In “A Dictionary Of First Names,” Patrick Hanks –alexicographer, onomastician, and corpus linguist — and a team of authors have identifiedthe origin and meaning of more than 6,000 first names.
We have listed these meanings and origins for the 100 most popular names in the United States over the past 100 years. Our list alternates between male and female names with the most popular names appearing first.
The names were selected from Social Security data from 169,233,019 male births and 165,941,917 female births collected between 1914 and 2013. Those with highest number of instances are considered the most popular.
Here are the original meanings of these common names, according to Hanks and his coatuhors Hardcastle and Hodges.
English form of the name in the New Testament of two of Christ’s disciples,
James son of Zebedee and James son of Alphaeus. In Britain, James is a royal name associated with the Scottish house of Stewart: James I of Scotland, a patron of the arts and an energetic ruler.
A New Testament form of Miriam, which St Jerome derives from elements meaning “drop of the sea'” (Latin “stilla maris”). Mary was the name of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, who has been an extremely common name among early Christians and several saints among them.
Form of the Hebrew name Johanan “God is gracious.” The name is of great importance in early Christianity and was given to John the Baptist, John the Apostle, and the author of the fourth gospel. Many saints and a total of 23 popes also had the name.
Feminine form of Patricius or Patrick, the apostle and patron saint of Ireland (c.389 — 461), Gaelic Pádraig. As a young man he was captured and enslaved by raiders from Ireland. He is also credited with codifying the laws of Ireland.
French name of Germanic origin. Derived from the nearly synonymous elements hrōd “fame” + berht “bright, famous.” Two dukes of Normandy in the 11th century had the name: the father of William the Conqueror and his eldest son. The altered short form Bob is very common, but Hob and Dob, which were common in the Middle Ages and gave rise to surnames, are extinct.
Of Celtic (Arthurian) origin, a Cornish form of the name of King Arthur’s unfaithful Guinevere. At the beginning of the 20th century, the name was merely a Cornish curiosity, but since then it has become enormously popular all over the English-speaking world.
Form of a common biblical name (meaning ‘”who is like God?” in Hebrew). In the Middle Ages, Michael was regarded as captain of the heavenly host (see Revelation 12:7 — 9), symbol of the Church Militant, and patron of soldiers. He was often depicted bearing a flaming sword.
Made popular by Queen Elizabeth I of England (1533 — 1603). In the 20th century it again became extremely fashionable, partly because it was the name of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon (1900 — 2002), who in 1936 became Queen Elizabeth and achieved great public affection as Queen Mother for nearly half a century. Even more influentially, it is the name of her daughter Queen Elizabeth II (b. 1926).
Derived from Germanic wil ‘”will, desire” + helm “helmet, protection.” Despite being the name of William the Conqueror, it held favour with the “conquered” population. In the first century after the Conquest it was the most common male name.
It is first recorded in the 19th century and may be a shortened form of Belinda, an adoption of Spanish linda “pretty,” or a Latinate derivative of any of various other Germanic female names ending in -lind meaning “weak, tender, soft.”
Biblical name, borne by the greatest of all the kings of Israel, whose history is recounted with great vividness in the first and second books of Samuel and elsewhere. As a boy he killed the giant Philistine Goliath with his slingshot.
Greek for “foreign woman.”
Germanic origin, derived from roc “power” + hard “strong, hardy.”
Vernacular form of Susanna, a New Testament form of the Hebrew name Shoshana (from shoshan “lily,” which in modern Hebrew also means “rose”).
English form of the biblical Hebrew name Yosef, meaning “(God) shall add (another son).” The favourite son of Jacob had this name, and his brothers became jealous of him and sold him into slavery (Genesis 37). In the New Testament, Joseph is the husband of the Virgin Mary.
From Hebrew margaron “pearl.” The name was always understood to mean “pearl”‘ throughout the Middle Ages.
From German karl, meaning “free man,” akin to Old English ceorl “man.” The name, Latin form Carolus, owed its popularity in medieval Europe to the Frankish leader Charlemagne, who in 800 established himself as Holy Roman Emperor.
Apparently of Shakespearean origin. This was the name of the daughter of Shylock in The Merchant of venice (1596). Shakespeare’s source has not been established, but he presumably intended it to pass as a typically Jewish name. It may be from a biblical name that appeared in Shakespeare’s day as Jesca or Iscah (Genesis 11:29).
