Most Popular Baby Names Change Dramatically

Just don't name them Jayden and Brayden. (Image credit: Dreamstime)

The 1960s brought us baby names such as April and Sunshine, and naming new Americans has never been the same.

So when Sunday Rose Kidman Urban was born this week, the baby of an actress and a country western singer, news of her distinctive name created only a small stir. While many parents still hew to traditional names, U.S. babies now are tagged with an ever-increasing diversity of names for which the inspirations range from the calendar to languages from afar.

The top 10 baby names from 1950 look nothing like today. Here's the list from 1950, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration:

Most popular boy/girl baby names in 1950:

1. James / Linda 2. Robert / Mary 3. John / Patricia 4. Michael / Barbara 5. David / Susan 6. William / Nancy 7. Richard / Deborah 8. Thomas / Sandra 9. Charles / Carol 10. Gary / Kathleen

Here's the list from last year:

1. Jacob / Emily 2. Michael / Isabella 3. Ethan / Emma 4. Joshua / Ava 5. Daniel / Madison 6. Christopher / Sophia 7. Anthony / Olivia 8. William / Abigail 9. Matthew / Hannah 10. Andrew / Elizabeth

The name Mary had a long go, staying at No. 1 baby girl name from the 1880s through the 1950s, while John was one of the top five boy names during that same period. Parental preference for Michael took off in the 1950s, holding strong to this day. 

The diversity in U.S. baby names has exploded since the 1950s. Back then, a quarter of all boys and girls got one of the top 10 baby names, according to Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard" (Broadway, 2005). In recent times, the top 10 names account for only one tenth of all baby names, Wattenberg writes. Her blog has an interactive tool that displays the historical popularity of thousands of names from the 1880s to now.

When it comes to contemporary inspiration, the days of the week are just one of the everyday resources from which folks snag new baby names.

Celebrities especially seem to reach far and wide lately, with baby names ranging from fruits (Apple Blythe Alison Martin, born to Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin) to colors (Fuchsia Catherine Sumner, born to Sting and Frances Tomelty) to plants (Poppy Honey Oliver, born to Jamie Oliver and Juliette Norton.

Movies can also cause a name to leap in popularity. While historically, the name Madison was more associated with boys than girls, the feminine usage took off in the 1980s and became ranked 29th as a female baby name in the 1990s, according to the Social Security Administration. Some say the movie "Splash," which came out in 1984, is behind the boom. (Daryl Hannah's mermaid character was named Madison after the street name in New York City.)

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.