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In honour of the name data being released, I thought I’d do lists of the most popular names in Australia for last year. I admit this was something of a last-minute decision, but it seemed like a good opportunity to cover some of the best-loved names.

People often ask how popular names got to be popular. I’m not sure there’s really a good answer to that – clearly people like the sound of them, and they fit in with current trends. Yet there must be many names, equally as nice-sounding and trend-friendly, that lurk around the 200s and don’t seem as if they are going anywhere much.

Although I cannot tell you what events caused these names to become popular, I can tell you some of the events which accompanied their rise. I’m definitely not trying to say that they were the cause of a name’s popularity, just that they coincide with it (and really sometimes it seems more than merely coincidental). Feel free to add other events you can think of, or any theories of your own!

Note: I’ve used data from New South Wales, but it must be broadly accurate for the rest of the nation too.

Lily

Lily seems to have begun as a pet form of Lilian, but must soon have become thought of as a flower name. The lily is sacred to the Virgin Mary, and Jesus urged his followers to “consider the lilies of the field” as a model in trusting Divine Providence. Lily has been almost continuously in the charts, only dropping out during the 1960s. It began rising in the 1980s – a decade when Princess Lily was the main female character in fantasy film Legend, and when Phil Collins and Kevin Costner welcomed daughters named Lily. A Top 100 name in the 1990s, it continued climbing, as Kate Beckinsale welcomed a daughter named Lily, while Johnny Depp named his baby girl Lily-Rose. By the early 2000s, Lily was already a Top 20 name, and during this decade, Lilly was the main character’s best friend in The Princess Diaries movie, Lily Potter was Harry’s mum in the Harry Potter movies, and pop singer Lily Allen released her first hit. Last year Lily was the most popular name for girls, once combined with the spelling Lilly. Delicate and pure, yet with several spunky namesakes, pretty Lily became a favourite.

Ruby

Ruby is named after the precious gemstone, whose name from Latin simply means “red”. Retro Ruby was popular during the 1900s, then dropped out completely during the 1960s and ’70s, despite being a popular name in songs; notably Ruby Tuesday and Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town. It began rising in the 1980s, as comedienne Ruby Wax barged her way onto our TV screens, and singer Rod Stewart welcomed a daughter named Ruby. The name climbed steeply during the 1990s, and turned up in more songs: Ruby Soho by Rancid, Thru’ the Eyes of Ruby, by The Smashing Pumpkins, and Ruby Wednesday by Eskimo Joe. By the early 2000s, Ruby was a Top 50 name, and by the late 2000s, it was Top 20. During this decade, the song Ruby was a hit for The Kaiser Chiefs, Renee Zellweger played Ruby in the movie Cold Mountain, and Ruby Buckton was a free spirited teen on popular soap, Home and Away. Charlotte Church, Tobey Maguire, and Harry Kewell all welcomed daughters named Ruby. Last year it was #2 for girls, once combined with the spelling Rubi. Flaunting Ruby sparkles, and is a name worth singing about.

Chloe

Chloe means “young green shoot” in Greek, and was one of the epithets of the earth goddess Demeter. From early on, it was a favoured literary name; Chloe is the heroine of the pastoral romance Daphne and Chloe, by the Ancient Greek writer Longus. The name was also considered suitable for use by the Puritans, because Chloe is an early Christian mentioned in the New Testament. Chloe first appeared on the charts in the 1970s; a decade when an arty French film, re-titled Chloe in the Afternoon, was released to English-speaking audiences. Chloe stormed up the charts and was Top 100 by the 1980s. During this decade, actress Candice Bergen and singer Olivia Newton-John both welcomed daughters named Chloe, and Chloe Jones was one of the characters in long-running soap, A Country Practice. By the 1990s it was Top 20, and Logie-winning actress Kristy Wright played the tragically troubled Chloe Richards on popular soap, Home and Away. Chloe was Top 5 by the early 2000s; it reached #1 in 2006. Fresh and spring-like, Chloe has been recommended at Appellation Mountain, and Linda Rosenkrantz from Nameberry named her daughter Chloe – some serious name-guru approval.

Mia

Mia seems to have become popularly known through actress Mia Farrow, the daughter of Australian film director John Farrow, and Irish actress Maureen O’Sullivan. Mia is short for Ms Farrow’s real name, Maria. Mia first appeared on the charts in the 1960s, after Mia Farrow began her career, but rose in popularity very gradually. An interesting link with another name on the list is that Princess Lily in Legend was played by actress Mia Sara; is it a coincidence that both names began climbing at the same time? It started making significant gains in the 1990s, a decade when Uma Thurman played Mia Wallace in Pulp Fiction. Although not yet Top 100 in the 1990s, by the early 2000s it was already Top 20. In this decade, we met Amelia “Mia” Thermopolis, heroine of The Princess Diaries movie, and Mia Toretto from The Fast and the Furious films. It was chosen as the name for their daughter by actress Bec Cartwright and tennis champion Lleyton Hewitt. Top 10 by the late 2000s, it reached #1 in 2008. Simple and cute, Mia has another Australian connection – it is an acronym for Made in Australia.

Olivia

Olivia is a name invented by William Shakespeare for a character in Twelfth Night. Olivia is a beautiful noble lady in mourning for her brother; through an amusing misunderstanding, she falls in love with a woman named Viola disguised as a man. Through another amusing misunderstanding, she marries Viola’s twin brother Sebastian by mistake, but fortunately he is so much like his sister in looks and personality that she is happy with the outcome. Famous Olivias include actress Olivia de Havilland and Olivia Arias, the widow of Beatle George Harrison. Olivia first appeared on the charts in the 1960s, just as singer Olivia Newton-John began her career, and rose steadily. Her popularity took off in the 1980s (perhaps by coincidence, the era when Ms Newton-John enjoyed her greatest success), and by the 1990s she was already a Top 20 name. During the 1990s, Denzel Washington and Lance Armstrong welcomed daughters named Olivia. In the early 2000s, Mariska Hargitay was playing Olivia Benson on Law and Order: SVU, and by 2005 Olivia had reached #1. Shakespeare had a knack with names, and this one is elegant; I picked it to be the Jessica of our time, and equally resilient.

