Most popular baby names for girls the year you were born

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November 17, 2020
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Most popular baby names for girls the year you were born

Society is a dynamic and ever-evolving phenomenon. People can follow changes and trends throughout time by looking at how fashion and music changes—and 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 important factors 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 actress who was a beacon of hope during the Great Depression; the name that a famous singer named his own daughter; the title of a popular song; and the name that fictional characters gave their baby in a sitcom.

Stacker examined the Social Security Administration’s data on baby names to determine the most common names for baby girls from 1915 to 2019. Additionally there was a little extra digging to glean insights on why these names were used so much at the time. See if you can guess the reasons behind the 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 for many centuries well before that. At the time its popularity arose from its religious significance—Mary is the Anglicised form of the name Maria, which in turn derives from the Hebrew name Miriam, who was the mother of Jesus in the Bible, the Torah, and the Qur’an. 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 while the second most popular name was Dorothy, originally 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 actresses in the silent movie era, like Dorothy MacKaill, and one baby girl born 1922 was Dorothy Dandridge, the first Black actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. At #3 was Helen, originally 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 replaced by Betty. It had previously been only a nickname for Elizabeth, but during the 1920s Betty was actually the most popular nickname that became used as a formal first name, fit for the flapper era, when actresses like Betty Compson and Betty Bronson, whose names were actually Eleanor and Elizabeth, started using Betty as their stage names. In 1927 Betty Harford was born, who went on to gain fame through her roles in “The Twilight Zone.”

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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 over the prior decades including until the 1930s. Betty was at #2 and at #3 was Dorothy, the name of author and playwright of fantasy and feminist works Dorothy Bryant, born in 1930.

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1932–1934

- #1 girls' name: Mary
- #2 girls' name: Betty
- #3 girls' name: Barbara

Barbara Hutton, heiress and debutante with her jewels, handsome suitors, and glamour, 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 stayed on top.

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1935–1936

- #1 girls' name: Mary
- #2 girls' name: Shirley
- #3 girls' name: Barbara

Thirty-five thousand baby girls were name Shirley in 1936, after Shirley Temple, who was in her heyday as Hollywood’s favorite child actor. The country was deep in 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, when the U.S. was leading up to, and getting involved in, World War II. Mary, which was still at the top, was the name given to Mary Wells, the singer who would later be one of the people to 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 possible thanks to the fame of actress Barbara O’Neil, known for “Gone with the Wind.” Mary remained at #1 and Linda in second place, which was the name given to actress Linda Hunt in that year.

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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, it was the beginning of the baby boom era, and the bikini first debuted. Patricia came back into the picture, which could probably be attributed to the growing fame of actress Patricia Neal, and Mary held on tight to the top, although her days were 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, overtaken by Linda. It's possible 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, and in this year 56,678 babies were named Linda. Barbara came in third again, meaning “strange” or “foreigner,” the feminine form of Barbarus in Greek or Latin. St. Barbara was one of the most famous Christian saints. This year Shirley Temple named her newborn girl Linda Susan, and even today, name trends show that popularity of names goes up after famous people give it 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 actresses Linda Darnell and Linda Christian, which lasted till the mid 1960s. Patricia was at #3 and a famous Patricia born in 1951 was actress Patricia Richardson, best known for her role as Jill Taylor on 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 which saw the rising popularity of British actress Deborah Kerr, and the name became extremely popular both in Britain and 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 once again.

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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 actress Debbie Reynolds, whose film “Bundle of Joy” had just been released and for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe. Mary, the most widely used name in history, 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 ranking remained the same, the spelling of Deborah became shorter. Quite a few baby girls were named after Mexican actress 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 actress Susan Hayward gained popularity and in 1958, she won a Golden Globe.

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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, 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 loved musician, and soon created the Carpenters’ with her brother, Richard. Lisa and Mary were #1 and #2.

