The Art of Baby Naming

Mother Reclines with Newborn
Photo © Taxi/Getty Images

When you pick a name for your baby, you probably want to have a decent idea of what's hot and what's not in baby names. You might want to know baby name trends either to choose a popular name or to potentially avoid the most popular baby names. Either way, it's fun to watch what's going on with baby names, even if you aren't expecting.

Some people like to use this data to track if a name is rising or falling in the ranks. This may help them decide if a name is one they want to use for their baby. It can also give information on potentially similar names and how these names are trending. 

Who Decides If a Name Is Popular?

This information comes from the actual birth data from the previous year's birth certificates. It is compiled by the Social Security Administration (SSA). The actuaries provide you with a variety of ways to look at the names and where they fall.

You can search by name to see the popularity or trending nature of the name. There are also lists of top names by sex and by state. (The state data sometimes looks really different than the national data, so if having a name that isn't popular or is popular is important, be sure to check your state-level data as well.)

Which data set you use will be very helpful in determining if the baby name you chose is popular where you live. If this is something that is really important to you, either in the hopes of choosing a name that is popular or avoiding a popular name, you will want to be mindful of this when looking at the popularity lists. What's popular in your state might not be on the overall most popular list.

How Many Babies Were Born?

When you are looking at popularity data for a year, you can make a choice to view the baby names either by the total number of babies with that name or as a percentage of babies born. This may not seem like a big deal, but there are a wider number of names for baby girls than boys.

You have to remember that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, there are about four million babies born every year in the United States. So that number one name for about 20,000 babies truly only equals about one percent of all the babies of that sex having that name.

Who Else Uses Baby Names Data?

There are also authors who follow baby name data to use when writing a book or story. This is one way to make name choices for characters more historically accurate. Since this is from birth certificate data, you can know, with a fair bit of accuracy, what baby names were popular when a story was supposed to have taken place.

An interesting note is that the naming data provided goes back for many decades—into the 1800s. The state data, however, only goes back as far as 1960. This may make a regional name a bit more difficult to locate using only the data from the Social Security Administration.

Tips That Go Beyond Numbers

  • Check for multiple spellings. 
  • Similar names may also occur—perhaps it strengthens your case for the name you love, making a fringe name seem more acceptable.
  • Do you diversify? Pick one more popular name for a first name and a less popular name for the middle name. Or just the opposite, choosing two very popular or two less popular names for your baby.
  • Do you see a name on the boy's list you want to use for a girl? The popularity of that name might encourage or dissuade your decision.
  • Geography matters. You might love a name that is geographically bound, say to a local celebrity or location. How differently that name is perceived matters for some choosing baby names and not at all for others.
Was this page helpful?