Blast from the Past: Most Popular Baby Names by Decade

Yesterday my littles and I visited a soda shoppe. It had been around for over 40 years. It was a welcomed touch of nostalgia and a fun way to end a day that felt hurried, and rushed and packed with tasks. As my oldest and I sipped on milkshakes and floats, our eyes scanned the walls looking at memorabilia that had been around longer than I had walked the earth. And yet, once upon a time every soda shoppe looked like this particular one — once upon a time there were such things as soda shoppes.

Our experience reminded me of the magic of nostalgia. Even though I will never know what it was like to sit in the swivel chairs while children excitedly slammed their nickels and dimes on the countertop, waiting for a soda pop with anticipation, I can still see the magic. Images, stories of adults sharing their childhood memories, and the sweet syrup mixed with soda water merge with the imagination to form pictures. It’s that once-upon-a-time effect that makes the old conjure up the excitement of the new.

Revisiting names seems to have a magical effect on us too. For some, a name gives insight to a time in history. They give a glimpse as to what was happening in the world, who we admired and looked up to, and what was on the mind of our parents and grandparents. They are a reflection of our history, the stories relived when a mother or father shares the story of how they picked their baby’s name.

Recently I looked up some of the popular names that spanned the past several decades — starting with 1880 and leading up to the 2000s. Take a look at some of the most popular baby names by decade.

  • Popular Baby Names By Decade

    Popular Baby Names By Decade

    It’s a baby name blast from the past! Take a look at the most popular baby names by decade.

  • Boys: 1880s

    Boys: 1880s

    John means “God is gracious.” William means “resolute protection” and James means “supplanter.”

  • Girls: 1880s

    Girls: 1880s

    Mary means “bitter,” Anna means “grace” and Emma means “universal.”

  • Boys: 1890s

    Boys: 1890s

    These three names remained the top picks for another few decades.

  • Girls: 1890s

    Girls: 1890s

    Margaret joined Mary and Anna in the top 3 and means “pearl.”

  • Boys: 1900s

    Boys: 1900s

    John, William and James were still going strong in the 1900s.

  • Girls: 1900s

    Girls: 1900s

    Helen makes it ways to the top 3, the name meaning “bright, shining one.”

  • Boys: 1910s

    Boys: 1910s

    Still at the top!

  • Girls: 1910s

    Girls: 1910s

    The 1910s welcome another top name – Dorothy meaning “gift of God.”

  • Boys: 1920s

    Boys: 1920s

    A new boy name emerges in the top 3! Robert, a name meaning “bright fame.”

  • Girls: 1920s

    Girls: 1920s

    Mary remained in the top spot and continued to for quite some time.

  • Boys: 1930s

    Boys: 1930s

    Robert continued to hold onto the top spot.

  • Girls: 1930s

    Girls: 1930s

    Betty and Barbara made an appearance. Betty means “pledged to God” and Barbara means “foreign woman.”

  • Boys: 1940s

    Boys: 1940s

    Same top names, different order.

  • Girls: 1940s

    Girls: 1940s

    Linda means “serpent” and “pretty” and stayed in the number 2 place through the 1940s.

  • Boys: 1950s

    Boys: 1950s

    A new name breaks into the top three. Michael, meaning “who is like God?”

  • Girls: 1950s

    Girls: 1950s

    Patricia comes in at number 3. It’s a name that means “noble, patrician.”

  • Boys: 1960s

    Boys: 1960s

    John and David join Michael in the 60s. David means “beloved” and John means “God is gracious.”

  • Girls: 1960s

    Girls: 1960s

    Lisa means “pledged to God” and Susan means “lily.”

  • Boys: 1970s

    Boys: 1970s

    Christopher and Jason make it into the top 3. Christopher means “bearer of Christ” and Jason means “the Lord is salvation.”

  • Girls: 1970s

    Girls: 1970s

    All new names for this decade’s top 3! Jennifer means “white shadow, white wave,” Amy means “beloved; friend” and Melissa means “bee.”

  • Boys: 1980s

    Boys: 1980s

    Mathew makes an appearance. It means “gift of God.”

  • Girls: 1980s

    Girls: 1980s

    Jessica means “wealthy” and Amanda means “much-loved.”

  • Boys: 1990s

    Boys: 1990s

    These 3 names remained quite popular!

  • Girls: 1990s

    Girls: 1990s

    The name Ashley means “dweller near the ash tree meadow” and Emily means “rival.”

  • Boys: 2000s

    Boys: 2000s

    A new century brings a couple changes. Jacob means “supplanter” and Joshua means “the Lord is my salvation.”

  • Girls: 2000s

    Girls: 2000s

    A new century welcomes a new top pick for girls. Madison, meaning “son of Maud,” makes its way to the number 2 spot.

Do you have any favorites based on the top picks of decades past?


*Top names via Social Security Administration. Name meanings via Nameberry.

And if you need more naming inspiration, try BabyZone’s baby name finder.

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