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1966

- #1 girls' name: Lisa
- #2 girls' name: Kimberly
- #3 girls' name: Mary

This year saw the entrance of Kimberly into the top three, an old English name meaning “ruler.” It is also the name of a South African town famous for its diamond mines. Lisa was the most popular again and Mary was third, and a famous Lisa born this year was Lisa Edelstein, best 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, and has not returned since. It’s no surprise that Michelle, the feminine French form for Michael, came in, it had already started climbing the list two years earlier when the Beatles released their bilingual track of that name. Actress Lisa Bonet was born this year, and the name was at the top, with Kimberly in second place.

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1968

- #1 girls' name: Lisa
- #2 girls' name: Michelle
- #3 girls' name: Kimberly

The popularity of Lisa was re-invigorated this year, which could be attributed to Elvis and Priscilla Presley naming their daughter Lisa-Marie. Musician Lisa Loeb was born this year, who started her career as the first artist to have a #1 single without a recording contract, with the platinum-selling track “Stay” from the film “Reality Bites.”

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1969

- #1 girls' name: Lisa
- #2 girls' name: Michelle
- #3 girls' name: Jennifer

When Jennifer came into the list in third place, it was the beginning of 16 years that the name would remain in 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 in this year—Jennifer Aniston, who plays Rachel in 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. It was also the beginning of a trend of people giving their children names beginning with the letter ‘J.’ Lisa and Kimberly were in second and third place.

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1972–1973

- #1 girls' name: Jennifer
- #2 girls' name: Michelle
- #3 girls' name: Lisa

These were the years of Roe v. Wade and the Watergate Scandal. They were also the years that gave the world Jennifer Thompson, one of the most lauded Olympic swimmers in history. Jennifer remained at the top, followed by Michelle and Lisa.

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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. Actress Amy Adams was born this year, when Jennifer remained in the #1 spot and Michelle at #3.

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1975

- #1 girls' name: Jennifer
- #2 girls' name: Amy
- #3 girls' name: Heather

Jennifer was still in first place but Amy was on the rise. This was also 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 girl 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 the name—Melissa Gilbert and Melissa Sue Anderson. In this year, Melissa Hart was born, best known as “Sabrina the Teenage Witch.” Jennifer and Amy stayed on top.

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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.” Its popularity likely continued here because soon after, singer Melissa Manchester released her debut album.

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1978

- #1 girls' name: Jennifer
- #2 girls' name: Melissa
- #3 girls' name: Jessica

Jessica took over from Amy at #3. The name originates from Jessica in the Old Testament of the Bible. Jennifer remained at #1 and Melissa came in second.

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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 into #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 back to the 17th century. Another famous Jennifer was born this year—teen-movie star 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, and 1982 was the birth year of actress Jessica Biel.

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1984

- #1 girls' name: Jennifer
- #2 girls' name: Jessica
- #3 girls' name: Ashley

This year brought in Ashley, which, meaning “ash-tree,” was originally an old English surname since the 1600s, and became popular 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 had been overdone. Jessica Lange had recently come onto the film scene and quickly gained popularity, possibly due to her performance in “King Kong” and her two Oscar nominations the year before, putting the name Jessica at #1. A famous Jessica born this year was Jessica Lucas from “Melrose Place.”

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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 again, taken over by Jessica. Amanda was back in #3, and no doubt due to the recent introduction of the character Amanda Carrington on soap opera “Dynasty.” Ashley Olsen, whose name was at #2 on the list, was born in 1986 along with her twin, Mary-Kate.

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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, and meaning literally “from Britain” came in at #3. This was the time when TV-drama “Thirtysomething” was popular, especially among young baby boomers, and Brittany Craven starred on the show. Famous ballerina and actress Jessica Findlay was born in 1989. Ashley stayed at #2.

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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, one of the country’s beloved Olsen twins, who acted on sitcom “Full House.” Three-time U.S. National figure-skating champion Ashley Wagner was born in 1991. Jessica and Brittany were at #2 and #3.

