The Social Security Administration has been tracking the most popular baby names in the United States since the 1880s. Whether a name was influenced by pop culture or just rolled off the tongue, data shows some fascinating trends — including one incredibly popular moniker.
The name Michael first cracked the top 10 of the national baby name rankings in 1943, and was quickly on its way to becoming the most popular boy's name in America. From 1954 to 1998, Michael held the No. 1 spot on the SSA’s list 42 times. In other words, for four straight decades, parents were keen on naming their baby boys Michael. It started its descent in 1999, when it slipped down to No. 2, but didn’t slide out of the top 10 until 2017.
The name peaked in 1998. That year, there were 36,615 baby boys in the United States named Michael. In the past century, there have been 4,323,074 Michaels born in the U.S.
While there is more of a quest for individuality today, it used to be more common for baby boys to be named after their fathers. Family names stuck around for generations, and often stemmed from biblical influence.
It’s traditional to name boys and girls after relatives to keep names in the family, as well as to add meaning. It’s much less common, however, for daughters to be named after their mothers than it is for sons to be their father’s junior.
Perhaps this is why there hasn’t been a single girls name with the staying power of Michael. Mary, Lisa, Jennifer and Jessica have all claimed the top name for girls in the decades that Michael remained at the top of the charts for boys.
Jennifer and Jessica topped popularity charts from the 1970s to the 1990s. During those years, popular culture might have swayed name choices more so than the Bible options like Mary and Lisa.
The name Jenny was used for the lead female character in the 1970 movie “Love Story,” and Jennifer Aniston starred in “Friends,” which debuted in 1994. As for Jessica, there were two actresses who won Oscars for their acting in that time: Jessica Lange in 1983 and Jessica Tandy in 1990.
Even though Michael reigned number one for four decades, other top names came and went throughout the years. Did yours make the list? Here are the most popular baby names throughout the years.