Baby naming trends - and what it says about us

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Analysing baby name trends provides an excellent barometer of the national context, popular culture, social trends and generational change. We have just compiled the national Baby Names list for 2015 and it reveals 5 key trends at play in naming newborns.

1. Thinking alike

Around 1 in 10 Australian babies last year was given one of the Top 10 baby names- a total of 30,581 babies. Babies are 20 times more likely to be given these one of these top names than names at the bottom of the list. In fact more babies were given one of the Top 25 names than were given any of the next 100 names combined.

Oliver was the top boys’ name in all 6 states (NSW, VIC, QLD, SA, WA, TAS) while William was the top boy baby name in the 2 territories (NT, ACT).

Olivia was the most popular baby girls’ name in the three most populous states (NSW, VIC, QLD) while Charlotte was top in SA, TAS and NT with the names Emily and Amelia being the most popular in WA and the ACT respectively.

2. Traditional over trendy

There is a ‘Hundred-Year Return’ theme taking place, with many of the top names of today also amongst the top names a century ago, while names of a few decades ago have fallen out of favour. Today’s parents are not choosing names of their own generation. Of the top names of a generation ago Nicole, Michelle, Kylie, Rachel, Lisa and Belinda, Peter, Robert, Paul, Chris, Phillip and Scott, not one appears in the Top 100 list today. Rather, century-old names dominate the Top 10 Baby Names list. William is an example of the ‘hundred-year’ return, having ranked 2nd overall in NSW in the 1910s and ranking in top place again in NSW from 2009 onwards. Jack climbed up to 5th place in the 1920s before seeing a steep decline from the 1940s to 1970s, with a marked resurgence over the last decade and making it to top spot, and Oliver, Ethan and Thomas have similarly returned to popularity. Grace was a popular girls’ name at the turn of the 20th century, becoming almost extinct from the 1910s to 1970s but climbing significantly in popularity since the 1980s with the rise to the Top 10 and Charlotte, Ruby and Ava have followed similar trends.

3. Flowing girls names, short boys’ names

Parents are choosing longer, more flowing names for their daughters and shorter, “solid-sounding” names for their sons. Boys are almost three times as likely as girls to have a single-syllable name and girls are twice as likely to have three syllables in their names. There are 9 girls’ names in the Top 100 with 4 syllables (Amelia, Isabella, Elizabeth, Indiana, Ariana, Alexandra, Penelope, Victoria and Emilia) compared to just one for boys (Alexander).

The softer-sounding girls’ name and firmer sounding boys’ name trend is also evident from the use of vowels and consonants. 18 of the Top 20 girls’ names end with a vowel or ‘y’, with half (10) of these ending with the letter ‘a’. Only 2 of the Top 20 names ends with a consonant (Madison and Scarlett). On the boy’s list, however, 18 of the top 20 end with a consonant sound with Charlie and Henry the only names ending with a vowel or “y”. Girls’ names are not only most likely to end in a vowel but to begin with one too. 21 of the top 50 girls’ names end in a vowel compared to just 11 of the top 50 boys’ names.

4. Growing interchangeability

Only one name in the Top 100 appears on both the girls’ and boys’ list in its unchanged form – Charlie (18th for boys’ and 74th for girls’). The 2015 list does however show an increased number of interchangeable names such as girl’s names Harper and Jade being used for boys and from the boys’ list Riley, Tyler, Luca, Ashton, Bailey and Alex being used for girls.

Driving this trend is the use of surnames as first names which don’t have a particular link with either males or females such as Mackenzie, Taylor, Hayden, Flynn, Addison, Mason, Morgan and Cooper.

Another strong trend is using place names as first names such as Madison, Austin, Jordan, Eden, Hunter & Braxton, and again because of the gender-neutral nature of these names, there is some interchangeability.

5. A royal influence

The original category of celebrities – the royals – have not only captured the loyalty and affections of modern Australians but continue to significantly influence their choice in baby names.

Prince William’s popularity first placed William in the Top 10 in 2001 and the name’s popularity has grown significantly since then. In 2011, the year of the royal wedding, William became the most popular boy’s name Australia-wide and maintained this position until 2012 when Oliver took the top spot.. The birth of Prince George (George Alexander Louis) in July 2013 has positively impacted the use of George by Australian parents, increasing George’s rank from 71st in 2012 to 60th in 2013 and 42nd in 2014 – its highest ranking since the 1950s.

The birth of the royal princess in May Charlotte Elizabeth Diana will also contribute to the royal baby name trend. Like George’s rank, which increased from 71st to 42nd in 2014, we are likely to see a resurgence of the name Charlotte, and see her regain first position in 2016. Because Olivia had only 123 more occurrences than Charlotte , it is likely that Charlotte will achieve the top spot next year, and maintain that top spot for a few years to come.

When Elizabeth is ranked 53rd on the Top 100 list, we can also expect that name to rise in prevalence. And Eliza (currently ranked 81st) may also see a rise due to the influence of the Royal Princess, Diana, a name which peaked in the 1940s and again in the 60’s is also due for a resurgence, and with the influence of the Royal Princess is likely to achieve it as well as an increase in rank in the years to come.


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