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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.

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10 Witty Facts About The Marx Brothers
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Talented as individuals and magnificent as a team, the Marx Brothers conquered every medium from the vaudeville stage to the silver screen. Today, we’re tipping our hats (and tooting our horns) to Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo, and Gummo—on the 50th anniversary of Groucho's passing.

1. A RUNAWAY MULE INSPIRED THEM TO TAKE A STAB AT COMEDY.

Julius, Milton, and Arthur Marx originally aspired to be professional singers. In 1907, the boys joined a group called “The Three Nightingales.” Managed by their mother, Minnie, the ensemble performed covers of popular songs in theaters all over the country. As Nightingales, the brothers enjoyed some moderate success, but they might never have found their true calling if it weren’t for an unruly equid. During a 1907 gig at the Nacogdoches Opera House in East Texas, someone interrupted the performance by barging in and shouting “Mule’s loose!” Immediately, the crowd raced out to watch the newly-liberated animal. Back inside, Julius seethed. Furious at having lost the spotlight, he skewered his audience upon their return. “The jackass is the finest flower of Tex-ass!” he shouted, among many other ad-libbed jabs. Rather than boo, the patrons roared with laughter. Word of his wit soon spread and demand for these Marx brothers grew.

2. THEY RECEIVED THEIR STAGE NAMES DURING A POKER GAME.

In May of 1914, the five Marxes were playing cards with standup comedian Art Fisher. Inspired by a popular comic strip character known as “Sherlocko the Monk,” he decided that the boys could use some new nicknames. Leonard’s was a no-brainer. Given his girl-crazy, “chick-chasing” lifestyle, Fisher dubbed him “Chicko” (later, this was shortened to “Chico”). Arthur loved playing the harp and thus became “Harpo.” An affinity for soft gumshoes earned Milton the alias “Gummo.” Finally, Julius was both cynical and often seen wearing a “grouch bag”—wherein he’d store small objects like marbles and candy—around his neck. Thus, “Groucho” was born. For the record, nobody knows how Herbert Marx came to be known as “Zeppo.”

3. GROUCHO WORE HIS TRADEMARK GREASEPAINT MUSTACHE BECAUSE HE HATED MORE REALISTIC MODELS.

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Phony, glue-on facial hair can be a pain to remove and reapply, so Groucho would simply paint a ‘stache and some exaggerated eyebrows onto his face. However, the mustache he later rocked as the host of his famous quiz show You Bet Your Life was 100 percent real.

4. HARPO WAS A SELF-TAUGHT HARPIST.

Without any formal training (or the ability to read sheet music), the second-oldest Marx brother developed a unique style that he never stopped improving upon. “Dad really loved playing the harp, and he did it constantly,” his son, Bill Marx, wrote. “Maybe the first multi-tasker ever, he even had a harp in the bathroom so he could play when he sat on the toilet!”

5. THE VERY FIRST MARX BROTHERS MOVIE WAS NEVER RELEASED.

Financed by Groucho, Chico, Harpo, Zeppo, and a handful of other investors, Humor Risk was filmed in 1921. Accounts differ, but most scholars agree that the silent picture—which would have served as the family’s cinematic debut—never saw completion. Despite this, an early screening of the work-in-progress was reportedly held in the Bronx. When Humor Risk failed to impress there, production halted. By Marx Brothers standards, it would’ve been an unusual flick, with Harpo playing a heroic detective opposite a villainous Groucho character.

6. GUMMO AND ZEPPO BECAME TALENT AGENTS.

World War I forced Gummo to quit the stage. Following his return, the veteran decided that performing was no longer for him and instead started a raincoat business. Zeppo—the youngest brother—then assumed Gummo’s role as the troupe’s straight-talking foil. A brilliant businessman, Zeppo eventually break away to found the talent agency Zeppo Marx Inc., which grew into Hollywood’s third-largest, representing superstars like Clark Gable, Lucille Ball, and—of course—the other three Marx Brothers. Gummo, who joined the company in 1935, was charged with handling Groucho, Harpo, and Chico’s needs.

7. CHICO ONCE LAUNCHED A BIG BAND GROUP.

Chico took advantage of an extended break between Marx brothers movies to realize a lifelong dream. A few months before The Big Store hit cinemas in 1941, he co-founded the Chico Marx Orchestra: a swinging jazz band that lasted until July of 1943. Short-lived as the group was, however, it still managed to recruit some amazing talent—including singer/composer Mel Tormé, who would go on to help write the “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)” in 1945.

