Most Popular American Names Over the 20th Century

As years go on, the list of top 10 names in North America seem to change more frequently. This is a digital-based world that we live in, and a trendy name can catch on a lot faster than it used to. Throughout the 20th century, though, there were many names that remained constant in both the boys’ and girls’ categories. Things would change up toward the later part of the century, but many of the popular names remained.

What were those names, though? It might be hard to remember since it seems we’re so far removed from the 20th century now, but we still see many people walking around with names from the previous century. Let’s take a look at a few of those names that seemed like they would withstand the test of time due to their popularity from 1900 to 1999.


Mary wasn’t just the most popular name for girls during the 20th century, it was the runaway winner. It was the most popular girl’s name for every decade from the 1900s to the 1950s until it was finally surpassed in the 1960s. Even then, it remained the second-most popular name before almost completely falling off a cliff during the 1970s when it didn’t crack the top 10 at all.

Mary has not really seen a resurgence since it vanished from the top of the rankings, but that doesn’t mean that it’s gone forever. It still typically ranks from anywhere in the 100 to 150 range for most popular names of the year, sitting alongside the likes of Molly and Emilia as sort of a tribute to a bygone era of baby names. Overall, there were more than double the amount of Marys born in the 20th century than any other girl’s name.


While Mary is a biblical name that pays tribute to the Virgin Mary, there are several other Biblical names that have been able to maintain their popular status into the 21st century. The first among those is James, which was the most popular name in the 20th century by a narrow margin and still cracks the top 10 in most years to this day.


The next of the biblical names is John, which is one of the more versatile names out there and gets criticized by some as not being unique, but it’s a tried and true name that still sounds good all these years later. John was battling with James for the top spot in the 20th century, though it doesn’t quite get the same type of love today as James does. John is usually around the 25th most popular name compared to the top 10.


Continuing with names in the ‘J’ category, Jennifer is one that was a bit of a late bloomer and remained popular for multiple decades before finally losing its status as a top name. Almost out of nowhere, Jennifer surpassed the likes of Mary, Susan, and Lisa to claim the top name of the 1970s, which melted into the 1980s. Jennifer remained popular into the 1990s and finished as one of the top three girl names of the 20th century. As for these days, you might not meet a Jennifer that was born after 2010.


Robert is one of those fascinating names because it appears in the Bible, but doesn’t have a Biblical meaning, really. Despite that, it’s considered an ‘old-timey’ name, though you’d be surprised at just how common it still is today. Robert was the second-most popular name throughout the 20th century, and remains part of the yearly top 75. Robert means ‘bright flame’ and millions of people liked it enough to make it one of the most popular names of all time.


Like Jay-Z said, from Jackson, Tyson, and Jordan, you can name a famous Michael off the top of your head, take your pick. Michael is another one of those names like Jacob that has had immense popularity in just about every year imaginable. It’s a Biblical name that appears multiple times throughout, and it sat as one of the four most common names of the 20th century. In almost every decade’s top 10 list, Michael would be right there, and that’s still true into the 2020s and beyond.

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