People can follow trends throughout time by looking at how fashion and music change—and the reasons why. But another way of observing changes in society is by analyzing the names that parents give to their newborn babies. Of course, people name their children for different reasons, but the most common influences include religion, popular culture, and more simply, the names other people are giving their children.

Even though there have been so many women in history who have achieved amazing things, it seems that little girls’ names are mostly popularized by the stars of the entertainment industry: a child actor who was a beacon of hope during the Great Depression; the name that a famous singer named his daughter; the title of a popular song; and the name that fictional characters gave their baby in a sitcom.

Stacker rounded up the most popular girl names from 1915 to 2021, using data from the Social Security Administration. Additionally, we did a little extra digging to glean insights into why these names were used so much at the time. See if you can guess the reasons behind the different names’ popularity: some are obvious, but others may surprise you.

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1915-1919

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Helen
– #3 girls’ name: Dorothy

Mary topped the list of popular names from 1915-1919, and had, in fact, been the most popular girl name for many centuries well before that. At the time, its popularity arose from its religious significance—Mary is the Anglicized form of the name Maria, which is derived from the Hebrew name Miriam. Mary was the mother of Jesus in the Bible, the Torah, and the Quran. Mary Anderson, best known for her roles in “Gone with the Wind” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Lifeboat,” was born in 1918.

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1920-1924

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Dorothy
– #3 girls’ name: Helen

Mary kept the top spot during this period while Dorothy moved to second place. Dorothy is a Greek name meaning “gift of god.” In the 1920s, people started naming their children after figures in popular culture, and Dorothy was a common name of many actors in the silent movie era— including Dorothy MacKaill and Dorothy Dandridge, the first Black actor in a lead role to be nominated for an Academy Award. In the #3 spot was Helen, also a Greek name, meaning “shining light.”

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1925-1927

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Dorothy
– #3 girls’ name: Betty

While Mary and Dorothy stayed on top, the third spot was taken by Betty. It had previously only been a nickname for Elizabeth; but during the 1920s, Betty started being used as a formal first name, fit for the flapper era, when actors like Betty Compson and Betty Bronson, whose names were actually Eleanor and Elizabeth, started using Betty as their stage names. In 1927, Betty Harford, who went on to gain fame through her roles in “The Twilight Zone,” was born.

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1928-1931

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Betty
– #3 girls’ name: Dorothy

Mary didn’t go anywhere, partly thanks to the influx of Catholic immigrants throughout the prior decades. A famous Dorothy born during this time was Dorothy Bryant, author and playwright of fantasy and feminist works, who was born in 1930.

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1932-1934

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Betty
– #3 girls’ name: Barbara

Heiress and debutante Barbara Hutton was certainly an inspiration for Barbara coming in on the top three list. One great Barbara born in 1934 was Barbara McNair, one of the first Black women to host her own television variety show in the 1950s. Mary and Betty remained on top.

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1935-1936

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Shirley
– #3 girls’ name: Barbara

Shirley Temple was in her heyday as Hollywood’s favorite child actor and 35,000 baby girls were named Shirley in 1936. The country was deep into the Great Depression and people saw the curly-haired girl as a sign of optimism. Mary remained the most popular name and Barbara was at #3 yet again.

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1937-1943

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Barbara
– #3 girls’ name: Patricia

Patricia, meaning “noble” in Latin, came in as the third most popular name, behind Barbara. These were tense years leading up to and through the U.S.’s involvement in World War II. Mary, which was still at the top, was the name given to Mary Wells, the singer who would later help define the sounds of Motown in the 1960s.

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1944

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Barbara
– #3 girls’ name: Linda

With Mary and Barbara holding #1 and #2, Linda—meaning “soft” in the Germanic language family and “beautiful” in Spanish and Portuguese—was the third most popular name. Renowned photographer Linda Connor was born this year.

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1945

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Linda
– #3 girls’ name: Barbara

Barbara had moved into third but still remained popular possibly thanks to the fame of actor Barbara O’Neil, known for “Gone with the Wind.” Mary remained at #1 and Linda, which was the name given to actor Linda Hunt that year, was #2.

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1946

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Linda
– #3 girls’ name: Patricia

Linda Ronstadt, the pop and country musician who went on to sell 100 million albums, was born this year. It was an exciting year: The war was over, the baby boom era had begun, and the bikini first debuted. Patricia came back into the picture, which could probably be attributed to the growing fame of actor Patricia Neal, and Mary held on tight to the top; though her days there would be numbered.