8. THEY TESTED OUT NEW MATERIAL FOR A NIGHT AT THE OPERA IN FRONT OF LIVE AUDIENCES.

With the script still being drafted, MGM made the inspired choice to let the brothers perform key scenes in such places as Seattle, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. Once a given joke was made, the Marxes meticulously timed the ensuing laughter, which let them know exactly how much silence to leave after repeating the gag on film. According to Harpo, this had the added benefit of shortening A Night at the Opera’s production period. “We didn’t have to rehearse,” he explained. “[We just] got onto the set and let the cameras roll.”

9. GROUCHO TEMPORARILY HOSTED THE TONIGHT SHOW.

Jack Paar bid the job farewell on March 29, 1962. Months before their star’s departure, NBC offered Paar’s Tonight Show seat to Groucho, who had established himself as a razor-sharp, well-liked host during You Bet Your Life’s 14-year run. Though Marx turned the network down, he later served as a guest host for two weeks while Johnny Carson prepared to take over the gig. When Carson finally made his Tonight Show debut on October 1, it was Groucho who introduced him.

10. SPY MAGAZINE USED A MARX BROTHERS MOVIE TO PRANK U.S. CONGRESSMEN.

Duck Soup takes place in Freedonia, a fictional country over which the eccentric Rufus T. Firefly (Groucho) presides. In 1993, 60 years after the movie’s release, this imaginary nation made headlines by embarrassing some real-life politicians. Staffers from Spy got in touch with around 20 freshmen in the House of Representatives, asking some variation on the question “Do you approve of what we’re doing to stop ethnic cleansing in Freedonia?” A few lawmakers took the bait. Representative Corrine Brown (D-Florida) professed to approve of America’s presence in Freedonia, saying “I think all of those situations are very, very sad, and I just think we need to take action to assist the people.” Across the aisle, Steve Buyer (R-Indiana) concurred. “Yeah,” he said, “it’s a different situation than the Middle East.”

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12 Facts About the Smithsonian's Collections
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With 19 museums spread along the East Coast, the Smithsonian Institution has become the country’s richest repository of American history. From culture to science, zoos to space exploration, the federally-backed archive has spent nearly 200 years preserving and educating. Check out some facts on its history, how a new species of dolphin was found hiding in its archives, and how the founder eventually became part of the collection.

1. ITS FOUNDER NEVER SET FOOT IN THE STATES.

Wealthy British globe-trotter James Smithson (1765-1829) had acquired an estate worth roughly $500,000 at the time of his death and ordered that all of his assets be inherited by his nephew, Henry James Dickinson. There was one twist: The estate was to be turned over to the United States in the event Dickinson died without an heir of his own so the country could build a hub for the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Henry, then 18, died just six years later, and so President James Polk signed the act approving the Smithsonian Institution into law in 1846. Curiously, Smithson had never even visited the U.S. Why leave such a legacy to a foreign nation? Smithson never commented on his decision, leaving people to guess that it was either because he was impressed by democracy or because he wanted to enrich a country that, at the time, had only a few educational hubs.

2. NO ONE WAS REALLY SURE WHAT SMITHSON WANTED.

A portrait of James Smithson

“Increase and diffusion of knowledge” can be interpreted pretty broadly, and it took the United States a long time—roughly 10 years—before anyone could agree on what to do with Smithson’s gift. Educators, politicians, and civilians all had a unique notion of how to spend his fortune, including opening a university, a library, or an observatory. Ultimately, the Smithsonian Institution was a compromise, involving many of these ideas. By 1855, construction on the main building was complete at the National Mall in Washington; it was designated as a National Museum in 1858 [PDF].

3. THEY HAD TO HIDE THEIR COLLECTION FROM AXIS FORCES.

At the height of U.S. involvement in World War II, museum curators knew that Axis forces would have designs on destroying the vibrant culture housed at the museum’s main location at the National Mall. To protect these irreplaceable items, the Smithsonian arranged to have them shipped to an undisclosed location—now known to be near Luray, Virginia—and stored in a climate-controlled warehouse. They didn’t return until 1944.

