Making use of information given out by the Social Security Administration, I created a list of popular names by decade while I was editing a novel for a publisher in 2016. Why would I do that? Well, the list was needed for two reasons.
Firstly, the issue came up because the author had given elderly characters very modern names—some that weren’t even heard of until the aughts. The characters were people who supposedly were born long ago but had hip, current monikers. The names were anachronistic (out of place in time), and they were incongruous (they just didn’t fit the characters).
Secondly, and shockingly, the publisher did not have any list like that to help their authors be sure to use names that were appropriate for their characters’ ages. My thought was that every publisher should provide resources to their authors, and this was a simple one to create and share.
Popular names by decade
So while helping that author and the publisher, in addition to pointing out the issue, I went beyond my job as the editor. I generated a list of popular names by decade and sent it to the author and to the publisher. That way, not only would that particular author benefit, but so would every author that publisher worked with from that point onward.
The list has the most popular names from each decade from 1920 to 2000. Each decade’s list has about 100 names of both boys and girls on it.
If you’ve ever wondered about popular names by decade, you’re not alone. This list provides you with a comprehensive look at the top names over the years. You’ll never give your characters an anachronistic name because you’ll make use of this list.
Historical characters, celebrities, and culture
In addition to looking at the popular names by decade, you might also consider using historical references to choose a name for your character. If you’re writing a novel in the historical fiction genre or a business fable, you should keep in mind that many names come from historical figures. For example, women named Tammy or Debby are most likely to be in their fifties. In the early 1980s, Jonathan and Jennifer became some of the most popular baby names. This was thanks to popular TV shows like Hart to Hart.
In addition to celebrities, baby names have become increasingly uncommon and creative. Some celebrities’ names have crossed gender lines as well.
Parents often choose names related to their culture and country of origin. Many immigrants to the United States changed their names at Ellis Island in order to assimilate. But many of them reidentified with their old country names, resulting in a wide variety of name choices. People with Irish heritage often choose names from their ancestral ancestry. African Americans are also choosing names from their native continent.
Sharing the list of popular names by decade
Because it would be a shame to let such a helpful resource benefit such a limited number of people, I decided to share the list of popular names by decade with my clients, and then with my subscribers. When I first made my $2,000 series available to the people who signed up for my emails, I promised them some exclusive content—stuff that I would share only with them.
For several years, that list was available only to my subscribers. Then I changed my email series to focus on serving nonfiction authors. If you write fiction, you no longer have to sign up for my subscribers list to get that list of names. You can download it here for free. Just click the image of the scroll below.
Download the list