The Top Baby Name List Reveals Surprising Celebrity Inspirations

Annual results are available, and Emma and Liam again top the list of the most popular baby names in the United States.

But while these two names have been ruling the site for several consecutive years, there is much less consensus in American naming practices than the top 10 would indicate, said Laura Wattenberg, who runs the website and is the author of book “The baby name assistant: a magical method to find the perfect name for your baby” (Harmony, Revised Edition, 2013).

The fastest name of the year, said Wattenberg, is actually Zhavia, who was not even among the top 2,000 before moving up to become the 877 on the list of the Social Security Administration (SSA), which is published every year in May. [10 popular baby names and what they mean]

“In a way, [Zhavia] is more representative of what’s happening with American names than Emma,” Wattenberg said.

Rain drops names
Emma has been the most popular girl name in the United States since she hit Sophia from the first place in 2015, according to SSA data. Likewise, Liam has also been a multi-year favorite for American parents. The name has grown in popularity in the last decade, going from 75 on the list in 2008 to sixth in 2012 and the first in 2017.

Both Liam and Emma are what Wattenberg calls “names of raindrops,” which are short names dominated by vowel sounds. These names have been popular with parents in recent years, Wattenberg said, and they are becoming more so. Two other examples, Mila and Luna, quickly rose to the top of the list this year: Mila, from 30 to 14 in popularity; and Luna, from 37 to 23. [25 scientific tips to raise happy (and healthy) children]

Rounding out the rest of the top 10 for the girls were Olivia, Ava, Isabella, Sophia, Charlotte, Mia, Amelia, Harper and Evelyn. Harper is the only new name on the top 10 list in 2018 compared to 2017, although the name reached number 10 in popularity in 2016.

For the children, Noah and William filled the first three, followed by James, Oliver, Benjamin, Elijah, Lucas, Mason and Logan. Lucas is a new addition to the list of the 10 best boys, having remained at number 11 in 2017.

Celebrity Inspiration
Americans tend to name more for sound and style than for association with celebrities or pop culture characters, Wattenberg said, but the 2018 data had some surprising exceptions. The fastest-growing name, Zhavia, comes from Zhavia Ward, an 18-year-old California singer. Even more shocking, the name of Meghan (with an H) roared to 703 on the charts after languishing below the best 1,000 for years. 

No other spelling of Meghan became more popular, Wattenberg said. 

“Making a name that sounds like a ‘mom’ name is not easy,” said Wattenberg.

The royal association adds an interesting twist to the story of Meghan-with-an-H. Megan’s original spelling comes from Wales, Wattenberg said, where it was a diminutive for Margaret. The spelling with an H comes from the 1977 novel “The Thorn Birds”, which features a character of Irish descent named Meghann. The author simply modified the Welsh name with a pseudo-Irish spelling, Wattenberg said. “The Thorn Birds” was a bestseller, and a 1983 miniseries based on the book was a great success; The slightly Irish spelling of Meghan suddenly became popular among American babies.

 Even Thanos, the genocidal villain of the new Avengers movies, lent his name to 13 American babies in 2018.

Baby Names