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1947

– #1 girls’ name: Linda
– #2 girls’ name: Mary
– #3 girls’ name: Patricia

For the first time, Mary was no longer the most popular name for baby girls, having been overtaken by Linda. It’s possible that the reason Linda shot up to #1 and remained there for the next three years was because of Jack Lawrence’s hit song of the same name released at the end of 1946. In 1947, 5.8% of baby girls born were named Linda. Patricia remained popular at #3.

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1948

– #1 girls’ name: Linda
– #2 girls’ name: Mary
– #3 girls’ name: Barbara

Linda remained the most popular name with 56,678 babies being given the name that year. Barbara—the feminine form of Barbarus in Greek or Latin—came in third again. This year, Shirley Temple named her newborn daughter Linda Susan. Still true today, the popularity of names often goes up after famous people give them to their children.

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1949-1952

– #1 girls’ name: Linda
– #2 girls’ name: Mary
– #3 girls’ name: Patricia

The Linda fever continued, likely due to the peak in the careers of actors Linda Darnell and Linda Christian, which lasted till the mid-1960s. A famous Patricia born in 1951 was actor Patricia Richardson, best known for her role as Jill Taylor on the sitcom “Home Improvement.” Mary was the second most popular name.

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1953–1954

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Linda
– #3 girls’ name: Deborah

These were years that saw the rising popularity of British actor Deborah Kerr, and the name became extremely popular both in Britain and in the U.S. Deborah, meaning “bee” in Hebrew, was a prominent figure in the Bible and was the third most popular name. Mary regained the top spot above Linda.

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1955

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Deborah
– #3 girls’ name: Linda

Deborah remained popular, likely with the fame of singer and actor Debbie Reynolds, whose film “Bundle of Joy” had just been released and for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe. Mary stayed on top.

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1956

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Debra
– #3 girls’ name: Linda

While the top three name rankings remained the same, the spelling of Deborah became shorter, losing the “o” in the middle and the “h” at the end. Quite a few baby girls were named after Mexican actor Linda Christian, the first Bond girl. Linda Hamilton, who made waves in the film “Terminator” more than 30 years later, was born this year.

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1957-1960

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Susan
– #3 girls’ name: Linda

Susan, the shortened form of the Hebrew name Susannah, meaning “lily,” came into the top three and would remain there for the next seven years. This was at a time when actor Susan Hayward gained popularity; she won a Golden Globe in 1958.

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1961

– #1 girls’ name: Mary
– #2 girls’ name: Lisa
– #3 girls’ name: Susan

This was Mary’s last year as the most popular girl’s name. Lisa, historically a nickname of Elizabeth meaning “pledged to God,” came into the top three. The name would remain in the top three for 11 years.

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1962-1964

– #1 girls’ name: Lisa
– #2 girls’ name: Mary
– #3 girls’ name: Susan

One of the best known Lisas, Lisa Kudrow, who plays Phoebe in the sitcom “Friends,” was born in 1963. It was also the year that Leonardo da Vinci’s painting, the “Mona Lisa,” was shown at U.S. art museums. Mary was again down to #2 and Susan was in the top three for the last time.

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1965

– #1 girls’ name: Lisa
– #2 girls’ name: Mary
– #3 girls’ name: Karen

Karen, which was the third most popular name this year, is the Danish form of Katherine, meaning “pure” in English and Greek. The name is also used in Arabic, Dutch, Norwegian, and Hebrew. It was overwhelmingly popular in the same year that Karen Carpenter became a beloved musician and eventually created the Carpenters band with her brother, Richard. 

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1966

– #1 girls’ name: Lisa
– #2 girls’ name: Kimberly
– #3 girls’ name: Mary

This year saw the entrance of Kimberly, an old English name meaning “ruler” into the top three. It is also the name of a South African town famous for its diamond mines. Lisa was the most popular again. A famous Lisa born this year was Lisa Edelstein, known for her role in the medical dramas “House” and “The Good Doctor.”

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1967

– #1 girls’ name: Lisa
– #2 girls’ name: Kimberly
– #3 girls’ name: Michelle

This was the first year that Mary was knocked out of the top three completely; it has not returned since. Michelle, the feminine French form for Michael, came in #3—it had already started climbing the list two years earlier when the Beatles released their bilingual track of that name. Actor Lisa Bonet was born this year. 

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1968

– #1 girls’ name: Lisa
– #2 girls’ name: Michelle
– #3 girls’ name: Kimberly

The popularity of Lisa was reinvigorated this year, which could be attributed to Elvis and Priscilla Presley naming their daughter Lisa Marie. Musician Lisa Loeb, who started her career as the first artist to have a #1 single without a recording contract, was born this year. 

