Liam, Noah, Emma, Olivia—the Social Security Administration has released its annual list of the United States’ most popular baby names and one thing is clear: American parents love vowels.
Continuing an on-and-off reign that began in 2008, “Emma” took the top slot for newborn girls’ names. “Liam” became the most popular name for boys for the first time ever. Both, notably, have a 1:1 ratio of consonants to vowels.
This is true up and down the list: Vowels accounted for at least half of the letters in all but one of the most popular girls’ names (Charlotte). Boys’ names are slightly less vowel-heavy: They make up at least half of the letters in four of the 10 most popular boys’ names, but many of the rest are close, with just slightly fewer vowels than consonants. Part of the reason for this may be that, as my colleague Robinson Meyer has written, girls’ names have long been far more likely than boys’ names to end in a vowel sound that linguists call a schwa—an unstressed “a” at the end, as in Olivia (No. 2 for 2017) and Ava (No. 3). This gives girls’ names a competitive edge in vowel counts.
As more vowels come in, consonants drop out: The two boys’ names that dropped from the top-10 list this year are consonant-heavy (Michael and Ethan), while one of the new appearances is the 1:1 Oliver. Similarly, the two new girls’ names—Amelia and Evelyn—have lots of vowels, while one of those downgraded was Harper.