4. SMOKEY BEAR LIVED AT THEIR ZOO.

Smokey Bear takes a bath at the National Zoo

Yes, that Smokey Bear. (And there’s no “the” in his name.) In 1950, a bear cub that survived a raging forest fire in Capitan, New Mexico, was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service and named Smokey after the popular ad campaign mascot of the era. As a living symbol of the effort, he spent his remaining 26 years at the National Zoo, a constant recipient of visitor attention and hundreds of jars of honey.

5. THEY DISPLAY JUST ONE PERCENT OF THEIR COLLECTION.

In order to execute Smithson’s mission statement, the Smithsonian has had to morph into the greatest display of hoarding the world has ever seen. All told, the Institution’s various artifacts, specimens, and other arcana is believed to number in the neighborhood of 137 million, with an official museum estimate of 154 million. Just 1 percent of that is available for viewing at any given time.

6. ONE CATEGORY IS USUALLY OFF-LIMITS FOR VIEWING.

17th century human remains found in Jamestown, Virginia

Evolving public attitudes over the decades have prompted the Smithsonian to be very wary of displaying human remains. While they’ve collected everything from shrunken heads to the “soap man”—a corpse whose body turned to a soap-like substance thanks to a chemical reaction to soil—most of it remains out of public view.

7. AN EXHIBIT ON NUCLEAR WAR STIRRED CONTROVERSY.

For a planned exhibit of the Enola Gay, the bomber plane that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima during World War II, museum organizers drew criticism in 1994 for presenting material that some veterans groups and members of Congress felt was politically charged. The museum agreed to omit text near the display that some felt dwelled on the horrific effects of the bomb, as well as references estimating the U.S. and rival casualties that might have been suffered if the bomb had not been deployed.

8. THE WEIRDEST ITEM THEY’VE CATALOGED IS A CRAPPY VIDEO GAME.

The box art for the Atari 2600 game E.T.

Amidst many internet lists of strange Smithsonian catalog items—taxidermied animals, beards, and other miscellanea—nothing seems more incongruous than the 2014 inclusion of a 1982 Atari video game based on E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Renowned for being produced quickly and for helping to fuel the video game crash of the early 1980s, supplies of the cartridge were buried in a New Mexico landfill and only recently excavated. One went into the museum's archives.

9. THEY TURNED DOWN JIMMY DURANTE’S NOSE.

In the 1950s, actor and comedian Jimmy Durante was easily identified by his bulbous nose, a three-inch-long (from bridge to tip) feature that led to his nickname, “the Great Schnozzola.” Sensing a publicity opportunity, Durante’s management arranged for a makeup artist to create a plaster cast of Durante’s nose and offer it up to the Smithsonian as a piece of Americana. Frank Setzler, the museum’s head of anthropology was unimpressed. “Heavens, no,” he was quoted as saying. “Who would want that? The only place we could use it would be in the elephant display.”

10. AN UNDISCOVERED SPECIES OF DOLPHIN WAS LURKING IN THEIR INVENTORY.

A dolphin skull from a recently-discovered species

With so many specimens, the bowels of the Smithsonian almost certainly harbor secrets that can surprise even scientists. In 2016, two researchers in search of fossilized marine mammals stumbled across the skull of a 25-million-year-old river dolphin they named Arktocara yakataga. Said to have been found in Alaska, the dolphin may have dwelled in the Arctic. It was estimated that the skull—plucked from obscurity because one of the researchers found it “cute”—sat on the shelf for 50 years before being identified.

11. THEY’RE COMMITTED TO PRESERVING DOROTHY’S SLIPPERS.

Possibly the most iconic pair of footwear in pop culture, Dorothy’s ruby slippers from the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz have become a Smithsonian trademark. In 2016, the Institution successfully raised over $300,000 on Kickstarter to build a state-of-the-art preservation case to protect the kicks from deterioration. While star Judy Garland wore several pairs during filming and the Smithsonian’s are mismatched, it’s clear that visitors want to keep them in condition for any future travels along the yellow brick road.

12. SMITHSON EVENTUALLY BECAME PART OF THE COLLECTION.

James Smithson's final resting place within the walls of the Smithsonian

In 1904, some 75 years after his death in Italy, Smithson’s remains were about to be disturbed. U.S. Smithsonian officials were alerted that his grave site would be displaced because of a nearby stone quarry expansion. The Institution took the opportunity to have his casket shipped to America so he could be interred at the site of his legacy—the Smithsonian itself. Escorted by Alexander Graham Bell, the casket traveled 14 days by sea. The body was entombed and topped off by a marker in the Smithsonian, where it remains viewable by the general public.

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