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Surprising Baby Name Trends That Happened In 2021

The Social Security Administration’s annual list of the most popular baby names in the U.S. is rarely shocking, with recent favorites like Liam, Emma, Olivia and Noah consistently dominating for the past several years.

But when you examine the agency’s naming data more closely, some interesting ― and even unexpected ― trends pop out. From the rise of less traditional names like Maverick and Emberlynn to the decline of old favorites like Scott and Sarah, here are 15 baby name statistics that may surprise you:

1. Nova is more popular than Grace

In 2021, 5,516 baby girls were named Nova, making it the 32nd most popular choice among female names. Meanwhile, Grace ranked 34th, with 5,486 newborn baby Graces.

2. Ezekiel is one of the top names for boys in New Mexico and Hawaii

The SSA’s data indicates the top national names, like Liam, Noah and Oliver, tend to dominate on the state level, but there are some outliers. One is Ezekiel, which ranked 53rd nationally but was the fourth most popular name for newborn boys in New Mexico and Hawaii last year.

3. Emberlynn is one of the fastest-rising names for girls

The name Emberlynn rose 284 places from 2020 to reach No. 961, breaking into the top 1,000 for the first time ever. This jump is likely related to the popularity of the name Evelyn, at No. 9. Evelynn, an alternate spelling, also increased in use last year ― as did Oaklynn and Adelynn.

4. Sincere is more popular than Scott

Despite its prominence in history and pop culture, Scott was not in the top 100. The name actually ranked 607th ― below less traditional names like Sincere at No. 600, going to 460 newborn boys in 2021. Only 455 boys were named Scott last year.

5. Serenity is more popular than Sarah

Serenity is a top 100 baby name for girls, with 3,038 little ones given that name in 2021. Serenity ranked 85th, seven spots above Sarah. Last year, 2,825 baby girls were named Sarah.

6. Willie is one of the fastest-declining names for boys

The list of declining names tends to include less traditional choices and spellings like Bentlee, Xzavier and Jaxtyn. But Willie dropped 210 places on the popularity list last year, falling to No. 1,202 ― making it the boys name with the fourth biggest decline from 2020. Willie Nelson and Willie Mays’ legacies are seemingly not living on in the world of baby names.

Laura Olivas via Getty Images

When you closely examine the SSA’s naming data, some interesting ― and even unexpected ― trends pop out.

7. Legend is more popular than Max

Legend is the 118th most popular name for boys, while Max is No. 159. In 2021, 3,152 baby boys were named Legend, while there were 2,402 newborn Maxes.

8. Fewer than 100 girls were named Tracy, Caitlin, Gretchen or Lacy last year

In 2021, there were 67 newborn baby girls named Tracy, 85 Caitlins, 61 Gretchens and 88 Lacys. The first fell out of the top 1,000 ranking after 2004, while Lacy dropped off after 2005, Gretchen after 2008 and Caitlin after 2015.

9. Khloe is more popular than Kimberly

Kardashian fans might be interested to learn that the name Khloe is more popular than the name Kimberly. In 2021, 1,666 baby girls were named Khloe, making it the 176th most popular girl name. Meanwhile, Kimberly is No. 220, with 1,340 newborn Kimberlys in 2021.

10. Murphy is one of the fastest-rising names for girls

In 2021, the name Murphy rose 262 spots to No. 716 on the list of the most popular names for girls. Perhaps renewed interest in actor Brittany Murphy following the release of the 2021 HBO Max documentary on her boosted the profile of the name Murphy. The name Brittany also rose, though only 27 spots to No. 934.

11. Brynlee is more popular than Morgan

Brynlee didn’t enter the top 1,000 until 2008, and rose to No. 187 in 2021, with 1,568 baby girls named Brynlee. The classic Morgan fell to No. 205, with only 1,438 baby Morgans born last year.

12. And Giovanni is more popular than George

George is an iconic name in U.S. history, consistently occupying the top 10 list until the 1930s. But now it’s down to No. 134, with 2,774 baby Georges born in 2021. Giovanni, however, ranked at No. 124, with 2,987 boys given that Italian name last year.

13. Paisley is one of the top names in West Virginia and Mississippi

While Paisley is No. 52 in the U.S. as a whole, it was the No. 3 name for girls in the state of West Virginia and No. 4 in Mississippi in 2021.

14. Ozzy is one of the fastest rising names for boys

It seems hard to believe rocker Ozzy Osbourne’s name would see a big rise in 2021, long after the peak of his music and reality show fame. But the fact of the matter is that Ozzy had the fourth biggest rise on the list of popular names for boys, jumping up 336 places to enter the top 1,000 for the first time at No. 712.

15. Maverick is more popular than Christopher

With 6,548 baby boys named Maverick in 2021, the name ranked 47th. That makes Maverick more popular than the classic Christopher, which ranked 52nd and went to 5,809 baby boys last year, as well as former top names like Andrew — now No. 57, with 5,570 boys in 2021 — and Charles, at No. 50 with 5,952 boys.

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