New Testament name from one of Christ’s twelve apostles, referred to as “Thomas, called Didymus.” Didymos is the Greek word for “twin,” and the name is the Greek form of an Aramaic byname meaning “twin.” The given name has always been popular throughout Christendom, in part because St Thomas’s doubts have made him seem a very human character.
Usual English form of Dorothea. The name was not used in the Middle Ages, but was taken up in the 15th century and became common thereafter.
From the Greek name Khristophoros, from Khristos “Christ” + pherein “to bear.” This was popular among early Christians, conscious of the fact that they were metaphorically bearing Christ in their hearts.
Biblical name of the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. According to the Book of Genesis, she was originally called Sarai (possibly meaning “contentious” in Hebrew) but had her name changed by God to the more auspicious Sarah “princess” in token of a greater blessing.
Biblical name meaning “God is my judge” in Hebrew. The tale of Daniel was a favourite in the Middle Ages, often represented in miracle plays.
Danish equivalent of Katherine. Katherine is an English form of the name of a saint martyred at Alexandria in 307. The story has it that she was condemned to be broken on the wheel for her Christian belief. From an early date, it was associated with the Greek adjective katharos “pure.”
Form of the name of the Christian evangelist, author of the first gospel in the New Testament. His name is a form of the Hebrew name Mattathia, meaning “gift of God,” which is fairly common in the Old Testament.
Of uncertain origin. From the 18th century it is clearly used as a pet form of Ann (Nan), but it may originally have been from the name Annis, a vernacular form of Agnes. Today it is an independent name, and was especially popular in America in the 1930s, 40s, and 50s.
Anglicized form of Gaelic Domhnall. The final -d of the Anglicized form derives partly from misinterpretation by English speakers of the Gaelic pronunciation, and partly from association with Germanic-origin names such as Ronald.
Pet form of Elizabeth, dating from the 18th century. In the 17th century it is also found occasionally as a pet form of Beatrice. It is now used as a name in its own right.
Form Antonius, which is of uncertain origin. The spelling with -th- (not normally reflected in the pronunciation) represents a learned but erroneous attempt to associate it with Greek anthos “flower.” Various early saints had the name, most notably an Egyptian hermit monk regarded as the founder of Christian monasticism.
Pet form of Elizabeth.
Originally a nickname meaning “small.” Pre-eminently this is the name of the saint who is generally regarded, with St Peter, as co-founder of the Christian Church. He is the author of the fourteen epistles to churches and individuals which form part of the New Testament.
Short form of Alessandra, from Alessandro/Alexander. Alexander in Greek means “defender of men.”
In Arthurian legend, King Mark is the ruler of Cornwall to whom Isolde is brought as a bride by Tristan; his name was presumably of Celtic origin, perhaps from “horse.”
English vernacular form of the name borne in classical legend the wife of Menelaus whose seizure by the Trojan prince Paris sparked off the Trojan War. May be connected with “ray” or “sunbeam”; from Greek helios “sun.”
From the Greek Georgios, a derivative of georgos “farmer,” from ge “earth” and ergein “to work.” The name wasn’t used widely until George I came to the throne in 1714.
Originally male but now an increasingly popular given name for girls. Comes from any of numerous places in England named with Old English æsc “ash” + lēah “wood.”
From Stephen, the name of the first Christian martyr whose feast is accordingly celebrated next after Christ’s own (26 December). His name is derived from the Greek word stephanos “garland, crown.”
Of recent origin (not found as a name before the 1920s). Derived from the Italian vocabulary word donna “lady” and also used as a feminine form of Donald.
Anglicized form of Cinaed, probably meaning “born of fire,” and Cainnech, a byname meaning “handsome.”
Thought to come from Kimberley, the town in South Africa that was the scene of fighting during the Boer War, bringing it to public attention at the end of the 19th century.
Form of the Greek name Andreas, a short form of any of various compound names derived from andr- “man, warrior.” In the New Testament this is the name of the first disciple to be called by Jesus.
Not found much before the end of the 19th century. It probably originated as a short form of Caroline. Caroline was used by certain gentry families from the 17th century onwards, no doubt in honour of the Stuart kings named Charles.
Derived from ēad “prosperity, riches” + weard “guard.” This has been one of the most successful of all Old English names, in frequent use from before the Conquest to the present day, and even being exported into other European languages.
Feminine form of Michel, the French form of Michael (meaning “who is like God?” in Hebrew). It was popular in the 1970s and 80s, possibly influenced in part by a Beatles song with this name as its title (1966).
