18 February 2012

The names we gave to our newborn babies

Supplied by the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, the most popular names given to baby boys and girls born in this state have appeared in print. I realise this is a somewhat biased sample of baby names, given that 26% of Australian citizens were born overseas. So don’t expect too many Anastasias and Antonios.

However of those babies born here, the most popular names are usefully divided by decade, facilitating comparisons over the century since Australia became an independent, federated nation (1/1/1901). Below I have given the top ten names, for boys and for girls, for selected decades.

Girls 1900s
Ethel   Amy  Ida  Mary  Myrtle  Charlotte  Elsie  Eva  Florence  Grace

1940s  (I was born and named Helen, along with half my class at school).  Margaret  Judith   Helen   Patricia   Lynette  Barbara   Pamela   Lorraine   Beverley  Jennifer

1970s  (my children went to school, filled with Lisas and Melissas).  Michelle  Nicole  Lisa  Melissa  Kylie  Rebecca  Sarah  Amanda  Joanne  Belinda

2000s  (my grandchildren started school, with heaps of Chloes and Mias. Soft endings with vowels seem de rigueur, for girls).  Olivia  Emily  Chloe  Ella  Jessica  Isabella  Charlotte  Mia  Grace  Sarah


The boys names were more predictable and somewhat less changing. Anglo-Saxon names were more popular for the first 50 years, then much loved Biblical names remained popular for the next 60 years. Almost every male name ends in a consonant.

Boys 1900
George  Ernest  Alan  Arthur  Harold  Jack  James  John  William  Alfred

Peter  John  Robert  David  Michael  Stephen  Ian  Gregory  Paul  Gary

Matthew James Daniel Joshua Michael Thomas  Nicholas Jack  Benjamin  Luke


I think we can classify 110 years of baby names into three groups. Firstly some names like Charlotte, Amy, Grace, William and James never lost their popularity, decade after decade. Secondly some names were very popular 100 years ago and have re-emerged only recently eg Ruby, Sarah. And thirdly some names were extremely popular at the turn of last century but have faded away. These days very few babies seem to be called Arthur, Horace, Florence, Mabel or Ethel.
Environmentally-specific names, eg Moonbeam or Tigerlily for the children of flower power parents, did not seem to catch on. This was probably true, even in the wild 1960s. Film and sports stars' names did not gain popularity either - there won't be very many children in Australian primary schools in 2020 called Phoenix, Ashton, Javier or Cruz. Finally I had expected to find girls being given names that represented Christian virtues, at least in the early days of Australian Federation. But the names Prudence, Charity, Constance and Mercy did not become extremely popular with parents of newborns. Grace was the exception.

The Australian Jewish News recorded the most popular names for Jewish babies in 2010 as well. Although there were no New Testament names (Luke, Matthew or James), Old Testament names were the most likely to be chosen for newborn boys. Jacob, Benjamin, Asher and Zachary were clear winners. For newborn girls, parents felt totally free to give non-Biblical names. Mia, Ashley, Tali, Zoe and Romy were the runaway favourites.

How predictable parents are. I feel a PhD thesis coming on :)


Glen / Kent Today and Yesterday said...

The interesting thing Hels is that the most popular kid's names in the UK seem to mirror those in Australia even though we are thousands of miles apart.

The thing that gets my goat at the moment is the trend here to spell traditional names in a new way as the parents seem to think it makes it look more sophisticated.

Hermes said...

Isn't that interesting. Never thought about it. Excuse me if I have some time out until I feel better.

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Hels said...


An amazing comparison, yes!

The Guardian gave 1 Olivia, 2 Ruby, 3 Chloe, 4 Emily, 5 Sophie, 6 Jessica, 7 Grace, 8 Lily, 9 Amelia and 10 Evie as the top UK names for British baby girls born in 2010.

British baby boys were called 1 Oliver, 2 Jack, 3 Harry, 4 Alfie, 5 Joshua, 6 Thomas, 7 Charlie, 8 William, 9 James and 10 Daniel (Mohammed was counted separately for each spelling variation, but would have come in at 5th place).

You are correct that these are very very similar to the names given to Australian babies in the same year. I wonder if it was perhaps true in other Anglo Saxon countries as well.


Hels said...


I had never thought about it much either, at least not in any systematic way. Each parent thinks they make totally individual choices for their baby, uninfluenced by fashion. Yet baby names are just as subject to fashion as are clothes, cars or architectural styles.

Get well quickly!

Hels said...

Show your talents,

welcome on board. Hope you continue to participate in the discussions.

Deb said...

We thought we were being quite modern. Our three 1970s daughters all have names from your list Nicole, Lisa, Belinda.

Xenophon said...

I think at least for the last generation it's pivotal what came from Hollywood. All that Kevins...
And not to forget the music industry with its Shakiras...
So despite all the great heroes its very, very anti individualistic, people are so predictable.

Hels said...

ahhh Deb,

we all thought we were sooo modern, so different from our parents and grandparents :) I love the girls' names, by the way. A lot of Nicoles will be celebrating their 40th birthdays this year.

Hels said...


people ARE predictable *nod*. And relatively conservative. They may want to call their precious newborn some exotic one-off name. But they realise that the child will be teased unmercifully at school and will live at home for the rest of his life because he cannot find a spouse.

ChrisJ said...

I don't know how naming in Canada compares, but do know that I have taught so many Jason's and Ryan's that I have completely lost count. The girls' names compare, though, with your list - the Melissa's, Amanda's and Nicole's were abundant when I first began to teach in the early nineties.

Hels said...


there must be some universal choices being made and some more localised choices as well. In my year at high school there were 8 Helens!! But not a single Myrtle or Florence.

John Tyrrell said...

I always remember the oddities: a student whose second name was "Original" - a family tradition since the original original; another whose second name was "St John" - a family name I asked? no. "my dad was a Liverpool supporter"; then recently a cinema attendant of Pakistani origin wearing a badge on which was inscribed the name "Danish" - and sure enough he was actually born in Denmark; I also came across an Elvis in India; then I have a friend called "Robin" - he chose it himself about 80 years ago because he did not like the name his parens had given him: Oliver.

John (how boring is that, although it is not my first name)

Apologies for going on at such length

Hels said...


we used to hear of baby boys being given their mothers' maiden names as a way of not losing those names from history. Thus you might find surnames, like Sullivan or Wilson, being used as first names.

However parents usually give babies a first name and a middle name, so that if he/she doesn't like one of them later on, he/she can use the other one - as you noted. It is interesting that the name your friend did NOT like was Oliver, the #1 name for British baby boys in 2010.

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Hels said...


do you mean Kevin Peterson the cricketer? Nah.. I don't think so :)

Every family has its own traditions. In my family, the next newborn baby is named after the last close relative who died. That way the same names are retained, generation after generation.

Janene said...

I still remember when my aunt had her first baby girl in the mid 1980s and named her 'Emily.' The whole family was perplexed. Emily? Who would name their kid that? Well, apparentl a TON of parents fifteen years later! It's funny how cyclical names can be.

Hels said...


This is a great topic :)

Some names NEVER fade in popularity
Some names are hugely popular in some eras, but then fade away.
Some names are indeed cyclical.

How many thousands of Emilys, Olivias and Chloes there must be in primary school now! Millions, if you examine The Guardian's list of favourite names as well.

Hels said...

Edwardian Promenade has discussed the craze for Edwardian names which currently (2013) showing no signs of abating.

See http://edwardianpromenade.com/people/baby-names-in-the-edwardian-era/