad may have been a man named William Bonney. Billy the Kid started using his name at some point in 1877. Antrim was his step-father's last name; he went by that for some time as well.

2. HE WORKED AT A CHEESE FACTORY.

Billy the Kid wasn't always engaging in illegal activities and shooting people; he once worked at a cheese factory—at least he did according to Charlie Bowdre, a man who would later be in Billy's posse, and was part owner of the cheese factory. Bowdre's descendants have said this is where the two of them met, although his employ was short.

3. HIS LEGEND MAY BE A BIT OF AN EXAGGERATION.

You may have heard the legend that Billy killed 21 people—one for each year of his rather short life. It's just that: legend. We only have evidence that Billy killed four people, two of them prison guards. He may have "participated" in the deaths of up to five more people.

4. CONTRARY TO POPULAR BELIEF, HE PROBABLY WASN'T LEFT-HANDED.

The reason this notion became widespread is because of the famous ferrotype of him that shows him wearing a gun belt with the holster on the left side. It was later discovered that the image has been reproduced incorrectly and flipped to show the mirror image of what really was. The picture actually shows Billy with his gun on his right hip.

5. SOME PEOPLE BELIEVE HE FAKED HIS OWN DEATH.

Many people—including some claiming to be Billy himself—have said Billy didn't actually die on July 14, 1881 in Fort Sumner, New Mexico, which is the official story. Many claim that Sheriff Pat Garrett didn't kill Billy, but actually helped him fake his death and happily ride off into the sunset. No evidence has ever been found to support this, though.

Men claiming to be Billy include Ollie "Brushy Bill" Roberts and a man named John Miller. Brushy Bill started claiming to be Billy the Kid in 1949, and knew quite a few intimate details about Billy's life and the Lincoln Country War. But there were several gunfights he was pretty clueless about, and photo comparisons using sophisticated computer programs show the men to have completely different bone structure and other features.

As for John Miller, his claims were basically put to rest in 2005 when his bones were disinterred and DNA samples were taken. They were compared to a blood sample thought to be Billy the Kid's and there was no match.

10 Intriguing Friends Fan Theories

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Friends is a show about twentysomethings navigating life, love, and work in New York City. Ot at least that’s one theory about the beloved sitcom, which debuted on this day in 1994. Here’s another: Friends is a glimpse inside a mental ward, where six disturbed patients are working through their personality disorders. In the 14 years since it went off the air, Friends has inspired a ton of wild fan theories on Reddit and Twitter. Here are a few of the strangest (and be careful: Mr. Heckles’s murderer is still at large).

1. RACHEL DREAMED THE WHOLE THING.

In the summer of 2017, this photo of the Friends season four DVD box ignited a fan frenzy. The image on the box shows the titular pals snoozing side by side. Ross, Phoebe, Monica, Chandler, and Joey all have their eyes shut, but Rachel—resting right in the middle—is wide awake and looking directly at the camera. Why is she the only one with her eyes open? Some fans suggested Rachel was plotting something sinister, or secretly very “woke.” But plenty more insisted it was proof the whole show was Rachel’s dream. According to one Twitter fan, Rachel fell into an anxiety-fueled dream the night before her wedding to Barry and imagined her own group of hip New York friends to cope with her frustration and dread. Except she woke up to reality the next morning, as shown on the DVD cover, where she’s surrounded by her dream friends.

2. PHOEBE HALLUCINATED THE SHOW.

Another popular theory suggests the show was all in Phoebe’s head—only this take is much darker. The basic premise is that Phoebe never got off the streets. She was a lonely, homeless woman with a meth addiction who peered into the window of Central Perk one day. She noticed five friends laughing over coffee, and imagined herself as part of the gang. In this fantasy, her pals didn’t always get her weird sense of humor, but they loved her anyway. In reality, the twentysomethings in the window were wondering why that “crazy lady” was staring at them. This theory gained so much traction that a journalist asked Friends co-creator Marta Kauffman about it at a television festival. She quickly threw water on the whole thing. “That’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard,” Kauffman replied. “That’s a terrible theory. That’s insane. Someone needs a life, that’s all I’m saying."

3. IT WAS ONE LONG PROMO FOR STARBUCKS.

The cast of 'Friends'
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

According to one manic Facebook rant, Friends was not a sitcom at all. It was actually a 10-year marketing ploy, designed to make Starbucks the new go-to destination for young people. Why else do the characters spend so much time in a coffee shop? True, the shop is not called Starbucks, but the subliminal evidence lies in Rachel’s last name (Green, like the Starbucks company color) and hair (styled like the mermaid in the Starbucks logo). Then there’s Ross and Monica’s last name, Geller, which is close to the German word gellen. It means “to yell,” just like the Starbucks baristas calling out customer names. The case only gets flimsier from there, but if you really want to read about how Chandler and Moby Dick are connected, you can dive down the rabbit hole here.