Meaning “God is salvation” in Hebrew, it is borne in the Bible by the Israelite leader who took command of the Children of Israel after the death of Moses and led them to take possession of the Promised Land. The name enjoyed a surge of popularity in the 1990s.
From the Latin name Aemilia (probably from aemulus “rival”). It was not common in the Middle Ages but revived in the 19th century.
Perhaps from an Old Celtic word meaning “high” or “noble.”
A 17th-century literary coinage from the Latin amanda “loveable, fit to be loved,” from amare “to love.” The name enjoyed considerable popularity in the mid-20th century.
From Kelvin, which was first used in the 1920s. Taken from the name of the Scottish river that runs through Glasgow into the Clyde.
From the Greek word melissa “honey bee.” It is the name of the good witch who releases Rogero from the power of the bad witch Alcina in Ariosto’s narrative poem Orlando Furioso (1532).
From Old Norse Rögnvaldr (composed of regin “advice, decision” (also, “the gods”) + valdr “ruler”). This name most used where Scandinavian influence was strong.
Biblical name meaning “bee” in Hebrew.
Of the Greek name Timotheos, from timē “honour” + theos “god.” This was the name of a companion of St Paul; according to tradition, he was stoned to death for denouncing the worship of Diana.
St. Laura was a 9th-century Spanish nun who met her death in a cauldron of molten lead. Laura is also the name of the woman addressed in the love poetry of the Italian poet Petrarch (Francesco Petrarca, 1304 — 74) and owes much of its subsequent popularity to this.
English form of the Greek name Iason, the leader of the Argonauts in classical mythology. The sorceress Medea fell in love with him and helped him obtain a Golden Fleece, but Jason fell in love with another woman and deserted Medea. Medea took her revenge by killing her rival, but Jason himself survived to old age.
From French Stéphanie, a variant of Stephana, which was in use among early Christians as a feminine form of Stephanus or Stephen (garland, crown).
From Geoffrey, of Germanic origin. Notable bearers include the poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400) and the chronicler Geoffrey of Monmouth (1155). Some say it’s a variant of Godfrey; others say it comes from gawia “territory,” walah “stranger,” or gisil “pledge.”
Biblical name. The Hebrew root occurs in the Bible only in the vocabulary word marbek “cattle stall,” and its connection with the name is doubtful. In any case, Rebecca was Aramean, and the name probably has a source in Aramaic.
A short form of any of the names beginning with gar “spear.” One notable bearer was the American industrialist Elbert Henry Gary (1846-1927), who gave his name to the steel town of Gary, Indiana.
From the phrase “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys” (Song of Solomon 2:1). The plant name “rose of Sharon” is used for a shrub of the genus Hypericum with yellow flowers, and also for a species of hibiscus.
From the Irish surname, Gaelic Ó Riain “descendant of Rian.” It began as a boy’s name but is also now well established in North America as a girl’s name.
From Greek Kynthia, an epithet applied to the goddess Artemis, who was supposed to have been born on Mount Kynthos. Cynthia was later used by the Roman poet Propertius as the name of the woman to whom he addressed his love poetry.
Form of the post-classical Greek personal name Nikolaos, derived from nikē “victory” + laos “people.” The spelling with -ch- first occurred as early as the 12th century.
Irish origin; traditional Anglicized form of Caitlin.
Norse origin, from ei “ever, always” (or einn “one, alone”) + ríkr “ruler.” It was introduced into Britain by Scandinavian settlers before the Norman Conquest.
Biblical name of a Moabite woman who left her people to be with her mother-in-lawi. It was used among the Puritans in England, partly because of its association with the English vocabulary word ruth meaning “compassion.”
According to Genesis, Jacob was the cunning younger twin of Esau who persuaded his brother to part with his inheritance in exchange for a bowl of soup. The derivation is described as being from Hebrew akev “heel” and to have meant “heel grabber.”
From Hebrew: “God has favoured me.”
The name of the first Christian martyr whose feast is accordingly celebrated next after Christ’s own (26 December). His name is derived from the Greek word stephanos “garland, crown.”
From Old English scīr “county, shire” or scīr “bright” + lēah “wood, clearing.” It was given by Charlotte Brontë to the heroine of her novel Shirley (1849). This literary influence fixed it firmly as a girl’s name.
Biblical name meaning “God has given.” The name is often taken as symbolic of steadfast friendship and loyalty.
