Trends come and go, but classic baby names continue to return year after year. See which girl and boy names have been the most popular over the last hundred years.

By Lisa Milbrand
Updated November 14, 2019

We won't know until next May when the Social Security Administration releases its annual ranking of the top baby names which monikers officially topped the charts this year, but we have a few ideas—it's likely Olivia and Oliver will still be the most popular names in the country—or very close to the top. And it looks like Oscar and Isabella may finally be on their way out of the top baby names.

But the most popular names of today doesn't look very much like the top 20 of a century—or even a decade—ago. So what names make up the ultimate top 20 list according to the SSA? You might be surprised.

If you're looking to choose (or avoid!) a forever-popular baby name, take a look through the top-ranking names for boys and girls over the last century.

Top 20 Girl Names of the Past Century

  1. Mary A timeless classic, Mary was more popular toward the start of the century. But the name, which means "bitter," was picked for more than 3 million girls.
  2. Patricia This noble baby name was a top 20 pick from the 1920s through the 1960s, though it's currently about to drop out of the top 1000.
  3. Jennifer The "it" name of the 70s explains why there are so many celebrity Jens and Jennifers now.
  4. Linda Linda means "pretty"—and it was especially popular in the 1940s and 1950s.
  5. Elizabeth This forever-favored baby name means "consecrated to God."
  6. Barbara The Beach Boys' tune "Barbara Ann" may help explain the popularity of the name in the 1960s.
  7. Susan This pretty floral name (it means "lily") was popular from the 1930s through the 1960s.
  8. Jessica A name crafted by Shakespeare, Jessica ruled the 1980s.
  9. Sarah A Biblical name that means "princess," Sarah's been in the top 100 for the past century.
  10. Karen This Danish take on Katherine shares its meaning—"pure."
  11. Nancy Sleuth Nancy Drew may be responsible for some of this baby name's popularity—and could the equally inquisitive Nancy from Stranger Things be responsible for this name's uptick in popularity over the past few years?
  12. Margaret Thanks for its versatility and slew of nicknames, Margaret has been a popular choice across the decades. It has a lovely meaning—"pearl."
  13. Lisa Lisa was a top name in the 1960s to 1970s, before heading into a bit of a decline. It's a nickname for Elizabeth, and shares its meaning—"consecrated to God."
  14. Betty A top name in the 1920s and 1930s, Betty fell out of favor—and out of the top 1,000—in the 1990s (even with the popularity of Betty White!).
  15. Dorothy You can thank the Yellow Brick Road follower for this name's popularity. After nearly falling out of the top 1,000 a few years back, it's now on a major upswing in popularity.
  16. Sandra This variation on Alexander shares its meaning, "defending men."
  17. Ashley The "it" name of the 1980s, Ashley started out as a boy's name (think Ashley Wilkes from Gone With the Wind).
  18. Kimberly Kimberly has had staying power—it's been a top 200 favorite for nearly 70 years, and was red hot in the 1960s and 1970s.
  19. Donna This charming name means "lady," though its meteoric rise in the 1940s to the 1960s was followed by a precipitous drop in popularity.
  20. Emily Emily's the only name in the top 20 that was red-hot recently—it topped the charts from the 1990s through the early 2000s. It may no longer be in the top 20 baby names, but it's still a very popular choice.

Top 20 Boy Names of the Past Century

  1. James Nearly 5 million boys were gifted with this name in the past century—and thanks to actors Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds, a few girls, too.
  2. John A Biblical name that's been a favorite of royalty, popes, and saints, John means "God is gracious." It's never been outside the top 30 names.
  3. Robert A top five name from 1900 to 1970, it's just inside the top 75 right now.
  4. Michael More than 4 million boys were given this angelic name—most of them from the 1960s on.
  5. William Currently No. 3 on the list, William has never gone out of style.
  6. David David's meaning—"beloved"—is definitely apropos. The name has been in the top 20 since 1930.
  7. Richard The "Dick" nickname and Nixon reference may have made the name a little less fashionable, but it was in the top 10 from 1920 to 1970.
  8. Joseph Still in the top 25 now, Joseph means "God increases."
  9. Thomas A classic name that means "twin," Thomas reigned in the top 10 from 1880 through the 1960s.
  10. Charles This French name has been in the top 75 since the 1880s.
  11. Christopher A recent top 10 favorite, Christopher is currently just inside the top 50.
  12. Daniel Daniel has been a red hot, top 20 favorite since the 1950s.
  13. Matthew Matthew has a wonderful meaning—"gift of God."
  14. Anthony A timeless name, Anthony means "priceless."
  15. Donald This Scottish name, which means "proud chief," was a top 20 favorite from the 1910s to the 1960s. It's currently on a slow decline in popularity.
  16. Mark Mark peaked in the 1950s to 1960s—though it's still a top 200 favorite now.
  17. Paul A favored name of saints, princes, and rock legends, Paul actually means "small."
  18. Steven Combine both spellings, and Stephen/Steven may actually rank higher on this list.
  19. Andrew This name means "strong and manly," and it was a top 10 favorite in the 1980s and 1990s.
  20. Kenneth A mid-20th century favorite, Kenneth has a charming meaning—"handsome."

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