The most popular baby names in countries around the world – and what they mean

Annabel Fenwick Elliott
France's favourite name for boys? Gabriel - peter zelei

In most of Britain right now, the favourite baby names - both male and female - derive from an ancient term for “Olive Tree”. And Italy’s most common girls’ name is currently the same as Denmark’s and Russia’s. In fact, there are more than a few surprises to be had when it comes to examining the world’s most popular monikers...

UK

Most popular boy’s name: Oliver

Most popular girl’s name: Olivia

In 2017, these two variations on the Latin-derived term for “Olive Tree” were revealed as the most popular babies’ names in England and Wales. Olivia ended Amelia’s five-year reign at top spot for girls, pushing it to second, with Emma coming third.

Oliver has been the most popular boys’ name since 2013, this year followed by Harry and George. In London, however, Muhammad was the top boys’ name, while for girls it was Amelia.

As for Scotland, Jack was last year’s top name for baby boys for the tenth year in a row, according to the National Records for Scotland (followed by Oliver), and for girls, it was, again, Olivia.

Both the UK's most popular names owe their roots to the humble olive tree Credit: istock

A short hop over the Irish sea and the leading boy’s name in Northern Ireland is James, followed by Jack and Oliver. The previous year, Muhammad was the highest climbing boy’s name in Northern Ireland. In the Republic of Ireland, it’s currently James, Jack and Daniel for boys; and Emily, Grace and Olivia for girls, respectively.

Incidentally, for Telegraph readers, the most popular girl’s name for 2017 in the UK was Charlotte - the name given to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first daughter, surely no coincidence - and for boys, Edward.

Baby names

The US & Canada

Most popular boy’s name: Liam

Most popular girl’s name: Emma

Currently, the number one most popular female baby name for our friends across the pond is Emma, followed by Olivia and Ava; and for boys Liam, followed by Noah and William, according to Social Security card application data.

Generally, the most popular names in the US have long owed themselves to biblical characters. In the 1900s, the top names were John and Mary; in the 1950s it was James and Mary; and in the 2000s, the names of the decade were Jacob and Emily.

It makes sense, therefore, that according to the Pew Research Centre, more than 70 per cent of Americans identify themselves as Christians. By comparison, a British Social Attitudes survey last year found that more than 50 per cent of adults describe themselves as having no religious affiliation whatsoever.

Over in Canada, Olivia is once again the moniker of choice for girls, according to their Vital Statistics Agency, while the top boy’s name is Benjamin.

Australia and New Zealand

Most popular boy’s name: Oliver

Most popular girl’s name: Charlotte

Australia might be about as far as you can get from the UK in terms of mileage, but we appear to share a close allegiance in terms of names. Oliver has now remained the most popular boys name there for the fifth year running, followed by William and Jack. For girls, Charlotte bumped Olivia down from the top spot to second in 2017, with Mia coming in third.

In New Zealand, the top boys’ names last year were Oliver, Jack and Noah; and for girls, Charlotte, followed by Harper and Isla.

France

Most popular boy’s name: Gabriel

Most popular girl’s name: Louise

France’s annual book of popular baby names, L'Officiel des prénoms, listed Gabriel (a name with both Hebrew and Christian religious attachments) as the winner in the boys category for 2017, followed by Raphaël and Jules. For girls, Louise (meaning “renowned warrior”) took the top spot, with Emma and Jade coming second and third respectively. All of which are far removed from the curious break from tradition in 1991, which saw the most popular name in France being Kevin.

There'll be lots of 27-year-old French men called Kevin milling around Credit: Getty

Spain

Most popular boy’s name: Hugo

Most popular girl’s name: Lucia

This year Spain’s national statistics office announced that Lucia was the most popular girl’s name, which it has been for several years running. It owes its Latin roots to the word “light” and was traditionally given to baby girls born at dawn. “Santa Lucia” is also the salutation of a female martyr from the Middle Ages, which the Caribbean island Saint Lucia is named after. For boys, the most popular Spanish name is currently Hugo, from an old Germanic word that means “bright in mind and spirit”.

Italy

Most popular boy’s name: Francesco

Most popular girl’s name: Sofia

The top Italian name for boys in Francesco (a latin name shared by everyone from the Renaissance sculptor to the current Pope), followed by Alessandro and Leonardo.

For girls it’s Sofia, derived from the Greek word for “wisdom” and which has been gathering steam in popularity since the 2000s, not just in Italy but in Scandinavia and Central America too, followed by Aurora and Giulia.

The Basilica di San Francesco, Assisi, in Italy Credit: istock

Scandinavia

Denmark’s name of the year for girls is Sofia (which happens to also be the second most popular name in Chile and Argentina). For boys, it’s Noah, associated with the Old Testament character of the same Hebrew name, also the US’ second favourite name. Oliver creeps in at third for Denmark.

Norway’s most popular girl’s name is almost the same, save for the last letter: “Sofie”, followed by Nora and Emma. For boys, it’s Jakob (derived from a word that literally translates to “at the heel” in Hebew), Lucas and Emil respectively.

Sweden’s most popular boys name is William this year, followed by Oscar and Liam; while for girls it’s Alice (thought to derive from the Germanic Adalhaidis term, meaning “of nobility”) followed by Alicia and, yet again, Olivia.

Iceland


Most popular boy’s name: Alexander

Most popular girl’s name: Emilía

Interestingly, Iceland’s current favourite names are all borrowed from abroad. Alexander wins for baby boys, followed by Aron and Mikael, according to the National Bureau of Statistics; while for girls, Emilía is followed by Emma and Elísabet. The country’s most popular middle names, however, hail from Norse mythology and are predictably hard to pronounce: Þór, followed by Máni and Hrafn, for boys; and María, followed by Ósk and Rós for girls.