4. ROSS LOST CUSTODY OF BEN BECAUSE HE WAS A BAD DAD.

Ross’s son Ben arrives in the very first season of Friends, in the aptly titled episode “The One with the Birth.” He’s a constant character for several seasons, but as the show goes on, Ross seems to spend less and less time with his kid. Ben disappears after the eighth season, and never meets his half-sister Emma onscreen. There’s one explanation for this dropoff: Ross lost custody of his son due to increasingly disturbing behavior.

The blog What Would Bale Do lays out a bunch of examples: Ross sleeps with his students, tries to hook up with his cousin, and asks a self-defense instructor for help scaring his female friends. He’s also generally pretty jealous and possessive. According to this theory, Ross’s ex-wife Carol hit a breaking point and took full custody of their son, which is why Ben stops coming around his dad’s apartment in the later seasons.

5. MR. HECKLES WAS MURDERED.

Rachel and Monica’s mean old neighbor dies of natural causes in season two—or at least that’s what they want you to think. By one Redditor’s account, Mr. Heckles was killed in cold blood. Moments before he dies, Mr. Heckles shows up at Monica and Rachel’s door, complaining that their noise is disturbing his birds. (He does not have birds.) Monica says they’ll try to keep it down and as Mr. Heckles leaves, he says he’s going to rejoin his “dinner party.” Minutes later, he’s dead. Ergo, his dinner party guest killed him. Of course, the likelier explanation is that Mr. Heckles was a crazy old man who wasn’t even having a dinner party. But where’s the fun in that?

6. THERE’S A REASON THEY ALWAYS GOT THAT TABLE AT CENTRAL PERK.

The cast of 'Friends' chats with talk show host Conan O'Brien
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

How did the gang manage to snag the coveted center couch at Central Perk every single time? Simple: Gunther reserved it for them. It was all part of his ongoing campaign to win Rachel’s affections, and it explains why the group never had to fight for seating space. Well, except that one time.

7. THERE’S A PARKS & RECREATION CROSSOVER.

In “The One With All the Candy,” Rachel insists she doesn’t sleep with guys on the first date, only for her friends to immediately call her out. Monica rattles off three names: Matt Wire, Mark Lynn, and Ben Wyatt. Could she be talking about the same Ben Wyatt from Parks and Recreation? According to Reddit, their ages check out. Ben would’ve been 26 at the time of the episode, making him a perfectly acceptable one-night stand for 29-year-old Rachel. But how does Leslie Knope feel about this?

8. JUDY GELLER HAD AN AFFAIR THAT PRODUCED MONICA.

Ross and Monica’s mom doesn’t even try to hide her favoritism. Judy Geller thinks Ross is a genius and Monica is, well, trying. (But could be trying harder.) One bonkers and since-deleted fan theory suggests Judy’s preference stems from a family secret: At some point in her marriage to Jack Geller, she had an affair, one she could never forget because it spawned Monica. Judy’s shame over this tryst is what causes her to lash out at Monica and praise Ross, her one 'legitimate' child.

9. THEY’RE ALL IN A PSYCH WARD.

Courteney Cox, Jennifer Aniston, and Matthew Perry in a scene from 'Friends.'
Warner Bros. Television/Getty Images

What if Central Perk wasn’t a coffee shop at all, but rather the cafeteria at a mental institution? As one theory goes, all six main characters are suffering from personality disorders. They’re confined to a facility for treatment, and can only shuffle between their rooms (i.e. their “apartments”) and the cafeteria (i.e. “Central Perk”). This situation also explains why the group is so hostile toward new people. They’re not actually teasing Monica’s new boyfriend; they’re attacking anyone who tries to take one of the friends out of the mental hospital.

10. JOEY REALLY WANTED SOME PANCAKES.

This very silly—but very solid—fan theory is centered on Joey’s love of food. In “The One With Ross’s Library Book,” Joey has a one-night stand with a woman named Erin. He doesn’t want to see her again, and asks Rachel to break the news to her over pancakes. Apparently Chandler used to do this when he lived in the apartment. He’d even save extra pancakes for Joey. Rachel refuses to be a part of this, but once she’s left alone with Erin, she feels bad and offers to cook. Things escalate over the episode and pretty soon, Joey is the one who’s too clingy for Erin. Rachel has to tell him and, feeling bad yet again, she offers pancakes. Reddit claims this was all just a plot for pancakes. It kind of adds up: Joey can’t cook but likes to eat, and he has enough soap opera money to pay an actor (Erin) to play a part in this conspiracy. So he cons his roommate into making pancakes, twice, in a ruse that’s both delicious and diabolical.

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