Karen’s out, Kobe’s in, and Charlotte and Liam are No. 1 for Virginia baby names

By: - May 13, 2021 7:27 pm

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Charlotte replaced Ava as the most popular name for girls born in Virginia in 2020, and Liam remained the most popular name for boys, according to data released Thursday by the Social Security Administration.

This was the first year that Charlotte had topped the state’s list of names for female babies. As recently as 2002, Charlotte was well below No. 100 in the popularity rankings.

Nationwide and in 30 states, Olivia was the most popular name for girls born last year. Virginia was among eight states that preferred Charlotte.

After Charlotte, the top baby names for girls born in Virginia in 2020 were Olivia, Ava, Emma and Amelia.

Liam was the No. 1 choice for boys born in Virginia in 2017, 2019 and 2020, according to the data.

But it wasn’t always so popular. Liam didn’t show up on the Social Security Administration’s list of boys’ baby names in Virginia until 1985, and it was below No. 100 in popularity as recently as 2003.

Liam was the most popular name for boys born last year nationwide and in 23 states. In Virginia, the runners-up were Noah, William, James and Oliver.

The data is based on applications for Social Security cards. To protect people’s privacy, the Social Security Administration excludes names with fewer than five occurrences in any state. Historically, the data has represented more than three-fourths of the births in Virginia. 

The latest data reflects Social Security card applications for 71,536 babies born in Virginia in 2020. That number was down almost 4 percent from the previous year — possibly indicating a decline in births during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Names can rise and fall in popularity based on events such as the helicopter crash that killed NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter on Jan. 26, 2020.

“With the untimely and tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna last year, his name jumped up in rank,” said Mallory Moss, who with her sister Jennifer Moss founded the BabyNames.com website and hosts the Baby Names Podcast.

That was evident nationwide and in Virginia: 

• In 2019, only 14 babies born in the commonwealth were named Kobe, which ranked No. 503 in popularity that year. But last year, 49 babies in Virginia were named Kobe, and the name’s ranking jumped to No. 187.

• The number of babies named Gianna soared from 64 in 2019 to 163 last year, and that name’s popularity in Virginia went from No. 113 to No. 23.

Other names that rose in popularity during the past year in Virginia include Grady, Alijah and Kamari for boys and Beatrice, Kaia and Winter (cue the song) for girls. 

Jennifer Moss said she has seen an increase in what she calls “power names” such as Maverick. In 2010, only nine boys born in Virginia were named Maverick. Last year, that soared to 146, and the name’s popularity ranking climbed from No. 619 to No. 60.

At the same time, other names have plummeted in popularity — especially ones associated with racial or political controversy.

Only a dozen babies born in Virginia in 2020 were named Donald, and that name ranked No. 555 in popularity for boys — down more than 100 notches from the previous year.   

And only seven girls born in Virginia last year were named Karen — a name that has become slang for “an overly demanding or entitled middle-aged White woman.” The name Karen, which ranked eighth in popularity among newborn girls in Virginia in 1960, now ranks No. 891.

Nationally, “both Donald and Karen are nowhere on the top 1,000 names,” Jennifer Moss said. “In 2020, the name Karen has gone the way of Dick. Both names are now associated with negative personal traits.”

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Jeff South
Jeff South

Jeff South retired after 23 years as a journalism professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. Before that, he was a newspaper editor and reporter for 20 years in Virginia, Texas and Arizona. He can be reached at [email protected].