It's a country teeming with Alexanders and Emilías

Brazil

Most popular boy’s name: Jose

Most popular girl’s name: Maria

The year 2016 marked the first time in history that Brazil published official government statistics on names, and was based on a survey carried out in 2010 - so it’s a little out of date.

For girls, Maria was by far the most popular girl’s name, representing six per cent of the whole population - a name that’s been traced back to Roman times, later the moniker of Jesus’ mother. For boys, in keeping with the same theme, it’s Jose, a form of “Joseph”, also the name of the Virgin Mary’s husband. The majority of Brazil (64 per cent) is Roman Catholic.

Mexico

Most popular boy’s name: Jose

Most popular girl’s name: Maria

Similarly, according to Inside Mexico, María tops the list for girls, often composed with another (Maria Fernanda, Maria Sofia, for example) and for boys, it’s Jose.

The same report states that Hernández, a Spanish surname which gained popularity around the 15th century, is the most popular last name, accounting for more than 3.4 million Mexicans. It was also the 15th most common surname in the US according to census data from 2000.

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South Africa

Most popular boy’s name: Junior

Most popular girl’s name: Precious

Junior is the most popular name for boys in South Africa, from the Latin “younger”, followed by Blessing and Gift. For girls the top three respectively are Precious, Princess and Amahle. As pointed out by South African news organisation ENCA, more than 60 per cent of fathers’ names are missing from baby registrations in the country - a concerning trend.

China

Most popular boy’s name: Wei

Most popular girl’s name: Li

In China, the family name comes before the given name, and almost 85 percent of China’s 1.3 billion-strong population share only around 100 surnames.

The most popular is Wang (also recorded as the fourth most popular in Taiwan), meaning “king”, which dates back thousands of years. As for first names, official data was last presented in 2007 and revealed Li to be most popular for girls, meaning “pretty, graceful”, and Wei (“big, great”) for boys.

Japan

Most popular boy’s name: Hiroshi

Most popular girl’s name: Nozomi

According to Japan Today, in 2017, the top girl’s name was Nozomi, meaning “heart of hope” followed by Kokoro, meaning “cherry blossoms of the heart” and then Emika, meaning “blossoming flower”.

For boys, Hiroshi has been ranked as the most popular name going all the way back to the 1920s. It means “honesty” or “integrity” and, according to a study conducted by Tokyo Shoko Research Ltd in 2015, is the most popular name among company presidents. Hiroshi is followed in popularity by Takashi, and Akira.

The name Kokoro means “cherry blossoms of the heart”

Korea

Most popular boy’s name: Do Yoon

Most popular girl’s name: Ha Yoon

The most popular last name on the Korean Peninsula is Kim - also the name of the ruling family of North Korea - accounting for more than 20 per cent of the population.

Back in the year 668, Kim - meaning “gold” - was the name of a family that rose to power and ruled for 700 years. For hundreds of years, only royals and aristocrats had the name, but over time, and ultimately with the abolishment of the class system in 1894, all Koreans took up surnames and Kim became widespread.

As with China, the number of surnames in use across Korea is small: only 286, according to a 2000 census, and married couples usually both keep their own family names, with children taking on their fathers’.

First names are placed after surnames and almost always consist of single syllables. For boys, the most popular is currently Do Yoon, followed by Ha Jun and Seo Jun; and for girls, Ha Yoon, Seo Yoon and Seo Yeon respectively.

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Russia

Most popular boy’s name: Alexander

Most popular girl’s name: Sofia

The Moscow register office says Ivan was the most popular boy’s name in 2017, followed by Alexander; and Sofia for girls, followed by Daria.

The service stated: “As a rule, Moscow residents are quite conservative when it comes to choosing names for their babies. Anastasia, Maria, Sofia, Anna, Daria, Alexander, Daniil, Artyom, Ivan, and Maxim have been the most popular baby names for over ten years now.”

As for the rest of Russia, reports vary considerably, but other names that frequently crop up in the top five include Artem and Maxim.

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The Middle East

Most popular boy’s name: Mohammed

Most popular girl’s name: Ayesha (not official)

Across all Arab countries, and indeed with Muslim communities living elsewhere in the world, by far the most popular boy’s name is Mohammed (in all its various spellings).

In fact, as of 2000 it was the most common given name in the world, according to the sixth edition of The Columbia Encyclopedia, with more than an estimated 150 million men and boys sharing the moniker.

Dr Justin Gest, an academic at Harvard and the London School of Economics, explains that Muslims see their prophet Mohammed as “a paragon of excellence” and seek to emulate his life and follow his guidance, making the name an obvious choice for parents. After that, Omar is the most popular, the name of the Caliph Omar Bin Al-Khatab.

Girl names in the Muslim faith vary more across regions but Ayesha (spelled various ways), the name of the Prophet Mohammad’s favourite wife; and Aliyah, meaning “exalted”, are among those which frequently sits near the top.

In 2014, Saudi Arabia’s interior ministry banned 50 names that they argued contradicted the culture or religion of the Kingdom. Parents were no longer able to call their children by names such as Linda, Alice or Elaine after the civil affairs department at the ministry issued a list of the prohibited names.

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Israel

Most popular boy’s name: Muhammad

Most popular girl’s name: Tamar

According to a report released by the Central Bureau of Statistics in 2016, Muhammad was the most common name in Israel, given to some 2,880 newborns, followed by Yosef and Noam. The most popular Jewish name for a boy in Israel was Noam, for the third year running.

Tamar was listed as the most popular for girls, a name which has sat near the top of the rankings for almost 20 years.