Stephen or Steven? Lindsey or Lindsay? The ‘right’ way to spell 21 of the most popular names in the US

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Some spellings of baby names are more popular than others. Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Knowledge Universe
  • Baby names with variant spellings can be tricky: Which do you choose?
  • In the US, Alan is a more popular baby name than Allen or Allan, for example.
  • We compared the most common variations of popular baby names to see which spelling parents choose most.

Naming your child is a unique experience – linguist Steven Pinker called it “the only opportunity that most people get to anoint an entity in the world with a word of their choosing.”

That means that whatever a parent decides on for their baby’s name, the rest of the world pretty much has to go along with it – even when they choose an unusual spelling.

But what constitutes an unusual way to spell a name, and what’s the “normal” way to spell them?

We compared the most popular variations of common names – think Shawn or Shaun instead of the more popular Sean – using data from Names.org, which tracks the names of babies born in the US dating back to 1880.

The results were surprising: According to the records, there have been 345,000 babies named Alan born in the US since 1880, compared to 268,000 named Allen and just 94,000 named Allan.

Meanwhile, girls named Makayla outnumbered those named Michaela by more than 50,000, making it by far the most popular variant of that name.

The names we chose to compare come from the Social Security Administration‘s list of the 100 most popular boys’ and girls’ names in US history, as well as a few other popular names with several spelling variations with at least 10,000 representatives.

Read on to whether Stephen is more popular than Steven, whether Lindsey beats Lindsay, and whether Philip or Phillip reigns supreme.


Alan, Allen, and Allan

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Allison, Alison, Allyson, and Alyson

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Ann and Anne

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Brian and Bryan

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Brittany, Brittney, Britney, and Brittani

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Carl and Karl

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Catherine, Katherine, Kathryn, Katharine, and Catharine

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Duane, Dwayne, and Dewayne

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Elizabeth and Elisabeth

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Erica, Erika, and Ericka

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Jeffrey, Jeffery, Geoffrey, and Jeffry

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Kaitlyn, Katelyn, Caitlin, Kaitlin, and Caitlyn

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Lindsey, Lindsay, and Lyndsey

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Louis and Lewis

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Makayla, Mikayla, Michaela, Mikaela, Micaela, and McKayla

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Mark and Marc

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Megan, Meghan, Meagan, and Meaghan

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Philip and Phillip

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Sarah and Sara

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Sean, Shawn, and Shaun

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Steven and Stephen

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