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1969

– #1 girls’ name: Lisa
– #2 girls’ name: Michelle
– #3 girls’ name: Jennifer

When Jennifer moved onto the list in third place, it was the beginning of a 16-year period in which the name would remain among the three most popular for baby girls. It originates from the name Guinevere, who was the wife of King Arthur, and means “white wave.” One of the most famous Jennifers was born this year—Jennifer Aniston, who played Rachel on the sitcom “Friends.”

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1970-1971

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Lisa
– #3 girls’ name: Kimberly

In 1971, Jennifer began its reign in first place where it remained for several years, likely in part due to the film “Summer of ’42,” starring Jennifer O’Neill, and “Love Story,” the main character of which is named Jennifer. It was also the beginning of a trend of people giving their children names beginning with the letter ‘J.’ 

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1972-1973

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Michelle
– #3 girls’ name: Lisa

Jennifer Garner, a famous actor known for starring in the popular TV show “Alias” and the award-winning film, “Dallas Buyers Club,” was born in 1972, and Jennifer Thompson, one of the most lauded Olympic swimmers in history, was born in 1973. A famous Lisa who was born in 1972 is Lisa Leslie, a former WNBA star who won four Olympic gold medals. 

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1974

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Amy
– #3 girls’ name: Michelle

Amy was a new name on the list this year, originating from French, Latin, and Portuguese meaning “beloved.” The name had been growing in popularity for decades since the release of the film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” in 1933. Actor Amy Adams was born this year. 

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1975

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Amy
– #3 girls’ name: Heather

This was the only year that Heather, an old English name meaning “flowering shrub,” would be in the top three most popular names and is the only name in history that has gained such massive popularity only to become unpopular in such a short space of time. The most famous Heather born that year, and probably for many years to come, was Heather O’ Rourke, the actor in “Poltergeist.”

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1976

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Amy
– #3 girls’ name: Melissa

It isn’t hard to figure out why Melissa became so popular this year, as 1974 began the heyday of the TV Show “Little House on the Prairie,” which starred not one, but two actors with that name—Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson. During this year, Melissa Joan Hart, best known as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” was born. 

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1977

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Melissa
– #3 girls’ name: Amy

What is sometimes referred to as the “Jennifer Juggernaut” continued to reign in name popularity, but Melissa took the second spot from Amy. In Greek mythology, Melissa was the name of a mythical forest nymph, and was also a character in Shakespeare’s play “Twelfth Night.”

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1978

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Melissa
– #3 girls’ name: Jessica

This year, Jessica took Amy’s place at #3. The name originates from Jessica in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jennifer remained at #1 and Melissa came in at #2.

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1979

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Melissa
– #3 girls’ name: Amanda

While Jennifer and Melissa held the top two spots, Amanda slipped to #3 and was a name that would come in and out of the top three over the next several years. From Latin, the name means “worthy of love,” and was popular among playwrights and authors dating back to the 17th century. Another famous Jennifer was born this year—actor Jennifer Love Hewitt.

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1980

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Amanda
– #3 girls’ name: Jessica

The early ’80s saw the continuation of the “J” fad, where names beginning with J were popular for both girls and boys. Pop singer Jessica Simpson was born this year. Jennifer was so strong that by the beginning of this year, 859,112 babies were named Jessica in the U.S. during its peak era.

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1981–1983

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Jessica
– #3 girls’ name: Amanda

By this point, Jennifer’s popularity led to one of the owners of Nameberry.com to title her book on choosing names “Beyond Jennifer & Jason,” and says that today, there are websites where people named Jennifer bond over wishing their name wasn’t Jennifer. Jessica and Amanda were at #2 and #3. 1982 was also the birth year of actor Jessica Biel.

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1984

– #1 girls’ name: Jennifer
– #2 girls’ name: Jessica
– #3 girls’ name: Ashley

This year brought Ashley to the top three, which, meaning “ash-tree,” was originally an old English surname from the 1600s. It became a popular first name for boys in the 1940s when Ashley Wilkes was the name of the main character in “Gone with the Wind.” But its popularity resurfaced, this time for girls, at the same time that character Ashley Abbott appeared on the household soap opera “The Young and the Restless.”

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1985

– #1 girls’ name: Jessica
– #2 girls’ name: Ashley
– #3 girls’ name: Jennifer

This was the year that Jennifer was knocked out of the top spot as people started realizing it was overused. Jessica Lange had recently come onto the film scene. She quickly gained popularity, possibly due to her performance in “King Kong” and her two Oscar nominations the year before, putting Jessica at #1. A famous Jessica born this year was actor Jessica Lucas, known for her roles on TV shows “The Resident” and “Gotham.”

