The 2009 numbers aren't in yet, or at least, they're not posted on the Social Security Administration's website. (There's a question, by the way: when did it become necessary to get social security numbers for newborns? I got mine when I was nine or ten; all of my siblings got theirs at the same time, but I don't remember whether my brother James had been born yet.)
But these were the most popular names for new babies in 2008. It's interesting to see how little the boys' names have varied over time, while fashions in girls' names come and go.
1. Emma. Emma was a Top-10 name in the 1890s that had all but disappeared until the mid-1980s, when it started to make a comeback. A friend with a teenaged daughter named Emma reports that she's had as many as three in her class, and it's been ranked #2 or higher for most of the past ten years.
2. Isabella. The SSA's list is just national, and doesn't break out names by region. I don't know any little girls named Isabella; maybe this name is more popular in the south, or the west? Anyway, it's pretty. "Isabella" and "Elizabeth" are different versions of the same name, by the way.
3. Emily. Almost no one was named Emily in the United States between about 1920 and 1970. The name has been in the Top Ten list since the 1990s, and I have a young cousin named Emily.
4. Madison. I admit to this prejudice: I think names should come from somewhere, either a patron saint or an ancestor or a family surname. You know where this name comes from? The movie Splash. I'm not kidding. It didn't really exist as a girl's name until after the release of Splash in 1984, when Daryl Hannah played a mermaid who named herself after the New York avenue because she saw it on a street sign. It's a name that means nothing, unless you want to take it as a tribute to the wonderful world of advertising.
5. Ava. The most recently-revived name on this list; in the 1990s, it was ranked 571 on the list of popular girls' names. It's pretty, but it's another name that doesn't seem to mean anything, unless you're a major Ava Gardner fan, or you meant to name your child "Eva" and didn't trust people to pronounce it correctly.
1. Jacob. A name that was mostly gone until it was revived in the 1970s, and has been in the top ten since the 1990s.
2. Michael. Michael's been in the top ten list since the 1940s, and has been ranked #1 or #2 since the 1950s.
3. Ethan. Revived in the 1990s, top ten since about 2000. I knew someone named Ethan in high school, and thought of it as the WASPiest of all possible names — because the Ethan I knew was the WASPiest of all possible WASPs, though smart and handsome and charming with it. It's an Old Testament name, though, belonging to a wise man whose wisdom was surpassed by Solomon. (Begging the question: why isn't anyone named Solomon?)
4. Joshua. Another 1970s revival, another Old Testament name (as all the names on the boys' list are, interestingly enough). It's been in the top ten since the 1980s.
5. Daniel. Daniel, like Michael, never really went away, but has been in the top ten list since the 1980s.
Is it better or worse to have a name that many other people have? I grew up with an unusual spelling of what was then an unusual name (Clair), and it made me so self-conscious and anxious that I took the first opportunity to start using my first name (Ellen), a decision I later regretted. Now I answer to both names, and use them more or less equally, depending on the environment; mostly I am Ellen in business settings and Clair among relatives, old friends, and book people. Either way, I'm now old enough to appreciate having a name that doesn't require the addition of my last initial to distinguish me.