A mix of older and newer names will make your story feel authentic to readers. You can give characters names popular to the year or decade they were born in. Most likely characters will have popular names from prior decades too. Boys often carry on family names.
Below are the top twelve U.S. names for each decade, starting with the 1930s. You can use them for your characters who are grandmas, parents, children, teens, and newborns, depending on the age of your character.
I used a Social Security report, Popular Baby Names by Decade, for the top twelve names below. The report lists the 200 most popular names in each decade, ranked from highest frequency used to lowest.
The Social Security website has several reports that can help you choose a character’s name.
Change in Popularity. It shows names’ increase or drop in frequency from 2016 to 2017. More important, you can enter a name to see the name’s ranking from 2000 to 2017.
Top Five Names. It gives the top five names used by year from 1918.
Popular Names by Birth Year. You can select the year and how many names you want the site to return from 20 to 1,000. The names will be ranked by frequency of use. You can also enter a name to list its popularity over the years.
Popular Names by State. This sort gives you the option of receiving the top 100 names for each State by year or receiving all states and the top 5 names for each.
Nine Decades of the Twelve Most Popular Names
A few names remain in the top twelve over several decades. For example, David has remained in the top twelve boys’ names since the 1930s. For girls’ names, turnover is greater than it is for boys’ names.
1930 – 1939:
Boys: Robert, James, John, William, Richard, Charles, Donald, George, Thomas, Joseph, David, Edward
Girls: Mary, Betty, Barbara, Shirley, Patricia, Dorothy, Joan, Margaret, Nancy, Helen, Carol, Joyce
1940 – 1949:
Boys: James, Robert, John, William, Richard, David, Charles, Thomas, Michael, Ronald, Larry, Donald
Girls: Mary, Linda, Barbara, Patricia, Carol, Sandra, Nancy, Sharon, Judith, Susan, Betty, Carolyn
1950 – 1959:
Boys: James, Michael, Robert, John, David, William, Richard, Thomas, Mark, Charles, Steven, Gary
Girls: Mary, Linda, Patricia, Susan, Deborah, Barbara, Debra, and Karen, Nancy, Donna, Cynthia, Sandra
1960 – 1969:
Boys: Michael, David, John, James, Robert, Mark, William, Richard, Thomas, Jeffrey, Steven, Joseph
Girls: Lisa, Mary, Susan, Karen, Kimberly, Patricia, Linda, Donna, Michelle, Cynthia, Sandra, Deborah
1970 – 1979:
Boys: Michael, Christopher, Jason, David, James, John, Robert, Brian, William, Matthew, Joseph, Daniel
Girls: Jennifer, Amy, Melissa, Michelle, Kimberly, Lisa, Angela, Heather, Stephanie, Nicole, Jessica, Elizabeth
1980 – 1989:
Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, David, James, Daniel, Robert, John, Joseph, Jason, Justin
Girls: Jessica, Jennifer, Amanda, Ashley, Sarah, Stephanie, Melissa, Nicole, Elizabeth, Heather, Tiffany, Michele
1990 – 1999:
Boys: Michael, Christopher, Matthew, Joshua, Jacob, Nicholas, Andrew, Daniel, Tyler, Joseph, Brandon, David
Girls: Jessica, Ashley, Emily, Sarah, Samantha, Amanda, Brittany, Elizabeth, Taylor, Megan, Hannah, Kayla
Boys: Jacob, Michael, Joshua, Matthew, Daniel, Christopher, Andrew, Ethan, Joseph, William, Anthony, David
Girls: Emily, Madison, Emma, Olivia, Hannah, Abigail, Isabella, Samantha, Elizabeth, Ashley, Alexis, Sarah
Boys: Noah, Jacob, Mason, Liam, William, Ethan, Michael, Alexander, James, Daniel, Elijah, Aiden
Girls: Emma, Sophia, Olivia, Isabella, Ava, Mia, Emily, Abigail, Madison, Elizabeth, Charlotte, Chloe
A help to make your characters’ names more authentic. Click to tweet.
How old is your hero and heroine in your current story and what have you named them?
Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.
Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.
What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?
I often look up the 100 most popular names in the year my characters are born when I need help. I also have a couple of baby name books on my shelves because I sometimes like to see what the meaning is and how it plays into the story! Great post!
I agree, Emily, looking up the meaning is a good idea. I should do that more.
Zoe, you always have the best blog topics!!
Thanks, Regina, I appreciate your encouragement.
Great info, Zoe! I have always loved knowing names and their meanings.
Since I write Bible fiction. I love researching the Hebrew names and their meanings online. Many of the Bible people’s names give clues to their personalities/lives that really enrich the Bible stories as you read them from the scriptures. For example, in my first book about Ruth, the moabitess, she marries the Hebrew man Mahlon. I found out his name means “sickly” which provided valuable clues as to why he may have died at a young age, leaving Ruth as a widow before she returned to Bethlehem with Naomi and married Boaz.
Even if I don’t include the meaning of a character’s name in the story, I know what it means and it serves as a reminder of their personality as I write. If the meaning of their name is important to the story, i will always weave it into the story – especially if the character experiences a change in their personality and receives a new name in the story – Remember when Jesus changed Peter’s name from Cephas (a stone) to Peter (a rock) giving valuable information about the changes that were taking place in Peter’s heart as he learned to be a mighty spiritual leader.
I think naming the characters is one of the most important parts of the story writing process and should always be given much thought to ensure it fits the person’s personality, their nationality and the time period in which they live (in historical fiction).
Bonnie, names were so important in Biblical times. I always new my name Zoe was Greek for life, learned it means the abundant life Jesus promised when I became a Christian.