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1992

- #1 girls' name: Ashley
- #2 girls' name: Jessica
- #3 girls' name: Amanda

Amanda took over from Brittany at #3. Jessica was second, and Ashley remained at #1, and 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 Qur’an, and the Bible as the name of the wife of Abraham. Sarah’s fame in 1993 could be partly thanks to pop star 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 was a newcomer on the list, meaning “admiring,” or “rival,” derived from the medieval name Aemilius, and becoming popularized in the literature world by writers like Emily Bronte, Emily Post, and Emily Dickinson. Jessica and Ashley remained on top, with R&B singer Jessica Jarrell named 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. Actress Emily Watson had just been nominated for an Academy Award for her debut role in Lars von Trier’s film “Breaking the Waves.” Jessica and Emily remained in the top two spots.

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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 which derives from Alexander, snuck into third place, a name whose growing popularity was sometimes attributed to the character Alexis Colby from soap opera “Dynasty” in the 1980s. Emily and Hannah remained on top, and Hana Hayes, from the show “The Grinder,” was born this year.

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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. Madison, which came in at #3, first became popular when it was taken from the surname of the President James and his wife Dolley Madison in the early 1800s. 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 reason Madison became so popular was inspired by Daryl Hannah adopting the name when she saw it on a street sign in the 1984 movie “Splash.” The name Hannah is the name in the Bible: She's the prophet Samuel’s mother, and means literally “God has graced me with a son,” which in turn gave the meaning “grace of god.” Emily remained on top.

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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 sitcom “Friends,” who was born in the show in 2001, possibly a factor leading to its fast popularity. In 2006, actor Adam Sandler named his daughter Sadie Madison. Emily stayed at the top, with Madison at #3.

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2007

- #1 girls' name: Emily
- #2 girls' name: Isabella
- #3 girls' name: Emma

This year, Emily moved to the top and Emma moved to #3, and a new name entered the top three: Isabella. One year earlier, Matt Damon had named his daughter Isabella. 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. Isabella was at #3, and was part of an era where people were naming their children more romantic-sounding names.

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2009

- #1 girls' name: Isabella
- #2 girls' name: Emma
- #3 girls' name: Olivia

Isabella jumped to the top, and Emma and Olivia took second and third place. Olivia is the Latin word for “olive tree” and was made up by Shakespeare for a character in his play “Twelfth Night.” In 2007, Hilary Duff starting playing a character called 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” movies, where the main character is called Bella Swan, whose full first name is Isabella. She was no doubt 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

Over the last few years quite a few celebrities had named their daughters Sophia, including Jude Law. Sophia is a Greek name, meaning “wise,” and its popularity began in the 1960s when actress Sophia Loren became a household name. Isabella and Emma remained at two and three on the list.

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2012

- #1 girls' name: Sophia
- #2 girls' name: Emma
- #3 girls' name: Isabella

Sophia remained on top, no doubt thanks to actress Sofia Vergara, who was nominated for Emmy awards for her performance on “Modern Family.” Actress Emma Watson was 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

A new well-known Sofia was the main character in animated TV-series “Sofia the First.” Emma also remained popular, and an Emma Frost was a strong character in the film “X-men- Origins.” Olivia was back on the list at #3.

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2014–2015

- #1 girls' name: Emma
- #2 girls' name: Olivia
- #3 girls' name: Sophia

Emma went back to the top of the list, in the same year that actress Emma Stone had won the hearts of the country as Gwen Stacy in “The Amazing Spiderman” movies. It is unsurprising in a way that Emma remained so popular, it was the name of so many strong and creative women, like Jane Austen’s character 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, a the Greek and Latin form of the biblical character Eve, came into the top three. It was the name that many celebrities had been giving their baby girls, including Reese Witherspoon, and Jason Priestley, allegedly as a tribute to actor Ava Gardner after her death in 1990. Olivia was in second place, and Emma remained at the top, and doesn’t seem to be going anywhere for now.

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2019

- #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 Olivia take the crown. Emma moved down to the #2 spot and relative newcomer Ava remained popular at #3. 

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