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1986–1988

– #1 girls’ name: Jessica
– #2 girls’ name: Ashley
– #3 girls’ name: Amanda

Jennifer was out of the top three most popular names—never to be seen on the list again—and was taken over by Jessica. Amanda was back in #3, no doubt at least in part due to the recent introduction of the character Amanda Carrington on the soap opera “Dynasty.” 

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1989–1990

– #1 girls’ name: Jessica
– #2 girls’ name: Ashley
– #3 girls’ name: Brittany

While Jessica was on top for the third year running, newcomer Brittany, a name for the French region of Bretagne meaning literally “from Britain,” came in at #3. This was the time when the TV drama “Thirtysomething” was popular, especially among young baby boomers; actor Brittany Craven starred in the show.

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1991

– #1 girls’ name: Ashley
– #2 girls’ name: Jessica
– #3 girls’ name: Brittany

The year that Ashley peaked could be attributed to Ashley Olsen, who, together with her twin sister, Mary-Kate, played Michelle on the beloved sitcom “Full House.” Three-time U.S. figure-skating champion Ashley Wagner was also born in 1991. 

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1992

– #1 girls’ name: Ashley
– #2 girls’ name: Jessica
– #3 girls’ name: Amanda

Amanda took Brittany’s place at #3. Jessica was second, and Ashley remained at #1; this could be partly thanks to the popularity of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” where the cute little sister was named Ashley, played by Tatyana Ali.

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1993-1994

– #1 girls’ name: Jessica
– #2 girls’ name: Ashley
– #3 girls’ name: Sarah

Jessica and Ashley remained the two most popular girls’ names, above newcomer Sarah, which would only be in the top three this one time. Sarah, meaning “princess,” is found in the Torah, the Quran, and the Bible as the name of the wife of Abraham. Sarah’s fame in 1993 could be partly thanks to singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan jumping to global fame with her album “Fumbling Towards Ecstasy.”

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1995-1996

– #1 girls’ name: Jessica
– #2 girls’ name: Ashley
– #3 girls’ name: Emily

Emily, derived from the medieval name Aemilius, was a newcomer on the list in 1995 and 1996. Jessica and Ashley remained on top, with R&B singer Jessica Jarrell born in 1995.

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1997

– #1 girls’ name: Emily
– #2 girls’ name: Jessica
– #3 girls’ name: Ashley

This year, Emily started its 10-year reign as the most popular girl’s name. Actor Emily Watson had just been nominated for an Academy Award for her debut role in Lars von Trier’s film “Breaking the Waves.”

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1998

– #1 girls’ name: Emily
– #2 girls’ name: Hannah
– #3 girls’ name: Samantha

This year, both Jessica and Ashley made a sudden disappearance, to be taken over by Hannah at #2 and Samantha at #3. Samantha is the female form of Samuel from the Torah and the name had been rising in popularity since the film “Bewitched” in the 1960s. One year earlier, Clive Owen named his daughter Hannah.

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1999

– #1 girls’ name: Emily
– #2 girls’ name: Hannah
– #3 girls’ name: Alexis

Alexis, a Greek name derived from the name Alexander, snuck into third place. Alexis’ growing popularity was sometimes attributed to the character Alexis Colby from soap opera “Dynasty” in the 1980s.

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2000-2001

– #1 girls’ name: Emily
– #2 girls’ name: Hannah
– #3 girls’ name: Madison

This was the year that child prodigy Emily Bear, famous pianist and composer, was born. Although the name Madison first started becoming popular when it was taken from the surname of President James Madison and his wife Dolley in the early 1800s, it made the top three most popular girls’ names list this year. It means “son of Matthew” in Old English.

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2002

– #1 girls’ name: Emily
– #2 girls’ name: Madison
– #3 girls’ name: Hannah

Another possible reason that the name Madison became so popular was that Daryl Hannah’s character adopted the name after seeing it on a street sign in the 1984 movie “Splash.” Hannah, which dropped to #3, was the name of prophet Samuel’s mother in the Bible, and means literally “God has graced me with a son,” and has more generally come to mean “grace of God.” 

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2003–2006

– #1 girls’ name: Emily
– #2 girls’ name: Emma
– #3 girls’ name: Madison

Emma took over from Hannah in the top three, and was the name of Rachel and Ross’ baby in the sitcom “Friends,” which was pssibly a factor leading to the name’s fast popularity. Actor Emma Watson was also gaining fame during this period—by 2006, she had starred in four “Harry Potter” films. Madison remained on the list and in 2006, actor Adam Sandler named his daughter Sadie Madison. 

