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Top US babies' names from the 1950s

What were the top babies' names in the USA during the 1950s?

1950s baby girl
Rank Girls' names Boys' names
1 Mary (1) James (1)
2 Linda (2) Michael (9)
3 Patricia (4) Robert (2)
4 Susan (10) John (3)
5 Deborah (*) (68) David (6)
6 Barbara (3) William (4)
7 Debra (*) (-) Richard (5)
8 Karen (16) Thomas (8)
9 Nancy (7) Mark (54)
10 Donna ( 17) Charles (7)

Source: Data provided online by the United States Social Security Administration

Figures in brackets are the rank of the name in the 1940s

(*) If you add the two spellings of Deborah and Debra together it would be number one. Number ten would be Cynthia

Girls' names

Girls' names are often at the whim of fashion. So it is surprising that very little changed between the most popular names of the 1940s and the 1950s. Mary and Linda were still at number one and number two. Mary appealed to traditionalists and Linda to people wanting a more modern name.

The only new entrants in the top ten were Deborah, Debra and Donna. If the two spellings of Deborah/Debra are combined, Deborah/Debra becomes number one.

Deborah Kerr in the 1950s
The actress, Deborah Kerr, may have inspired the popularity of the name 'Deborah' in the 1950s Image: Public Domain

The popularity of Debra/Deborah is almost certainly because of Deborah Kerr. Kerr was an English actress whose film career began with 'Love on the Dole' (1941). She moved to Hollywood in 1947. She played alongside Clarke Gable in 'The Hucksters'(1947). Her most famous role was as Karen Holmes in 'From Here to Eternity'(1953). The film was a huge hit with the public and won the Academy Award for 'Best Motion Picture' for 1953. Kerr was nominated for 'Best Actress', but lost out to Audrey Hepburn, who starred in 'Roman Holiday'.

Deborah first appeared in the US top five girls' names in 1951. Both spellings disappeared from the top five after 1957.

'From Here to Eternity' also helped Donna move into the top ten. Donna Reid won an Academy Award for 'Best Supporting Actress' for her role as Lorene Burke. The popularity of this name was cemented by the 'Donna Reid Show' which first aired in 1958. Donna reached number five in 1959 the following year.

The choice of names is a complex process. Top actresses' names do not always translate to popular girls' names. Grace Kelly won the Academy Award for 'Best Actress' in 1954 for the film 'Country Girl'. She also starred in 'Rear Window' (1954) with James Stewart and in 'High Noon' (1952) with Gary Cooper. In 1955 she had a fairy tale wedding to Prince Rainier of Monaco. She became Princess Grace of Monaco. 'Grace' was number two hundred in popular girls' names in the 1950s. By co-incidence 'Kelly' was the 200th most popular boys' name.

Boys' names

Boys' names change slowly over the decades. They are much less influenced by the names of film stars and even less by US Presidents' names. Harry S Truman was President from 1945 to 1953. 'Harry' was the 89th most popular boys' name. War hero and President, Dwight D Eisenhower, fared less well. 'Dwight' was number one hundred and forty-seven.

The top five boys' names were James, Robert, John, Michael and David throughout the 1950s. The only change from the 1940s was that Michael and David replaced Richard and William in the top five. But William and Richard still made it to the 1950s' top ten.

Mark was a new entrant in the top ten in the 1950s. In the 1940s Mark was down at number fifty-four.

How do British and American names compare?

Rank Girls' names Boys' names
1 Mary (UK 9) James (UK 14)
2 Linda (UK 2) Michael (UK 4)
3 Patricia (UK 6) Robert (UK 6)
4 Susan (UK 1) John (UK 2)
5 Deborah (UK 59) David (UK 1)
6 Barbara (UK 14) William (UK 15)
7 Debra (UK -) Richard (UK 10)
8 Karen (UK 37) Thomas (UK 24)
9 Nancy (UK -) Mark (UK 32)
10 Donna (UK -) Charles (UK 172)

There is a lag between popularity of a name in the USA and in United Kingdom. Karen and Deborah did not feature in the UK 1950s' top ten, but they did make the top ten in the following decade.

In the boy's names, Mark was a new entrant in the top ten in the USA, but in the United Kingdom only reached the top ten in the 1960s.

British names less popular in the USA were:

Girls:

Boys:

Girls' names

Some popular US girls' names that did not appear in the top one hundred names in the United Kingdom were:

One explanation is a preference for shortened names in the US. Peggy instead of Margaret, Betty instead of Elizabeth, Kathy instead of Catherine. It was more common in Britain to give the full name and give the child the choice to shorten it.

Boys' names

Popular US boys' names that did not appear in the top one hundred names in the United Kingdom were:

Bruce, Carl and Wayne were in the UK top one hundred boys' names in the 1960s. Scott had to wait until the 1970s and Ricky, Dale and Danny until the 1980s. Shortened forms of names were becoming more popular in the UK. Did Danny Zuko from the 1978 film 'Grease' have an influence on Danny's rise?

Read more:

By Steven Braggs, April 2021

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