Hidden Meanings of 2021’s Most Popular Baby Names

3 min read

Parents have a lot to deal with as they await the arrival of a new baby. Many of these elements are beyond their control, but the selection of the name is entirely on them. Some might pore over favorite books and baby name lists; they might turn to celebrity inspiration, or pluck a leaf from the family tree. Naming a child is a big deal — what potential nicknames could come from it? Do the initials spell a word that should be avoided? With all these considerations, somehow particular names can overwhelm a generation. “Jennifers” and “Ashleys” flooded the 1980s and 1990s, but in 2021, some classic monikers are seeing a rise in popularity.


“Olivia” was popularized after appearing in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. She is the shipwrecked heroine who disguises herself as her brother and goes on to win the Duke’s heart (with some hijinks in between). It is the feminine form of “Oliver,” which means “olive tree.” Some notable Olivias include Olivia Newton-John, Olivia de Havilland of Gone with the Wind, and pop singer Olivia Rodrigo (perhaps inspiring some recent popularity). According to BabyCenter user information, “Olivia” was the number one most-popular girl name in 2020 and 2021.


“Liam” means “strong-willed warrior and protector.” It’s from the Irish Ulliam, which came from the Frankish Willahelm, meaning “helmet of will.” Some well-known Liams include movie star Liam Neeson and the youngest Hemsworth brother, who played Gale in The Hunger Games. Liam was also the most popular boy name in both 2020 and 2021.


Jane Austen introduced the titular Emma Wodehouse in 1815, and the name has remained popular since. “Emma” is an English name with Old German roots that mean “whole” or “universal.” Famous Emmas include Emma Watson, Emma Stone, and Emma Thompson. “Emma” peaked in baby name popularity in the 1880s and was in decline until the last 20 years.


Traditionally a surname (think Michael Jackson or President Andrew Jackson) that means “son of Jack,” Jackson has become a popular first name in the past 50 years. “Jackson” was almost unheard of as a first name until 1988 when it saw a sharp rise in popularity, and now it is the 17th most popular boy name.  An alternate spelling of “Jaxon” is also quite popular in 2021, at number 46.


“Charlotte” is the feminine form of “Charles” and is a common name for royalty. Princess Charlotte of Wales was a beloved figure in the early 19th century. Currently, young Princess Charlotte of Cambridge is fourth in line for the throne behind her grandfather, father, and brother. “Charlotte” is number six on the list of popular girl names, a jump from eighth in 2020.


The name “Sebastian” is of Greek origin, and likely became popular during the Middle Ages, after Saint Sebastian. Saint Sebastian is the patron saint of archers and athletes, and in the Renaissance, he was a popular subject of paintings by artists Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Sandro Botticelli. In more modern times, the crab Sebastian is featured in The Little Mermaid and actor Sebastian Stan is a Marvel fan favorite. “Sebastian” was pretty rare as a first name until around 2000, when it saw a sharp rise. In 2021, it’s 22nd on the list of boy names.


In Greek, “Chloe” means blooming or fertility, and it’s another name for the goddess Demeter, who represents fertility and the harvest. The name has been popular in literature and entertainment for a long time, but modern popularity might come from reality star Khloe Kardashian, or actors Chloë Grace Moretz and Chloe Sevigny. “Chloe” as well has seen a sharp rise in popularity since 2000, currently 25th on the list of girl names.

Featured photo credit: Prostock-Studio/ iStock

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