Stories behind the 50 most popular baby names for boys

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January 30, 2019
FamVeld // Shutterstock

Stories behind the 50 most popular baby names for boys

As if parents don't have enough to consider when anticipating the arrival of a new child, selecting a name introduces a whole other set of complications. Should they go with a family name, or consider something new and modern? What about something unusual, versus something well-known and loved? The possibilities aren't actually endless, but they may feel like it to new moms and dads.

The good news is that Stacker has researched each of the most popular boys' names in the United States according to the Social Security Administration, and gathered information about each of them including their meanings, origins, and how they may relate to popular trends. Parents with classic or current tastes will see a wide range of monikers represented.

Read on to see which popular boy's name means “olive tree,” which name has been the most popular male name in the United States 44 times in the past century, and which two names rose to popularity shortly after the original “Star Wars” movie was released.

RELATED: Stories behind the 50 most popular baby names for girls

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amyelizabethquinn // Pixabay

#50. Caleb

Number of babies named: 7,084
Rank in 2016: #44 (six spots higher than 2017)

The name Caleb comes from the Hebrew word for “dog.” Modern translations, however, often include references to faith and devotion.

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Creative Commons Zero // Maxpixel

#49. Charles

Number of babies named: 7,130
Rank in 2016: #51 (two spots lower than 2017)

When it comes to name popularity, Charles isn't in charge anymore, though it has proven timeless, appearing on charts for decades. The royal moniker has German and English roots, and means “free man.”

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Petr Kratochvil // Public Domain Pictures

#48. Thomas

Number of babies named: 7,131
Rank in 2016: #48 (no change from 2017)

In Aramaic, Thomas means “twin.” The name has biblical ties, too. In the New Testament, it's Thomas the apostle who doubted the return of Jesus, inspiring the term “doubting Thomas.”

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#47. Isaiah

Number of babies named: 7,165
Rank in 2016: #47 (no change from 2017)

Another name with biblical roots, Isaiah means “salvation of God; the Lord helps me.” There's also a Book of Isaiah in the Old Testament, attributed to the prophet of the same name.

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.alicia.kowalski. // Flickr

#46. Aaron

Number of babies named: 7,165
Rank in 2016: #49 (three spots lower than 2017)

Aaron has the esteemed meaning of “[a] teacher; lofty; mountain of strength.” In addition to the United States, the name has also ranked highly on charts in Scotland, Ireland, and Spain.

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esudroff // Pixabay

#45. Nathan

Number of babies named: 7,390
Rank in 2016: #43 (two spots higher than 2017)

Nathan, often shortened to “Nate,” means “God has given.” Nathan has been in the Top 100 names since 1972, peaking at #20 in 2004 and 2005.

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Greyerbaby // Pixabay

#44. Jaxon

Number of babies named: 7,649
Rank in 2016: #41 (three spots higher than 2017)

Jaxon, another version of Jackson, is quite literally “son of Jack.” Jaxon debuted in the Social Security Top 1,000 names in 1997, and has been climbing up the ranks ever since.

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Profile // Pixabay

#43. Ryan

Number of babies named: 7,652
Rank in 2016: #40 (three spots higher than 2017)

With Irish origins and a meaning of “little king,” boys named Ryan share the name with a number of well-known celebrities. Ryan O'Neal was one of the first to make the name famous, and nowadays, actors like Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds, and TV and radio host Ryan Seacrest keep the name in headlines.

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Victoria_Borodinova // Pixabay

#42. Mateo

Number of babies named: 7,726
Rank in 2016: #59 (17 spots lower than 2017)

A Spanish take on a biblical name, Mateo has soared in popularity in recent years while the English version, Matthew, has been steadily near the top of the charts for decades. The name means, “Gift of God.”

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#41. Lincoln

Number of babies named: 8,146
Rank in 2016: #50 (nine spots lower than 2017)

Perhaps most well-known as the surname of the 16th U.S. president, Lincoln now holds its own as a popular first name. The name has Celtic and English origins, and means “lakeside colony.”

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marvelmozhko // PIxabay

#40. Andrew

Number of babies named: 8,215
Rank in 2016: #34 (six spots higher than 2017)

The name Andrew has biblical roots, and means “manly.” It's often shortened to Andy or Drew, both of which also made it to the Top 500 names of 2017.