Anglicized form of Old French Amee “beloved.” It may have had a different, pre-Roman, origin in classical mythology as the name of the mother of the Roman people.
A feminine form of the boy’s name Angelus, or Angel. The older form Angelis has been completely superseded by Angela.
German name meaning “free,” “trustworthy,” or “Frankish.”
It was bestowed on the first American child of English parentage, born at Roanoke, Virginia, in 1587 and has since remained in constant, if modest, use.
Originally a name for a member of the Gaelic-speaking people who came to Scotland from Ireland.
Probably a short form of names derived from Old Norse brand “sword.” Its popularity in Gaelic-speaking countries has no doubt been influenced by its similarity to Brendan.
English form of the Latin name Justinus, a derivative of Justus. Various early saints had the name, notably a 2nd century Christian apologist and a boy martyr of the 3rd century.
Invented by the Elizabethan pastoral poet Sir Philip Sidney (1554 — 86). Later taken up by Samuel Richardson for the name of the heroine of his novel Pamela (1740). In Henry Fielding’s Joseph Andrews (1742), which started out as a parody of Pamela, Fielding comments that the name is “very strange.”
From Old English brōm “broom, gorse” + dūn “hill.” There has perhaps also been some influence from the surname of the Italian American actor Marlon Brando (1924 — 2004).
French cognate of Katherine, the English form of the name of a saint martyred at Alexandria in 307. The story has it that she was condemned to be broken on the wheel for her Christian beliefs. However, the wheel fell apart and she was beheaded instead.
From German ragin “advice, decision” + mund “protector.”
Feminine form of Nicholas, derived from nikē “victory” + laos “people.”
From the post-classical Greek Gregōrios “watchful” (a derivative of gregōrein “to watch, be vigilant”). The name was a very popular one among the early Christians, who were mindful of the injunction “be sober, be vigilant” (1 Peter 5:8).
Biblical name, possibly meaning “He (God) has hearkened.”. It may also be understood as a contracted form of Hebrew sha’ulme’el meaning “asked of God.” In the case of Samuel the son of Hannah, this would be more in keeping with his mother’s statement “Because I have asked him of the Lord” (1 Samuel 1:20).
A form of the Latin Christianus “follower of Christ.” The name of Christ (Greek Khristos) is a translation of the Hebrew term Messiah “anointed.”
Biblical name. His mother Rachel died in giving birth and in her last moments named him Benoni, “son of my sorrow.” His father didn’t want such an ill-omened name and renamed him Benyamin, “son of the right hand” or “son of the south.”
Originally a diminutive of Jane. Jane is a feminine form of John. It is not a royal name. The tragic Lady Jane Grey (1537-54) was unwillingly proclaimed queen in 1553, deposed nine days later, and executed the following year.
From Latin Patricius “patrician,” the name of the apostle and patron saint of Ireland (c.389 — 461) as recorded in his Latin autobiography.
From the word denoting the hardy, brightly coloured plant (Middle English hather).
Originally a pet form of John, but now a well-established name in its own right. It is derived from the Middle English Jankin, later altered to Jackin, from Jan (a form of John) and the diminutive suffix -kin.
Of problematic and much debated origin. It arose in the United States at the end of the 18th century, possibly as a combination of Sam (from Samuel) + a newly coined feminine suffix -antha (perhaps suggested by Anthea).
An adjective denoting a devotee of the god Dionysos, a relatively late introduction to the classical pantheon. His orgiastic cult seems to have originated in Persia or elsewhere in Asia.
Altered form of Caroline. Caroline was used by certain gentry families from the 17th century onwards, no doubt in honour of the Stuart kings named Charles.
A pet form of Jeremy or Gerald. Gerald comes from gar, ger “spear” and “rule.” As a girl’s name it is a variant spelling of Gerry.
Biblical name (meaning “ewe” in Hebrew).
From alexein “to defend” + anēr “man, warrior” (genitive andros). Its use as a common given name throughout Europe, however, derives largely from the fame of Alexander the Great.
Form of Diana, who loved hunting and were therefore proud to name their daughters after the classical goddess of the chase. In Greek mythology Diana is equivalent to the Greek Artemis and is characterised as both beautiful and chaste.
From haim “home” + rīc “power, ruler.” Eight kings of England have been named Henry. Not until the 17th century did the form Henry (as opposed to Harry) become the standard vernacular form, mainly under the influence of the Latin form Henricus and French Henri.
Feminine form of Francis, originally meaning “French” or “Frenchman.”
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