The age of Emma is not over yet. On Friday morning, the Social Security Administration released data on the most popular baby names of 2018 in the United States, and perched atop the list of popular names for girls—as it has been for the past five years—is Emma.
The rest of the top 10, in descending order, are Olivia, Ava, Isabella, Sophia, Charlotte, Mia, Amelia, Harper, and Evelyn; the top five names, it’s worth noting, hew closely to the 2017 trend toward names for baby girls made up of 50 percent vowels or more—a trend identified by my colleague Alia Wong, whose first name is 75 percent vowels. The name Abigail, 10th on the overall popularity rankings in 2017, dropped one slot to No. 11 and has been replaced in the top 10 by Harper, which narrowly missed 2017’s top 10 but surged to No. 9 in 2018. However, the name dropped significantly in popularity as a name for baby boys, from the 800th most popular boys’ name in 2017 to the 971st in 2018.
Meanwhile, as baby boys are born, many promptly become Liams, Noahs, and Williams: Those three boys’ names have held the top three spots for three years running and appear on this year’s list in that order. Completing the rest of the top 10 are James, Oliver, Benjamin, Elijah, Lucas, Mason, and Logan, all of which appeared on the 2017 list save for Lucas. The name Jacob dropped out of the top 10 to No. 13 this year; it held the No. 1 spot for more than a decade before it was dethroned by Noah in 2013.
In other words, the most popular baby names of 2018 look a lot like the most popular baby names of the past half decade. At the top of the popularity heap, most names are just trading places. Some of the most telling developments in baby-naming, however, are visible within the Social Security Administration’s data on the names with the most increased, and decreased, popularity since the last survey.
Atop the list of girls’ names that increased in popularity from 2017 is Meghan, à la Meghan Markle, the 37-year-old former TV actress whose wedding ceremony to Prince Harry in 2018 was watched by more than 29.2 million Americans. Meghan went from the 1,404th most popular baby name in 2017 to the 703rd in 2018.
Initially, the resurgence of Meghan as a baby name surprised both Laura Wattenberg, the founder of Namerology, and Pamela Redmond Satran, a co-founder of Nameberry. “Meghan is one of the 1980s and 1990s names that are becoming mom names, rather than baby names”—like Jessica, Amanda, and Ashley, Satran wrote to me in an email. “But Meghan Markle’s influence is obviously strong enough to give the name a big boost.” Of course, a new member of the British royal family has been known to have that effect. Satran notes that the name Charlotte, on an upswing since the year 2000, has broken into the top 10 since the birth of the English Princess Charlotte, now 4, who is fourth in line for the throne. Archie, the name of Meghan and Harry’s new baby, will likely also get a boost in the coming year—though the name’s popularity was already increasing before the birth.
Names of other celebrities and public figures who made headlines in 2018 also got a boost in popularity, though not quite to the same degree as Meghan. Third on the list of boys’ names that increased in popularity is Baker, like the 2018 No. 1 overall NFL draft pick Baker Mayfield; the name jumped 431 spots to become the 712th most popular boys’ name in 2018. Saint, the name of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian’s 3-year-old son, jumped 438 spots. Saoirse, the first name of the 25-year-old Irish actress nominated for an Oscar in 2018 for her performance in Lady Bird, jumped 128 spots. Idris, the first name of the 46-year-old Englishman whom People named last year’s Sexiest Man Alive, climbed 91 spots. Names of popular TV and movie characters—such as Kylo (Star Wars), Yara (Game of Thrones), and Xiomara (Jane the Virgin)—also saw significant increases in popularity. (Other names viewers know from Game of Thrones have been popular choices for babies for a while—most notably Arya, which traveled from No. 135 in the 2017 rankings to No. 119 in 2018.) And Elon, the first name of a South African tech billionaire who mostly made headlines last year as a result of his erratic behavior, climbed 118 spots.
No one knows how many people are naming their kids for these characters or public figures, of course. (Though in the case of a name like Khaleesi—the 549th most popular name in 2018 and the name of 560 American female infants, as well as a title in a made-up language from Game of Thrones—the connection is pretty clear.) And often, it doesn’t matter to incipient parents whether a name is most closely associated with a hero, a pariah, or someone in between. When they like a name, they like a name.
“Elon is a really good example of the No. 1 principle of celebrity naming, which is that it’s not about the fame, it’s about the name,” Wattenberg says. Sometimes, for example, a villain’s name in a hit movie will become a hotter baby name than the hero’s, despite the negative connotation, she says. “Parents will take an appealing name wherever they can find it.” Plus, Wattenberg adds, Elon has all the same ingredients as the trendiest baby names of the moment. Like Liam and Emma, it’s short, it’s dominated by vowels, and its consonant sounds are smooth rather than percussive. It has the ending letter n, which Wattenberg says “dominates” among boys’ names.
In 2018, boys’ names starting with “K” appear to have risen in popularity as well: Kairo, Kenzo, Karsyn, Kamdyn, Kashton, Krew, and Koda all jumped more than 150 spots in the rankings from 2017 to 2018. Kabir, Kamryn, Korbyn, Koa, and Kaiser all jumped more than 100 spots. By Wattenberg’s calculation, however, the overall commonality of “K” names for boys has only risen about 1 percent over 2017; it’s easy for a name to jump an impressive number of slots, she points out, when there aren’t that many babies being given that name in the first place. And “K,” she notes, is a particularly “volatile” letter. “It’s a letter that creative namers like to use to personalize and transform names,” Wattenberg says; in other words, the change from a traditional “C” to a funkier “K”—à la Kourtney and Khloe Kardashian—is one of the more common ways to create variant spellings of a familiar name. “So when a new name is hot, variant spellings rise and fall faster than the original spelling.”
The data on names that have decreased in popularity also tell a compelling story—about trends, about politics, and even about tech. Elsa—which peaked at No. 286 in 2014, the year after the hit animated film Frozen featured a lead character with the name—has dropped ever since, falling to 888th in this year’s rankings of baby-girl names. Melania, the name of the current first lady of the United States, which entered the top 1,000 baby-girl names for the first time in 2017 at No. 933, has dropped back out of the top 1,000, and currently sits at No. 1,081.
And Alexa, the 65th most popular name for baby girls in 2017, fell to 90th in 2018, making it, by Wattenberg’s calculation, the “fastest-falling” name of the year in terms of the actual number of babies given the name. Just 3,053 American girls were named Alexa in 2018, down from 3,833 in 2017 and more than 6,000 in 2015. “Apparently,” she says, “parents don’t like the idea of everybody telling their daughter what to do.”