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2007

– #1 girls’ name: Emily
– #2 girls’ name: Isabella
– #3 girls’ name: Emma

In 2007, a new name entered the top three: Isabella, which, one year earlier, Matt Damon had named his daughter. Isabella means “pledged to God” and is the Italian version of Elizabeth.

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2008

– #1 girls’ name: Emma
– #2 girls’ name: Isabella
– #3 girls’ name: Emily

The name Emma, meaning “universal” and deriving from old German, took the top spot for the last time in 2008. 

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2009

– #1 girls’ name: Isabella
– #2 girls’ name: Emma
– #3 girls’ name: Olivia

In 2009, Isabella jumped to the top of the list, and Emma and Olivia took second and third place. Olivia is the Latin word for “olive tree” and is believed to have been introduced by Shakespeare as a character in his play “Twelfth Night.” In 2007, Hilary Duff started playing a character named Olivia Burke in the show “Gossip Girl.”

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2010

– #1 girls’ name: Isabella
– #2 girls’ name: Sophia
– #3 girls’ name: Emma

The name Isabella was only becoming more popular with the release of the first “Twilight” movie, where the main character is Bella Swan, whose full first name is Isabella. She was a major contributor to the name jumping into first place. Newcomer Sophia took second place.

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2011

– #1 girls’ name: Sophia
– #2 girls’ name: Isabella
– #3 girls’ name: Emma

In 2011 and years prior, multiple celebrities had named their daughters Sophia, including Jude Law. Sophia is a Greek name meaning “wise,” and its popularity began in the 1960s when actor Sophia Loren became a household name.

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2012

– #1 girls’ name: Sophia
– #2 girls’ name: Emma
– #3 girls’ name: Isabella

The name Sophia remained on top, likely thanks, in part, to actor Sofía Vergara, who was nominated for Emmy awards for her performance on “Modern Family.” Actor Emma Watson was also growing up, finishing her role as Hermione Granger in the final “Harry Potter” movie.

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2013

– #1 girls’ name: Sophia
– #2 girls’ name: Emma
– #3 girls’ name: Olivia

Sofia, voiced by Ariel Winters, was the main character in the animated TV series “Sofia the First,” which aired from 2012 to 2018. Emma also remained popular; Emma Frost was a strong character in the film “X-men- Origins.” Olivia was back on the list at #3, likely due to the 2012 premiere of the hit TV series, “Scandal,” with powerful lead, Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) serving as the deputy press secretary to the U.S. president. The extremely popular show stayed on the air for seven seasons. 

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2014-2015

– #1 girls’ name: Emma
– #2 girls’ name: Olivia
– #3 girls’ name: Sophia

In 2015, the name Emma returned to the top of the list. That same year, actor Emma Stone won the hearts of the country as Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spiderman” movies. Emma remained a popular name, with a slew of strong, creative people such as Jane Austen’s “Emma,” political activist Emma Goldman, and veteran actor and director Emma Thompson.

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2016-2018

– #1 girls’ name: Emma
– #2 girls’ name: Olivia
– #3 girls’ name: Ava

Ava, the Greek and Latin form of the biblical character Eve, came into the top three in 2016. It was the name that many celebrities had been giving their baby girls, including Reese Witherspoon and Jason Priestley. 

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2019-2020

– #1 girls’ name: Olivia
– #2 girls’ name: Emma
– #3 girls’ name: Ava

After years in the top three, Olivia finally placed as the #1 name for girls in 2019. It has been the most popular name for baby girls in the U.K. for years, and perhaps the renewed American interest in the royal family helped the name Olivia take the crown. Emma moved down to the #2 spot and relative newcomer Ava remained popular at #3.

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2021

– #1 girls’ name: Olivia
– #2 girls’ name: Emma
– #3 girls’ name: Charlotte

Charlotte’s rise in popularity can likely be linked to the 2015 birth of the U.K.’s Princess Charlotte, the second child of Kate Middleton and Prince William. The name has long been associated with the U.K.’s royal family—as far back as the late 18th century with England’s Queen Charlotte (King George III’s wife). E.B. White’s novel, “Charlotte’s Web” also popularized the name when the book was published in 1952; and the “Sex and the City” character Charlotte further cemented the moniker into American culture.

This story was written by Stacker and has been re-published pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

This post was originally published on this site

Stacker

This story was written by Stacker and has been re-published pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.

Founded in 2017, Stacker combines data analysis with rich editorial context, drawing on authoritative sources and subject matter experts to drive storytelling.