Recently Abby from Appellation Mountain had a great article on the #1 girls names in the United States – such a good idea that I had to steal it! As we don’t have national data stretching back to the turn of the century, I’ve looked at the #1 girls names in New South Wales, since it is the most populous state, and has the best data. Annual data is only available from 1960, so until then the #1 names are for the decade only.
Mary 1900s and 1910s
The #1 name of the 1900s and 1910s (previous history unknown, but in the UK was #1 for the second half of the 19th century). Left the Top 10 in the 1940s, and the Top 100 in 2009. 2011 position was #101. Mary was the overall #1 girls’ name of the twentieth century.
Was #276 in the 1900s. Joined the Top 100 in the 1910s at #62 – sudden increase in popularity correlates with matinee idol Betty Blythe starting her film career. Shot up to #1 in the 1920s, the peak era for Blythe. Left the Top 10 in 1940, and the Top 100 in 1950. Left the charts in the 1990s.
Margaret 1930s and 1940s
Was #6 in the 1900s (previous history unknown, but in the UK had been stable in the Top 10 for the second half of the 19th century). Made #1 for both the 1930s and 1940s, coinciding with the early life of Princess Margaret. Left the Top 10 in the 1960s, and the Top 100 in 1970s; Princess Margaret attracted some controversy at this time. Failed to chart in 2010, but in 2011 was #428 – higher than before the drop. Margaret is the overall #1 girls’ name in Australian history.
Was #149 in the 1900s. Joined the Top 100 in the 1940s at #14 – sudden increase in popularity correlates with actress Susan Hayward starting her career. The #1 name of the 1950s, the peak of Susan Hayward’s career. Left the Top 10 in the 1970s, and the Top 100 in the 1980s. Although in steady use for many years, it failed to chart in 2011.
Joined the charts and Top 100 in the 1930s at #75. Surged in popularity during the 1940s, correlating to career success of actress Jennifer Jones. Was #1 in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Left the Top 10 in 1970, and the Top 50 in 1995. Left the Top 100 in 2005. 2011 position was 260 and stable.
Karen 1963 to 1966
Joined the charts in the 1940s at #104 and the Top 100 in the 1950s at #13. By 1960 it was Top 10, and overall Karen was the most popular girls’ name of the 1960s. Left the Top 10 in 1977, and the Top 50 in 1983, leaving the Top 100 in 1987. Sudden drop in popularity correlates with the death of singer Karen Carpenter from anorexia nervosa, and the death of Karen Ann Quinlan, who had been in a long-term coma after a radical starvation diet. Left the charts in 2009, but made a slight recovery in 2011, ranking #631.
Michelle 1967-72 and 1974-75
First charted in the 1940s at #248 and joined the Top 100 in the 1950s at #52. By 1960 it had reached #18, and was in the Top 10 by 1961. Reached #1 in 1967, when The Beatles song Michelle won the Grammy Award for Song of the Year. Michelle reached #1 again in the mid 1970s, the most popular girls’ name of that decade. Left the Top 10 in 1985, the Top 50 in 1995, and the Top 100 in 2003. 2011 position was 233 and stable.
Joined the charts and Top 100 in 1965 at #93. Reached the Top 50 in 1968, and the Top 10 in 1970. Left the Top 10 in 1982, but managed to get back into it in 1987, the year of Kylie Minogue’s onscreen wedding to Jason Donovan in soap opera Neighbours. Left the Top 50 in 1989 and the Top 100 in 1990 – sudden fall in popularity correlates with Mary-Anne Fahey appearing as grouchy schoolgirl Kylie Mole in The Comedy Company television show. Left the charts in the late 2000s.
Rebecca 1976 to 1982
Was #179 in the 1900s, and left the charts in the 1930s. Made a comeback in the 1940s at #366, the same decade that Alfred Hitchcock’s film Rebecca was released. Joined the Top 100 in 1966 at #93, and the Top 50 in 1969. Joined the Top 10 in 1972, and was #1 four years later, staying in the top spot for eight years. Left the Top 10 in 1998, and the Top 50 in 2004. Left the Top 100 in 2008 – sudden fall in popularity correlates with actress Rebecca “Bec” Cartright leaving soap opera Home and Away. 2011 position was 188 and stable.
Has been on the charts since the 1900s, falling to its lowest level in the 1940s at #284. Began rising in the 1950s, and joined the Top 100 in 1964 at #98. Joined the Top 50 in 1970, and the Top 10 in 1976. Despite only being #1 for one year, Sarah was overall the most popular girls’ name of the 1980s. Left the Top 10 in 2005. Currently #44.
Jessica 1984-97 and 2000-01
Joined the charts in the 1960s at #437; similarity to Jennifer probably a major factor. Joined the Top 100 in 1976 at #97, and the Top 50 in 1979. Joined the Top 10 in 1982, spending thirteen consecutive years at #1 and managing to get there again at the start of the 2000s. Overall Jessica was the most popular girls’ name of the 1990s. Left the Top 10 in 2008. Currently #40.
