Looking at the latest publication of the Top 100 Baby Names in England & Wales from the Office for National Statistics, there seems to have been very little change to the top five girls names over the last couple of years – but there have been some big movers over the last decade. Ten years ago Amelia and Lily weren’t even in the top twenty – they are now some of the UK’s most popular names for baby girls. Sadly, some names have disappeared altogether including: Bertha, Blodwen, Gladys and Muriel – you will also struggle to find a Gertrude or a Marjorie at the playgroup.
So, who is in the top five and why are they so popular?
Amelia has shot up 24 places in the last ten years to take the number one spot. Unlike Emily (which has a Latin root), Amelia is a variation of the Germanic “Amalia” and is often associated with a hard-working, diligent character as well as a fruitful and productive nature. The Georgians brought the name to England in the 18th century and many royal princesses carried the name. Forty years ago the name hardly featured in the top 100 and its current resurgence is difficult to link to any recent cultural or media trends.
We are pretty short of famous personalities called Amelia. So, while the first one to come to mind is probably Amelia Earhart, here’s one for the pub quiz: The famous actress Minnie Driver was Christened Amelia Driver.
Other diminutives include: Mel, Milly, Amy
Foreign alternatives: Amélie, Amalia, Emilia
Olivia is one of those English names (like Wendy) where we can be pretty confident of its origins. Up until 1601 the name simply didn’t exist, then, William Shakespeare, looking to name a character in his play Twelfth Night, coined the name for the wealthy Countess Olivia who falls in love with “Cesario”. Thought to be Shakespeare’s feminine version of the boy’s name Oliver, the derivation is from the Latin word “Oliva”, meaning olive. For this reason, the name is associated with peacemakers but also strength and reliability.
Ok, we can all name one famous Olivia who sang “You’re the One That I Want”, but can you name two more celebrities called Olivia?
Other diminutives include: Liv, Livvy, Livia, Ollie
Foreign alternatives: Olivie, Vivi
Jessica has been in the top ten girls names for the last twenty years or so. The exploits of one Miss Jessica Ennis in the 2012 Olympics will probably ensure it stays there for the next twenty years. Amazingly, the origin of the name Jessica is attributed to an English playwright we have already mentioned here … yes, William Shakespeare is credited with coining the name Jessica as well as Olivia. In The Merchant of Venice, Jessica is the daughter of Shylock. Shakespeare is thought to have adapted the biblical Hebrew name Yiskah which was also spelt “Jeska” in some contemporary bibles. The Hebrew word means “foresight” and the name is now associated with an organised personality who plans ahead.
Jessica Ellen Cornish was born on the 27 March 1988 … you know her by another name … you’ve seen her on The Voice … yes it’s singer songwriter Jessie J.
Other diminutives include: Jessie, Jess
Foreign alternatives: Jessika, Yessica
Although similar to the name Amelia (which has Germanic roots), Emily is thought to come from the Latin romance languages. The meaning is often cited as “rival”, but another interpretation could be “contender”, “equal” or “peer”. So Emily is her own person, independent and up for a challenge. A very feminine name that was number 2 ten years ago, but still very popular. Corresponding boy’s names include Emile and Max (Maximilian has the same root).
Mini factoid: Hermione Granger actress Emma Watson was Christened Emily.
Other diminutives include: Em, Emmy, Milly, Emmie, Millie
Foreign alternatives: Emilie, Émilie, Emilia
Of all the girls names derived from flowers (like Rose, Violet and Daisy), Lily is by far the most popular. Lilies have always been closely associated with the Virgin Mary because of their pure white colour and the name still conjures up images innocence, virtue and purity. The name has grown in popularity over the last ten years, climbing 23 places to the number 5 spot. A few home-grown celebrities like Lily Allen may be partly responsible, but some commentators have also pointed to a more magical icon … Yes, Harry Potter’s mum was called Lily.
Other variants include: Lillie, Lilly
Foreign alternatives: Liana, Liliana
Finally can you explain this … Ten years ago hardly any girls were called “Lexi” – 1,659 other names were more popular. The name now comes in at position 46 (more popular than Rosie, Emma, Amy and Katie) … It is a pretty diminutive of Alexandra or Alexa, but why the sudden surge in popularity?