Predictions: Soon-to-Be Top 20 Names

For many parents, the national top 20 names are the point of “too popular,” the point at which a name gets crossed off the list. But the top 20 can change faster than you’d think.

Between 2011 and 2016, there were five girls’ names and four new boys’ names that appeared on the top 20, and three of those jumped more than 40 points to make the list (Oliver for boys [from #78 in 2011 to #12 in 2016], Harper [#54 to #10] and Scarlett [#80 to #18] for girls). For expectant parents who don’t spend a lot of time around groups of babies and toddlers, it can be hard to guess which “up-and-coming” names are likely to hit the top of the charts in the next few years.

If you’d like to avoid your child’s name hitting the top 20 in the next five years, here are my best guesses as to which names you might want to avoid.

For girls (in alphabetical order)

My “sure bets”

    Aria. This name’s got a winning first letter (19 of the top 100 girls’ names last year began with A) and the popular -IA ending, two factors which likely accounted for its initial entry to the top 1000 (in the year 2000) and the fact that it ranked #356 in 2010. But its race up the charts is almost certainly due to its association with the scrappy heroine of TV’s Game of Thrones (whose name is actually spelled Arya). It was #23 in 2016, given to almost 7000 baby girls, and no matter what happens to the character, it seems a safe bet that parents will continue to use her name.
    Eleanor. With two “Elle”s (Isabella and Ella) already in the top 20, Eleanor/Ellie feels more familiar than it is. It only ranked #41 in 2016, but the number of little girls getting the name has more than doubled in the last five years, and it’s jumped 20+ places up the charts every year since 2011. Style-wise, it’s attractive to parents seeking alternatives to mega-hits Abigail and Emily, and adding the “Elle” sound just seals the deal.
    Penelope. Like Aria, this name’s jump from slow riser to mega-stardom came with a Hollywood edge, but Penelope’s is largely due to celebrity usage. Starlet Penelope Cruz started its rise back up the charts in 2001, the year she appeared in four leading roles; and when Kourtney Kardashian used it for her daughter in 2013, Penelope jumped from #125 to #56, and has risen steadily ever since, charting at #27 in 2016.

My “very likelies”

    Adeline. You can blame Madison for this one. Sitting in the top 10 from 1997-2014, it sent parents looking for similar names, and drew both Madeline (w/spelling Madelyn, currently ranked #62) and Addison (which peaked at #11 in 2007 and is now #29) up the charts. Madison and Madeline sparked the nickname Maddie; Addison sparked the nickname Addie. And so Adeline appeared on parents’ radar. In the last 3 years, it’s jumped from #219 to #63, with the number of baby girls getting the name nearly tripling. It’s still a ways off from the top 20, but I would not be at all surprised to see it get there.
    Nora. In 2003, this name started creeping back up the charts after sitting comfortably in the high 300s or low 400s since the 1970s. it entered the top 100 in 2013, and since then has jumped from #83 to #36. With its distinctive sound and stylistic similarity to hits like Emily and Grace, it could easily make the top 20 in the next few years.
    Riley. The original spelling of a name that appears in the top 1000 four different ways (the others being Rylee, Ryleigh, and Rylie), this name appeared to be sliding back down the charts after peaking at #38 in 2009. Then came Pixar’s Inside Out, with its relatable young heroine, and the name surged higher than it’s ever ranked before, up to #22. It may trend back down the ranks again, but it’s also a worthy successor to Addison, Avery, and the other boys’-names-for-girls that are starting to fade.

My “outside contenders”

    Hazel. Jumping more than 40 places to #63 in the year after the film The Fault in Our Stars was released, Hazel no doubt owes some of its popularity to its main character, but it’s also a perfectly on-trend name in many ways. A nature name and vintage classic, with the uncommon “Z” to lend it a bit of pizazz, this name stood at #52 in 2016 and has all the elements to keep rising.
    Stella. With Isabella and Ella both in the top 20, this name’s primary associations have shifted for many parents from A Streetcar Named Desire to “that fantastic –ella sound.” It hit the top 100 in 2010 and just entered the top 50 in 2016, so might take a bit longer to make it to the top 20, but I would not be at all surprised to see it there by 2021.
    – Violet. A slow and steady rise for this one, with its long vowels and the ending popularized by Charlotte and Scarlett; it’s climbed 20 places in the last 3 years, from #67 to #47. But V is a fantastically popular letter at the moment, featured in 4 of the top 20 girls’ names from 2016, so this one seems very likely to keep climbing.