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#39. Joshua

Number of babies named: 8,239
Rank in 2016: #35 (four spots higher than 2017)

Modern-day Joshuas share the name with the Book of Joshua in the Bible's Old Testament. Its common nickname, Josh, also has joking associations that date back to the Old West.

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MiguelRPerez // Pixabay

#38. Christopher

Number of babies named: 8,255
Rank in 2016: #36 (two spots higher than 2017)

Christopher has Greek origins and a meaning of “one who carries Christ.” It has been a popular name for boys for decades, peaking at #2 first in 1972–'73, and then again from 1979 to 1994.

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skimpton007 // Pixabay

#37. Levi

Number of babies named: 8,367
Rank in 2016: #42 (five spots lower than 2017)

Meaning “joined in harmony,” Levi has roots in Hebrew. The name also has ties to modern U.S. history since it also belongs to Levi Strauss, whose Levi Strauss and Co. made the first blue jeans.

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Pexels // Pixabay

#36. Julian

Number of babies named: 8,393
Rank in 2016: #39 (three spots lower than 2017)

With English and Latin origins, Julian is “youthful, downy.” It's been one of the top 100 boy names in the United States since 2000, ranking #74 from 2000 to 2010.

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Free-Photos // Pixabay

#35. Jack

Number of babies named: 8,419
Rank in 2016: #38 (three spots lower than 2017)

Jack is one of the few names to make the list that's widely considered to be an independent name. Few male names rival it in long-term popularity. It was so common in the Middle Ages, in fact, that it was a slang term for “man” or “boy.”

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adibalea // Pixabay

#34. Grayson

Number of babies named: 8,640
Rank in 2016: #37 (three spots lower than 2017)

An English name that means “son of the gray-haired one,” Grayson also serves as a surname. Those with the name share it with the fictional Dick Grayson, alter-ego of Robin, sidekick to superhero Batman.

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#33. Isaac

Number of babies named: 8,796
Rank in 2016: #31 (two spots higher than 2017)

Another name with strong biblical roots, Isaac is Hebrew for “he will laugh.” In all seriousness, the name also belongs to renowned English physicist, Isaac Newton.

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#32. Anthony

Number of babies named: 8,802
Rank in 2016: #30 (two spots higher than 2017)

Most parents probably feel that their sons are beyond precious, and the name Anthony fits those sentiments well. It's Latin in origin, and means “priceless one.”

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#31. Gabriel

Number of babies named: 9,083
Rank in 2016: #25 (six spots higher than 2017)

The name of a messenger of God in the Bible, Gabriel means “God is my strong man.” The angel Gabriel also serves as a prominent figure in Jewish and Islamic texts.

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AdinaVoicu // Pixabay

#30. Luke

Number of babies named: 9,163
Rank in 2016: #29 (one spot higher than 2017)

Luke has a meaning of “light giving.” It also has biblical ties—the third book in the New Testament is the Book of Luke—as well as pop culture connections. The original “Star Wars” film, with lead character Luke Skywalker, was released in 1977, just three years before Luke first appeared on the top 100 names chart.

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Bess Hamiti // Pixabay

#29. Dylan

Number of babies named: 9,268
Rank in 2016: #32 (three spots lower than 2017)

Dylan as a name first entered charts in the 1960s, shortly after recording artist Bob Dylan came on the scene. It also has origins in Welsh mythology as the name of a god of the sea.

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fujikama // Pixabay

#28. Owen

Number of babies named: 9,312
Rank in 2016: #23 (five spots higher than 2017)

A traditional Welsh name, parents who pick the name Owen may be drawn to its meanings of “young warrior” and “noble.” Well-known Owens of pop culture include actor Owen Wilson, the title character in John Irving's “A Prayer For Owen Meany,” and more recently, fictional protagonist Owen Grady of the “Jurassic World” movie series.

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Stocksnap // Pixabay

#27. John

Number of babies named: 9,434
Rank in 2016: #28 (one spot lower than 2017)

John reigns as one of the most popular boy names of all time, with over 4.5 million Johns born in the United States since 1918. The name means “God is gracious” in Hebrew.

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smpratt90 // Pixabay

#26. Jayden

Number of babies named: 9,495
Rank in 2016: #27 (one spot lower than 2017)

A newer name to climb the charts, Jayden skyrocketed to popularity in the first decade of this century when multiple celebrities chose it for their sons. The name, which has Hebrew roots and means “thankful,” was given to nearly 90,000 boys between 2000 and 2009.