Isabella

Isabella is a Latinate form of the name Isabel; it was a favourite amongst European royalty from the Middle Ages onwards. Isabella is a stock character in the Italian commedia dell’arte, the flirtatious and alluring female lover that men make fools of themselves over. She is named in honour of the actress, playwright and poet Isabella Andreini, who became famous in the role. Isabella has been on the charts almost continuously, although her last time in the Top 100 was in the 1900s. She dropped out completely during the 1950s, and then again in the 1970s. She made a recovery in the 1980s just as Italian actress Isabella Rosselini became internationally known, and then skyrocketed. Nicole Kidman and Tom Cruise adopted a daughter in the early 1990s and named her Isabella, and the name was comfortably Top 50 for that decade. When Stephenie Meyer’s novel Twilight was published in 2005, its heroine named Isabella “Bella” Swan, Isabella was already #7; Isabella reached #1 in 2009, the year after the Twilight film was released. Ornate and ultra-feminine, it is an Australian royal baby name, as Prince Frederik and Princess Mary of Denmark named their first daughter Isabella.

Charlotte

Charlotte is a French feminine form of Charles; a common name amongst European royalty, it was introduced to Britain in the 17th century by the Hanoverians. The Charlotte was one of the ships of the First Fleet, who reached Australia in 1788. Charlotte has been almost continuously on the charts, only disappearing in the 1950s. She began climbing gradually in the 1960s, a decade when English actress Charlotte Rampling’s film career began. The name grew steeply in the 1980s, a decade in which Charlotte “Charlie” Blackwood, played by Kelly McGillis, is the love interest to Tom Cruise’s Maverick in the movie Top Gun. It made the Top 100 by the 1990s, when actress Sigourney Weaver welcomed a daughter named Charlotte, and when the band Good Charlotte began their career. It was Top 20 in the early 2000s, while we got to know the romantically optimistic Charlotte York in Sex and the City, played by Kristin Davis; by the end of the decade it was Top 10, as as singer Charlotte Church progressed her career from classical to pop. Sophisticated yet sensible, with the option of a tomboy nickname, Charlotte has yet to make #1.

Sophie

Sophie is the French form of Sophia; the name was used in several European royal families. Sophie first entered the charts in the 1950s, and through steady growth, made the Top 100 by the 1980s. It was during this decade that William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice was made into a film; Meryl Streep won an Oscar for her performance as Zofia “Sophie” Zawistowski, the beautiful Polish immigrant with a tragic secret. The same year the film came out, Roald Dahl‘s book, The Big Friendly Giant was published; the heroine is called Sophie, named after Roald Dahl’s grand-daughter (later fashion model Sophie Dahl). During the 1990s Sophie took off, and was a Top 20 name during that decade. It was during the ’90s that the best-selling novel, Sophie’s World, was published, and actress Sophie Lee and singer-actress Sophie Monk both began their careers this decade. At the end of the 1990s, Sophie Rhys-Jones joined the British Royal Family when she married Prince Edward. Sophie was Top 10 by the early 2000s, and many are tipping sweet and simple Sophie to become the #1 name within the next few years.

Sienna

Sienna is the English name for the Italian city of Siena,in Tuscany. As a word, it refers to a type of clay used to make oil paints, and a shade of yellow-brown, after the hue of said clay. The city’s name comes from the Etruscan tribe who originally inhabited the area, the Saina, but the Romans derived it from the Latin for “old” (the same Latin root which gives us the word senile). Sienna first entered the charts in the 1980s, and climbed steeply during the ’90s. I think the name suited the aspirational nature of that era. Italy was very “big”; pizza was becoming a mainstream food, and the adults around me were guzzling Chianti and buying time-shares in Tuscan villas. British model-actress Sienna Miller is not responsible for the name’s popularity, because it had been climbing for some time, but can it be purely coincidental that it first joined the NSW Top 100 in 2002, the year after Ms Miller’s career began? From that point, its climb was so vertiginous that it was Top 10 by 2006. Smooth, modern Sienna seems certain to go higher still.

Ella

Ella is the Norman form of the Germanic name Alia, a short form of names with the element ali, meaning “other”. However, it can also be used as a short form for Eleanor, Ellen, Elizabeth or any name starting with El, and also the many names ending with -ella. It’s hard not to connect this name with jazz great, Ella Fitzgerald. Ella has been on the charts almost continuously, with her last time in the Top 100 in the 1900-10s. She was soon in rare use, although she only disappeared completely during the 1960s. She climbed slowly during the 1980s, and steeply during the 1990s. It was during the ’90s that Ella got a new singing namesake – Ella Hooper from rock band Killing Heidi. Ella was Top 20 by the early 2000s. She received several boosts around this time, for the movie Ella Enchanted was released, a re-telling of the Cinderella story. Warren Beatty, John Travolta, Mark Wahlberg and Ben Stiller all welcomed daughters named Ella, giving the name a distinct celebrity flavour. Top 5 in the second half of last decade, Ella feels as if she may have peaked, and is possibly on her way down again.

(Picture shows Princess Lily and unicorn, from Ridley Scott’s 1985 cult fantasy film Legend)

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