Emily 1998-99 and 2002-2004
Has been on the charts since the 1900s, falling to its lowest level in the 1950s at #455. Began rising in the 1960s, and joined the Top 100 in 1977 at #77. Joined the Top 50 in 1981, and the Top 10 in 1989. Made #1 twice for a total of five years between 1998 and 2004, and was overall the most popular girls’ name of the 2000s. Currently #6.
Olivia 2005 and 2014
Joined the charts and Top 100 in 1978 at #65, the year that Newton-John starred as as Sandy in the movie Grease. Joined the Top 50 in 1990, and Top 10 in 1998. Currently #1 again, correlating with a busy period for actress Olivia Wilde.
Chloe 2006 and 2011
Joined the charts in the 1970s at #674, the decade when French fashion house Chloé was at its peak. Joined the Top 100 in 1985 at #98, the same year that actress Candice Bergen welcomed a daughter named Chloe. Joined the Top 50 in 1986 – sudden rise in popularity correlates with the birth of Olivia Newton-John’s daughter, Chloe Lattanzi. Joined the Top 10 in 1996 and was #1 ten years later. Made #1 again in 2011, a key year for young actress Chloe Moretz. Currently #7.
Isabella 2007 and 2009-10
Has been on the charts since the 1900s, dropping off in the 1950s and the 1970s. Came back in the 1980s at #499, after actress Isabella Rossellini began her career in American films. Joined the Top 100 in 1993 at #78 and the Top 50 in 1994 – sudden surge in popularity correlates with actress Nicole Kidman welcoming a daughter named Isabella by adoption. Joined the Top 10 in 1998. Reaching #1 in 2007, it was back again in 2009, the year after the first Twilight film, with Kristen Stewart as Isabella “Bella” Swan. Currently #9.
Joined the charts in the 1960s at #464 for the decade, the era when Maria “Mia” Farrow, daughter of Australian director John Farrow, began her career on soap opera Peyton Place. It joined the Top 100 in 1997 and the Top 50 in 2003 – sudden massive surge in popularity correlates with The Princess Diaries being released on DVD, with Anne Hathaway as Princess Mia. Joined the Top 10 in 2005, and was #1 for one year. Currently #2.
Was #21 in the 1900s and left the charts in the 1950s. Came back in the 1980s, at 548, the decade comedian Ruby Wax began her career on British TV. Joined the Top 100 in 1996 at #100, and the Top 50 in 1998 – sudden surge in popularity correlates with Ruby Wax getting her own interview show. Joined the Top 10 in 2010, just after the name Ruby was chosen for a baby on hit drama series, Packed to the Rafters. Two years later it was #1. Currently #8.
Was #96 in the 1900s, and left the charts in the 1940s. Came back in the 1960s at #513, just as actress Charlotte Rampling began her career. Joined the Top 100 in 1989 at #86, and the Top 50 in 1998. Joined the Top 10 in 2003, and was #1 a decade later. Charlotte is currently #3.
What do the #1 names have in common? They include classics and retro names, but many had never appeared on the charts before they began their ascent to the top.
The amount of time it took to go from obscurity to popularity varied. Some leaped straight from nowhere into the Top 100, while others took decades – Mia had around 30 years between appearing on the charts and joining the Top 100. The average was 13 years.
One thing that nearly all the names had in common was the swiftness with which they went from the bottom half of the Top 100 into the Top 50: the average amount of time it took was just four years, and some managed it in a single year. The longest was Olivia, which took 12 years to get into the Top 50.
Once in the Top 10, the longest any names took to reach #1 was ten years. It took them at least two years before they reached the #1 spot, with the fastest being Jessica and Ruby. The average was six years.
Having made #1, names tended to stay in the Top 10 for a while, an average of twelve years. It took Kylie 17 years to finally leave the Top 10 for good, while Jessica was gone in just seven.
After they left the Top 10, most names were fairly quick to depart the Top 100, except Jennifer, which had 35 years of further popularity. Kylie had just three. Most of the names remained in reasonable use, so #1 names don’t usually become horribly dated, unless they become associated with something unpleasant or comical.
Can we draw any inferences for the future? It’s apparent that the nature of the #1 name has changed – the days of one name being at the top for several years are over. The change set in around the mid-2000s, which is when we all became a lot more conscious about name popularity. Since then, it seems as if being #1 is a job-sharing position, with several Top 10 names taking it in turns to wear the crown.
Could other current Top 10 names get to #1? Ava reached the Top 10 in 2008 and Amelia in 2009, so they still have until 2018 and 2019 to make the ten year deadline. However, Sophie joined in 2004, so time has run out – she should have been #1 last year if we accept a ten-year time-frame.
Speed of rising is a predictor of potential #1 success. If we look at names currently rising, Aria and Evelyn look like possibilities for the future, taking just 2 years to go from the bottom of the Top 100 to the Top 50. Harper, Isla and Ivy seem even more likely, as they took only one year.
Maybe that’s making parents of Arias and Islas feel a little nervous, but there’s one thing to remember: out of all the names given to babies in New South Wales since 1900, most didn’t get to #1. In other words, whatever name you love, the odds are on your side that it will never become the most popular name of the year.
People’s favourite #1 girl’s name was Charlotte, gaining 20% of the vote. The least favourite was Michelle, which nobody voted for.