What’s in a name? Naming a child is a momentous decision for parents, a decision that helps define the child’s identity from the very beginning. Names can be beautiful, powerful, traditional, interesting and sometimes just plain out there. The Social Security Administration (SSA) tracks the most popular American baby names and you can search the results online by year from as early as 1879.
The website www.ssa.gov/OACT/babynames reveals trends in American boy and girl names over the decades. We Americans tend to stick with our favorite names for a long time. For women’s names, “Mary” topped the list for several decades of the Twentieth Century, with names like “Helen,” ‘Margaret,” “Dorothy,” “Barbara,” “Patricia,” and “Linda” following close behind.
In 1969, “Lisa” was the number one baby girl name, and “Jennifer” was number one a decade later. In recent years, “Emily” has dominated the list, sitting firmly in number one from 1997 to 2007. In 2008, it was replaced by “Emma,” yet earlier this year, the SSN announced that “Isabella” surged to the top of the list in 2009.
Whether you are getting ready to name a child or just curious about American names over the decades, the SSA’s site is a good resource.
### Erika Weisensee, a writer and native Oregonian, lives in Milwaukie and teaches journalism and communication courses at the University of Portland.