For boys (in alphabetical order)

My “sure bets”

    Henry. A vintage favorite that’s never really been “out of fashion” (it bottomed out in the 140s in the 1990s), Henry has been in the top 50 since 2012, jumping up between 5 and 10 places every year, and was #22 in 2016. It’s almost certain to be in the top 20 in the next year or two, wouldn’t be at all surprised to see it reach the top 10.
    Owen. Ranked #23 in 2016, its highest rank ever; this one entered the top 100 in 2002 and floated around between 50 and 60 for the better part of a decade before taking off in the last two or three years. It’s on trend sound-wise, has a friendly Celtic feel and is easy to spell and pronounce; another name that might well make it all the way to the top.
    Sebastian. Another name that’s had a fire lit under it in the last few years, Sebastian entered the top 100 in 2000 and sat comfortably in the bottom half until 2013, when it jumped from #64 to #45. One of a short list of boys’ names pronounced similarly in Spanish and English, Sebastian might be riding the same wave that’s brought Daniel back to the top of the charts; it’s also got a touch of the complexity that could appeal to fans of long-time favorite Alexander.

My “very likelies.”

    Carter. Parents’ interest in Anglo surnames and occupational names was one of the reasons Mason rose to the top of the charts, and Carter is showing every sign of following in its footsteps. It entered the top 100 in 2004, hit the top 50 in 2009 and has risen about 5 places every year since then. It did decline a bit in 2016, but was still given to more than 10,000 babies; whether it breaks the top 20 barrier in 2017 might depend on whether its most salient association is the former President, the kids’ clothing line, or Jay-Z.
    Grayson. With a bit of Mason, a bit of Jayden, and more than a hint of girls’ favorite Grace, this name might be one of the perfect “trend names” of the moment. It’s been rising steadily through the ranks, and while only at #37 in 2016, has nearly doubled its numbers in the last five years.
    Julian. Like Sebastian, part of this name’s appeal may be its crossover potential for Spanish-speaking families; but it’s also just a name that’s familiar (because of Julia and Julie) without being overused. It was #39 in 2016, its highest rank ever. Has been a slow climber through the 2000s but might be ready to accelerate its rise.
    Samuel. One of the dozen classic boys’ names that’s never been out of the top 100 (its lowest rank was #91 in 1960), Samuel has sat between #20 and #30 since 1996 without ever breaking into the teens. It’s familiar without being dated, works in many languages and has cultural associations ranging from athletes and musicians to politicians and writers; but it might also just be too “ordinary” to take off. Only time will tell.

My “outside contenders.”

    Asher. Another name, like Grayson, that combines several trendy notes. It’s Biblical; its sound is familiar while also being distinctive for boys; and its –er ending makes it sound like a surname or occupational name. In less than a decade, it jumped from #206 to #71, with the number of boys receiving the name tripling. It’s unlikely to reach the top 20 in the next year or two, but might very well be there by 2021.
    Lincoln. While this name has been on the national radar for a long time (and never out of the top 1000), it’s never seen much use as a name until the last few years, entering the top 500 in 2005. Whether its continued rise in popularity is due to the Steven Spielberg movie (2012, the year before the name broke the top 1000), Teen Mom, or just the juxtaposition of a search for surname names and an inclination toward idealistic patriotism, it ranked #50 in 2016.
    Mateo. A name with roots in Spanish, Italian, and Serbo-Croatian, that’s been used by celebrities including Colin Firth and Benjamin Bratt, and that has been flying up the charts in the last few year (jumping from #106 in 2014 to #59 in 2016). Even as Matthew begins its decline (it was #15 in 2016, among the lowest ranks it’s held since 1971), this form seems primed to rise.