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Keeping up with the Joneses - John and Mary Smith officially the most popular names since 1530

Centuries of historic birth records reveal trends in first names and surnames – including mixed fates of Tom, Dick and Harry

  • ‘John’ and ‘Mary’ revealed as most popular first names over the past 500 years despite now dropping out of the top 100 (ONS)[i]
  • ‘Smith’, ‘Jones’ and ‘Williams’ have been most common surnames for nearly 180 years
  • ‘Thomas’ stays strong, but ‘Richard’ flops while ‘Harry’ surges up charts

It’s been proven beyond doubt – ‘John’ and ‘Mary’ are officially the most common first names in history, while ‘Smith’ is the most common surname. (Top 100s available).

This is according to an extensive new study of more than 34 million UK and Irish christening records and birth indexes dating from 1530 to 2005 by Ancestry, the leader in family history and consumer genomics,

The data shows that after ‘John’ – of which there have been an estimated 5,859,108 born since 1530 – ‘William’, ‘Thomas’, ‘George’ and ‘James’ are the next most popular first names for boys. Rounding out the top 10 are ‘Robert’, ‘Charles’, ‘Henry’, ‘Joseph’ and ‘David’.

‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’ have suffered mixed fortunes. All three are among the top 25 most common names in history, but ‘Richard’ (Dick) has fallen out of the top 100, while ‘Thomas’ and ‘Harry’ sit proudly in the top 10 today.

For women, following ‘Mary’ (4,523,917 born since 1530) are ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Sarah’, ‘Margaret’ and ‘Ann’, with ‘Jane’, ‘Alice’, ‘Ellen’, ‘Annie’ and ‘Florence’ comprising the rest of the top 10.

As for surnames, the most popular of the past five centuries is ‘Smith’ (2,005,962 since 1530), followed by ‘Jones’, ‘Williams’ and ‘Taylor’, while ‘Brown’, ‘Davies’, ‘Evans’, ‘Thomas’, ‘Johnson’ and ‘Wilson’ are ranked 6th to 10th.  

At the other end of the spectrum, and just sneaking into the top 100, are the boys’ names ‘Edgar’ (position 100), ‘Cecil’ (99) and ‘Abraham’ (98), while for girls it’s ‘Valerie’ (100), ‘Amanda’ (99) and ‘Eva’ (98). ‘Day’, ‘Gibson’ and ‘Booth’ are the surnames in position 100, 99 and 98 respectively in the top 100 surnames throughout history.

However, while these names may be the most popular of the past 500 years, many have fallen out of favour in recent years. This is especially the case for female names; none of the historic top 10 female names appear in the most recent top 10 compiled by ONS (see Table 1). Men’s names have seen considerably less change overall, with four out of the most popular ten historic names featuring in today’s equivalent (‘Thomas’, ‘George’, ‘James’ and ‘William’) while variations of ‘Charles’ (‘Charlie’) and ‘Henry’ (‘Harry’) also feature.

Today the most historically popular top names for both genders – ‘John’ and ‘Mary’ – have been shunned in favour of ‘Oliver’ and ‘Amelia’, and have in fact fallen out of the top 100 most popular names altogether. The data reveals ‘Mary’ started to decline as early as the 1920s, while ‘John’ didn’t leave the top 10 until the 1970s, as less traditional names came to the fore.

Analysis also reveals a modern trend for naming boys with abbreviations for some of the more common historical names. For example, the name ‘Charles’ – which ranks seventh in history – has been replaced by ‘Charlie’, while ‘Alfie’ – the twelfth most popular name today – replaces the more traditional ‘Alfred’.

Girls’ names seem to be much more cyclical in nature, with many historic names making comebacks in recent years. ‘Florence’ and ‘Alice’ were the second and fifth most popular girls’ names at the turn of the 20th century, but both had disappeared from the top 50 by the 1930s. A trend for ‘old-fashioned’ names has seen both return to favour recently though, and they now sit in 25th and 26th position.

But the real yo-yo name is ‘Emma’, which was the seventh most popular name in the 1830s, but dropped out of the top 50 around 1900. It came from nowhere in the 1970s to reach the second spot, before falling back down to 57th today.

The records also reveal some surprising names in the top 25 from the past 500 years, such as ‘Ellen’ and ‘Dorothy’ for girls, and ‘Ernest’ and ‘Walter’ for boys, while other names you might expect to see don’t even appear in the historical top 100, like ‘Adam’ and ‘Sophia’.

Ancestry’s Senior Content Manager Miriam Silverman comments: “This research shows that names will often drop in and out of favour, and while ‘John’ and ‘Mary’ may be the most popular name over the past 500 years, today they don’t even make the Top 100. That said, it might not be long until they become popular once more, just like the names ‘Florence’ and ‘Alice’.

“The billions of records we have available at Ancestry allow us to uncover some fascinating social trends, including this research into the popularity of names.”

To discover the records for yourself, visit www.ancestry.co.uk.

ENDS

 

Table 1. Top 25 names, historical and present. Top 100 available upon request.

 

 

Female names

Male names

 

History

2014

History

2014

1

Mary

Amelia

John

Oliver

2

Elizabeth

Olivia

William

Jack

3

Sarah

Isla

Thomas

Harry

4

Margaret

Emily

George

Jacob

5

Ann

Poppy

James

Charlie

6

Jane

Ava

Robert

Thomas

7

Alice

Isabella

Charles

George

8

Ellen

Jessica

Henry

Oscar

9

Annie

Lily

Joseph

James

10

Florence

Sophie

David

William

11

Emma

Grace

Richard

Noah

12

Edith

Sophia

Frederick

Alfie

13

Emily

Mia

Arthur

Joshua

14

Eliza

Evie

Edward

Muhammad

15

Hannah

Ruby

Albert

Henry

16

Susan

Ella

Alfred

Leo

17

Martha

Scarlett

Michael

Archie

18

Dorothy

Isabelle

Peter

Ethan

19

Catherine

Chloe

Walter

Joseph

20

Ethel

Sienna

Ernest

Freddie

21

Ada

Freya

Samuel

Samuel

22

Anne

Phoebe

Harry

Alexander

23

Frances

Charlotte

Stephen

Logan

24

Elsie

Daisy

Frank

Daniel

25

Harriet

Alice

Paul

Isaac

 

Table 2. Top 25 surnames since 1530

 

Rank

Surname

Number born since 1530

1

Smith

2,005,962

2

Jones

1,650,716

3

Williams

1,077,282

4

Taylor

925,489

5

Brown

847,864

6

Davies

806,989

7

Evans

651,545

8

Thomas

593,005

9

Johnson

561,981

10

Wilson

551,799

11

Roberts

545,981

12

Robinson

502,533

13

Wright

479,732

14

Thompson

463,280

15

White

459,124

16

Hall

452,620

17

Walker

449,902

18

Green

440,400

19

Edwards

439,332

20

Wood

435,487

21

Hughes

419,905

22

Jackson

419,306

23

Turner

417,126

24

Lewis

406,633

25

Harris

402,664

 

 

[i] According to the latest ONS data on first names (2014) neither John or Mary feature in the Top 100 boys or girls names for England and Wales.

[ii] Access to the records in the featured collections will be free until 28 March, 2016 at 23:59 GMT. After the free access period ends, you will only be able to view the records in the featured collections using an Ancestry.co.uk paid membership. 

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