Most Popular Baby Names Revealed, and Isabella Loses No. 1 Slot

Three naked babies sit next to each other.
Parents are always on the lookout for something new when it comes to baby names, says one baby-name expert. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

Bye, bye, Isabella, there's a new girl on the block. For the first year, Sophia is the most popular baby name for girls, according to the Social Security Administration's most popular baby names of 2011, released today (May 14).

Jacob remains No. 1 for boys, holding this top spot for the 13th year. Only one new name blasted onto the top-10 list: Mason jumped to the second spot, replacing Anthony.  Until 2010, when it hit No. 12, Mason had never cracked the top 25 for baby boys' names.

The 2011 top 10 baby names for boys:

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

Top 10 girls' baby names:

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

[See top 50 most popular baby names of 2011]

The "big story" in the baby-naming world is not that Sophia pushed out Isabella for the No. 1 spot; rather, according to baby-name expert and statistician Laura Wattenberg who runs, "we've now had four different girls' names [in the top slot] in the last five years. That is totally unprecedented." Wattenberg added, "Top girls' names are anything but consistent."

Why? "Parents are terrified their kids' names will become too popular," added Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard: A Magical Method for Finding the Perfect Name for Your Baby" (Three Rivers Press, 2005). "Everybody wants their kids to stand out. Nobody is worried about them fitting in."

As such, they're constantly on the lookout for something new, said Wattenberg, calling this phenomenon a reverse arms race, since "nobody wants to be No. 1."

Not only is conformity out and individuality in with baby names, but compared with the 1950s — which Wattenberg considers the peak of baby-naming conformity — we now have stats at our fingertips. "You didn't used to be able to type a name into Google and find out how many people have that first and last name combo," she said.

While anyone could likely come up with a "different" name, the moniker donned a child must sound good. That's where a problem comes in, Wattenberg said.

"We look for names that sound good to us, and that feels like such a personal decision, but your taste is just like your neighbors'," she said. "We're all desperate to be different but we have the same taste, [so] we end up with all these tiny variations on the same name." [Top 12 Distinct Moms in History]

The same goes for celebrity names, if parents aren't "ready for" that naming sound, the name isn't going to fly. "All the fame in the world isn't going to make the wrong name hot. It has to be the name parents are already ready for," she said.

Did the Kardashians have anything to do with Mason's rise to fame? Some have suggested, say Social Security officials, that the name of reality-TV star Kourtney Kardashian's son may have launched Mason into its No. 2 slot.

Wattenberg doesn't agree, suggesting the name has a long vowel sound, just like its predecessor Jacob. In fact, the top five boys' baby names have this long-vowel pattern. "That's just the sound that America was waiting for," Wattenberg said.

Some names took major leaps in popularity in 2011. Brantley took the biggest jump in popularity for boys' names, moving from spot 736 to 320. Arguably, the SSA notes, its popularity may stem from University of Florida quarterback John Brantley; or perhaps the juice it needed came from country singer Brantley Gilbert.

Considering the fact that 2010's biggest boy-name jumper was Bentley, Wattenberg suggests a country-singer phenomenon. Essentially, both names were once thought of as "super-preppy, stuffy sounding names," she said. Country musicians with the same names may be changing how America views these names. "We have this hot new category of preppy-turned-cowboy," Wattenberg explained.

For girls, Briella took the biggest jump in the top 500, moving up from 891 to 497.

And Elvis is back … in the top 1,000 for popular boy names. "Last year I was all shook up when Elvis dropped way down below the top 1,000, but Elvis is back into the promised land of the top 1,000, and that's all right," Michael J. Astrue, Social Security commissioner, said in a statement. He's now 904 on the list.

The list didn't bear out results from another baby-name study, this one based on page-views for baby names on the website Nameberry. That study predicts Pippa will take a top spot in 2012, popping up as the 35th most-searched name on Nameberry. Pippa didn't make the top 50 for 2011.

That didn't surprise Wattenberg, who said search traffic doesn't equate with popularity in the case of baby names.

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.