Baby’s Most Chosen Names in British Columbia, 1901-2001

a baby

Patrick A. Dunae

Jennifer was the most popular name for girls in the twentieth century (1901-2001); Mary and Margaret were the next most chosen names. Robert was the most popular name for boys, followed by David and Michael. Girls had a wider selection of names from which to choose. Nearly two hundred different names for girls were registered over the last century, compared to just over one hundred names for boys. [Occurrences of less than ten names per year were not counted.]

Jennifer has not been among the 25 most chosen names for several years, but Jennifer had a remarkable run, beginning in 1964. The popularity of the name increased steadily and from 1971 to 1985 Jennifer was the most popular name for baby girls in the province. Jennifer remained among the ten most chosen names until 1995 and did not leave the top 25 list until 1998.

Jennifer’s three-decade run was impressive, but not as impressive as Mary's record. The name Mary held the No. 1 spot almost continuously from 1901 to the 1940s; Mary was among the top 10 until 1955 and among the top 25 until 1965. Margaret also had a very long run; it was among the top ten names until 1953 and among the top 25 until 1960. Patricia and Linda place highly on the 20th century list because they were favourite names during the baby boom years when the birth rate was exceedingly high.

While some names have been enduring, others have been meteoric. Shirley shot to prominence in the 1930s and in 1936 surpassed Mary in the top spot. That year, child film star Shirley Temple visited the province. Among boys’ names, Jason is notable for its sudden popularity. Jason first appeared (ranked No. 9) on the top 25 list in 1969 and just three years later (1972) it occupied the top spot.

Over the last twenty-five years, the number of new names has increased substantially and the turnover among popular names has accelerated. The turnover rate among the list of top 25 names from 1980 to 2000 is greater than previous decades.

Historically, there has more continuity among names for boys than among names for girls. That is, fashionable names for girls changed more frequently over time. In 2004, eight names for boys – Andrew, Daniel, James, Joshua, Matthew, Michael, Ryan, and William – appeared on the most chosen list of 20th century names. In contrast, only four names for girls from the 20th century list – Ashley, Emily, Jessica, and Sarah – were popular in 2004.

Overall, the most enduring names in British Columbia are William and Sarah. Both were among the most popular names for children whose births were registered between 1872 (when vital statistics were first recorded in the province) and 1900, the end of the nineteenth century.

Rank Baby Boy's Name Number Baby Girl's Name Number
1 Robert 38,296 Jennifer 14,185
2 David 34,725 Mary 13,578
3 Michael 32,852 Margaret 11,010
4 John 32,751 Patricia 10,812
5 James 29,961 Linda 9,804
6 William 27,167 Sarah 9,724
7 Christopher 17,225 Susan 9,348
8 Richard 16,647 Barbara 9,286
9 Daniel 14,840 Jessica 9,006
10 Matthew 12,534 Karen 8,986
11 Ryan 12,325 Sandra 8,364
12 Kenneth 12,166 Nicole 8,198
13 Donald 11,855 Michelle 8,031
14 Kevin 10,744 Lisa 7,922
15 Andrew 9,733 Amanda 7,362
16 Brian 9,667 Elizabeth 6,967
17 Ronald 9,494 Ashley 6,142
18 Jason 9,358 Donna 6,135
18 Thomas 9,294 Sharon 6,053
20 Steven 8,743 Heather 6,018
21 George 8,594 Kathleen 5,807
22 Douglas 8,451 Dorothy 5,149
23 Gordon 8,405 Deborah 4,992
24 Mark 7,715 Emily 4,955
25 Joshua 6,821 Carol 4,925

This research note is based on an undergraduate History project at Vancouver Island University [VIU, formerly Malaspina University-College] in 2004. The project was developed by Trevor Blogg, a student research assistant, with technical assistance from Andrew Speed, the manager of information systems at VIU. We are most grateful to Andrew K. McBride, Chief Executive Officer, BC Vital Statistics Agency, for providing us with the raw data for the project. An abridged version of this research note was published as a Vital Statistics Information Box in the 2004 annual report of the British Columbia Vital Statistics Agency.