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NewportBaptistChurchNC // Pixabay

#25. Wyatt

Number of babies named: 9,661
Rank in 2016: #33 (eight spots lower than 2017)

With roots as an English last name, Wyatt is now popular as a first name, too. It means “little warrior.”

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esudroff // Pixabay

#24. Carter

Number of babies named: 9,753
Rank in 2016: #26 (two spots lower than 2017)

An adapted English surname of a cart driver, Carter has been consistently in the top 1,000 names since 1900. It reached its highest rank to date, #24, in both 2015 and 2017.

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Profile // Pixabay

#23. David

Number of babies named: 10,124
Rank in 2016: #19 (four spots higher than 2017)

With Hebrew origins, David means “beloved” or “uncle.” A number of notable Davids have existed both past and present, from well-known biblical figure King David (of the David and Goliath legend) to musician David Bowie, soccer player David Beckham, and comedian Dave Chapelle.

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fujikama // Pixabay

#22. Sebastian

Number of babies named: 10,136
Rank in 2016: #24 (two spots lower than 2017)

Sebastian has Latin and Greek origins, and means “venerable.” Current Sebastians share the name with a martyred saint, composer Johann Sebastian Bach, and a classic Disney character from "The Little Mermaid." 

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smpratt90 // Pixabay

#21. Samuel

Number of babies named: 10,323
Rank in 2016: #21 (no change from 2017)

Samuel was ranked as one of top male names of the past century, coming in at #45. The name, which means “God heard,” has continued to grow in popularity since 2000, and now holds its highest position ever on the charts.  

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#20. Jackson

Number of babies named: 10,356
Rank in 2016: #17 (three spots higher than 2017)

Not to be confused with Jaxon, Jackson, or “son of Jack,” was originally an English surname that has taken on a first name life of its own. Famous Jacksons include painter Jackson Pollock and singer-songwriter Jackson Browne.

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jvalley678 // Pixabay

#19. Joseph

Number of babies named: 10,360
Rank in 2016: #20 (one spot lower than 2017)

The name Joseph carries strong biblical ties and Hebrew origins meaning, “may God give increase.” The name has been consistently used in the United States for decades, and is the ninth most popular male name of the past century.

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LuidmilaKot // Pixabay

#18. Henry

Number of babies named: 10,406
Rank in 2016: #22 (four spots lower than 2017)

Henry, which has German roots and a meaning of “estate ruler,” peaked in popularity in the early 1900s, when it was the 11th most popular boy's name of the decade. The name also has royal ties; it is shared with a line of English kings.

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Victoria_Borodinova // Pixabay

#17. Aiden

Number of babies named: 11,259
Rank in 2016: #16 (one spot higher than 2017)

Aiden's “fiery” meaning is consistent with the name's burst into popularity. Between 1995 and 2010, it jumped over 900 spots in the top 1,000 list, finally peaking at #9 in 2010 and 2011, and ultimately placing as the 12th most popular name so far this decade.

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Greyerbaby // Pixabay

#16. Matthew

Number of babies named: 11,611
Rank in 2016: #15 (one spot higher than 2017)

Matthew is a biblical name that's shared with the writer of the first gospel of the New Testament. It means “gift from God,” and is the 13th most popular name of the past century.

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PublicDomainPhotos // Pixabay

#15. Daniel

Number of babies named: 11,640
Rank in 2016: #13 (two spots higher than 2017)

Daniel has Hebrew roots and a meaning of “God is my judge.” The name has been ranked as high as #5 four times—in 1985, 1990, 2007, and 2008.

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Greyerbaby // Pixabay

#14. Ethan

Number of babies named: 12,389
Rank in 2016: #10 (four spots higher than 2017)

Since 2002, Ethan has held every spot in the top five, except the elusive #1. The name has Hebrew origins, and means “strong” and “firm.” Well-known modern-day Ethans include actor Ethan Hawke, as well as Ethan Hunt, the protagonist in the “Mission Impossible” film series.

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akshayapatra // Pixabay

#13. Alexander

Number of babies named: 12,467
Rank in 2016: #11 (two spots higher than 2017)

Based on its continued popularity, the phrase “Alexander the Great” can also be applied to the popular name. The ancient Greek name, shared by a king and military conqueror, means “defender or helper of mankind.”

