Reality TV Drives Popular Baby Names of 2010

Babies in leaves
Birthrates in northern latitudes peak during the spring, whereas lower-latitude birthrates peak during the summer and fall. (Image credit: © Anatoliy Samara |

Did you notice a lot of baby Jacobs and Isabellas this year? According to the Social Security administration, you're not alone. Just as in 2009, Jacob topped the list of the most popular names for boys, and Isabella ranked No. 1 for girls.

The rising star in the top 10 this year for girls was Sophia, which rose from No. 4 in 2009 to No. 2 in 2010. The big faller was Joshua, which dropped from No. 6 last year to No. 11 this year.

"The chances of meeting a baby named Sophia this year versus last year -- you'll see them everywhere," said Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby" (Three Rivers Press, 2005).

The top 10 boy names for 2010 were:

1. Jacob 2. Ethan 3. Michael 4. Jayden 5. William 6. Alexander 7. Noah 8. Daniel 9. Aiden 10. Anthony

For girls, the top 10 names were:

1. Isabella 2. Sophia 3. Emma 4. Olivia 5. Ava 6. Emily 7. Abigail 8. Madison 9. Chloe 10. Mia

For more, see the top 50 most popular boy and girl names.

But the real story isn't in the top 10, Wattenberg said. Lower in the top 1,000 names are trends that come out of nowhere, Wattenberg told LiveScience.

And this year, the trends are being driven by reality television.

"America's No. 1 baby name stylemaker this year is not Angelina Jolie, not Barack Obama," Wattenberg said. "It's Maci Bookout." [Read: Why Do Celebrities Give Their Kids Weird Names?]

Bookout is a teen mother from Chatanooga, Tenn., who was featured on MTV's "16 and Pregnant" and "Teen Mom." In 2010, Maci was the fastest-rising girl's name in America. Her son's name, Bentley, was the fastest-rising boy's name.

Bentley was recently noted by Wattenberg as one of the most disliked baby names in America. Many people object to the name because it brings to mind a luxury brand, which people believe is a "trashy" way to name a child, she said. But names are what you bring to them, Wattenberg noted. To others, Bentley is the last name of a popular country music star, Dierks Bentley.

"A name is more than a collection of words, it's what you bring to it with all of your life experience," Wattenberg said. "That's why that name is so divisive."

Previous research has found that babies in frontier states tend to have more unusual names, in part because of cultural differences that make unique names more acceptable.

While reality-TV names often show up on the fast-risers list (Khloe, like the reality show star Khloe Kardashian, has been increasing in popularity for three years, Wattenberg said), they also litter the falling-star list each year.

"The data suggests that this really is a 15 minutes of fame," Wattenberg said. "The longer trends that you see at the top of the chart require a more broad-based popularity."

Finally, America seems to be continuing its love affair with vowels, with lots of names emphasizing the As, Es and even Os. For the first time since about 100 years ago, Odin is on the upswing, Wattenberg found. And among boys' names, there are 41 names rhyming with Aiden in the top 1,000, she said.

"It's just about any way you can imagine to spell Jayden and Brayden," Wattenberg said.

You can follow LiveScience senior writer Stephanie Pappas on Twitter @sipappas. Follow LiveScience for the latest in science news and discoveries on Twitter @livescience and on Facebook.

Stephanie Pappas
Live Science Contributor

Stephanie Pappas is a contributing writer for Live Science, covering topics ranging from geoscience to archaeology to the human brain and behavior. She was previously a senior writer for Live Science but is now a freelancer based in Denver, Colorado, and regularly contributes to Scientific American and The Monitor, the monthly magazine of the American Psychological Association. Stephanie received a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.