Have you noticed that there aren’t many little girls around these days named Mary?

I was reading an interesting analysis of “favorite girls’ names” and couldn’t help but notice just how subject to fad and fashion children’s names really are.

But don’t take my word for it!   Here, an analysis of the most popular girls’ names since 1960, courtesy of Twenty-two Words:

So in 1960, and probably for many years before that, “Mary” was the most popular name given by parents to their infant daughters.

I have my own “Mary” story to tell. My mother had always intended to call me “Kathy”, but wanted to also honor Mary, the Mother of God, giving me the full name “Kathleen Mary.”  The sisters who provided nursing care at St. Mary’s Hospital were scandalized by that.  “No!” they told her, “You can’t put the name of Mary second after any other name!”  So it was that I was given the name “Mary Kathleen” on my birth certificate, but called by my middle name “Kathy.”  So began a lifetime of explaining myself and my legal name to doctors’ offices, school guidance counselors, banks and prospective employers.

But back to the report of popular names in America.  By 1965, the style had changed and the most common first name for girls was “Lisa”.


Just a few years later, in 1975, the tides had rolled in, bringing the name “Jennifer” to the fore.

Ten years later, in 1985, “Jessica” and “Ashley” had taken over as the best names for cool girls. Little Jessicas and Ashleys filled playgrounds and parks and classrooms across America.

Then “Emily” had a turn on top in the 1990s….

until “Sophia” and “Emma” took over in 2012, the last year for which data is available.


You can read more–and see the popularity maps for girls’ names during the intervening years–at Twenty-Two Words.

The Atlantic carried an interesting report in December 2012, asking “Why Don’t Parents Name Their Children Mary Any More?”  The author, Philip Cohen, cited this dramatic statistic:  “Mary” has dropped from the #1 most popular name in 1960, to #112 in 2011.

According to Cohen, the number of girls given the name “Mary” has dropped 94% since 1961, according to Social Security Administration statistics.

But why this dramatic decline in little “Mary’s”?

Cohen quotes sociologist Stanley Lieberson, who cites the rise of individualism in modern naming practices.  Lieberson writes,

“As the role of the extended family, religious rules, and other institutional pressures declines, choices are increasingly free to be matters of taste.”

Cohen acknowledges the accuracy of Lieberson’s claim; but while individuality is prized more highly than tradition, he doesn’t think the change signals an end to devotion. “America’s Christian family standard-bearers,” Cohen writes,

“…are not standing up for Mary anymore. It’s not just that there may be fewer devout Christians, it’s that even they don’t want to sacrifice individuality for a (sorry, it’s not my opinion) boring name like Mary. In 2011 there were more than twice as many Nevaehs (“Heaven” spelled backwards) born as there were Marys.”

Catholic writer Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur has published an excellent resource for expectant parents, The Catholic Baby Name Book.  Patrice offers more than 10,000 names for Catholic girl and boy babies, explaining their derivation, and offering a brief bio for the saint who carried that name.

If you will be privileged to welcome a new member of your family this year, consider using The Catholic Baby Name Book as a reference.  The book can help you to choose a name that your daughter or son will want to live up to:  a noble and brave martyr, a prayerful mystic, a social activist, or even Mary, the Mother of God.