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Stocksnap // Pixabay

#12. Michael

Number of babies named: 12,579
Rank in 2016: #8 (four spots higher than 2017)

Michael has been the most popular name in the United States 44 times in the past century, though it's currently #12. The name is Hebrew for “who is like God?”

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alesvelich0 // Pixabay

#11. Lucas

Number of babies named: 12,951
Rank in 2016: #14 (three spots lower than 2017)

Lucas, or “bringer of light,” has been steadily growing in popularity since the 1960s. The name entered the top 100 for the first time in 1980, shortly after George Lucas released “Star Wars,” which also overlapped with the shorthand version, Luke, rising in popularity, too.

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cherylholt // Pixabay

#10. Jacob

Number of babies named: 13,106
Rank in 2016: #7 (three spots higher than 2017)

In Hebrew, Jacob means “supplanter,” someone who takes the place of someone else. The name, which has ties to the Old Testament, has been popular for decades, ranking as high as #1 from 1999 to 2012.

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Voicebox // Wikipedia Commons

#9. Oliver

Number of babies named: 13,141
Rank in 2016: #12 (three spots lower than 2017)

Oliver is often considered to have Latin roots meaning “olive tree.” The name re-entered the Top 100 chart in 2009, more than 100 years after a streak of popularity in the 1880s and 1890s.

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VyacheslavLn // Pixabay

#8. Elijah

Number of babies named: 13,268
Rank in 2016: #9 (one spot lower than 2017)

Another name with strong biblical roots, Elijah has had a steady presence among the Top 600 names since the early 1900s. It didn't break into the Top 10 until 2016. In Hebrew, it means “Yahweh is God.”

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fujikama // Pixabay

#7. Mason

Number of babies named: 13,502
Rank in 2016: #4 (three spots higher than 2017)

On top of being a name that's recently skyrocketed in popularity, a mason is also a bricklayer. Thought it's never held the #1 position, it's been as high as #2, and spent six of the past seven years in the top five.

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quimono // Pixabay

#6. Benjamin

Number of babies named: 13,733
Rank in 2016: #6 (no change from 2017)

The name Benjamin has been given to over 700,000 boys in the past century, securing it a spot as the #42 most popular boy's name. The name means “son of my right hand,” and has ties to the Old Testament, as well as American history, thanks to Benjamin Franklin.

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YannaZazu // Pixabay

#5. Logan

Number of babies named: 13,974
Rank in 2016: #18 (13 spots lower than 2017)

Logan, a Top 100 name since the early 1990s, has Scottish origins and means “small hollow.” With a change in 13 spots, it shows the second-largest jump of any of the year's Top 50 names, beaten only by Mateo, which increased by 17, from #59 to #42.

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btchurch // Pixabay

#4. James

Number of babies named: 14,232
Rank in 2016: #5 (one spot lower than 2017)

Not only is it highly ranked this year, the name James also has the distinct honor of being the top male name for the past century, with nearly 4.8 million boys and men sharing it. It means “supplanter,” just like another Top 10 boy's name, Jacob.

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Oleg_Penzin // Pixabay

#3. William

Number of babies named: 14,904
Rank in 2016: #3 (no change from 2017)

William also has earned a spot as the fifth most popular name of the century. The name, which means “resolute protector,” is shared among a number of notable figures in history and present-day pop culture, including William Shakespeare, William Wallace, and Prince William. It's even the given first name of William “Brad” Pitt.

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DivvyPixel // Pixabay

#2. Noah

Number of babies named: 18,326
Rank in 2016: #1 (one spot higher than 2017)

Noah, which comes from a Hebrew word for “rest,” is the name of the biblical hero who survived the flood in the Old Testament. It's also seeing a surge in pop culture references, too, perhaps most notably as the name of the male lead in “The Notebook,” played by Ryan Gosling. The film was released in 2004, shortly before the name broke into the Top 20 for the first time.

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freestocks-photos // Pixabay

#1. Liam

Number of babies named: 18,728
Rank in 2016: #2 (one spot lower than 2017)

Liam has soared to popularity so quickly that it doesn't yet have a spot on the Top 100 names of the century. It's a shorter version of William, and has the same protective meaning. Baby boys named Liam share the moniker with celebrities, including actors Liam Neeson and Liam Hemsworth, and singer Liam Payne.

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