Revealed: the most popular names of the last 500 years

John and Mary have been revealed as the most popular names of the last 500 years - despite now have falling out of the Top 100 baby names.

By The Newsroom
Friday, 1st April 2016, 4:00 pm
Updated Saturday, 2nd April 2016, 10:00 am

A new study also shows how Smith, Jones and Williams have been the most common surnames for nearly 180 years.

The extensive research, by family history website Ancestry, involved studying more than 34 million UK and Irish christening and birth records from 1530 to 2005.

The figures show that after ‘John’ - of which there have been more than 5.8 million born since 1530 - ‘William’, ‘Thomas’, ‘George’ and ‘James’ are the next most popular first names for boys.

‘Tom’, ‘Dick’ and ‘Harry’ have suffered mixed fortunes. All three are among the top 25 most common names in history, but ‘Richard’ (Dick) has fallen out of the top 100, while ‘Thomas’ and ‘Harry’ sit proudly in the Top 10 today.

For women, following ‘Mary’ - of whom more than 4.5 million have been born since 1530 - are ‘Elizabeth’, ‘Sarah’, ‘Margaret’ and ‘Ann’, with ‘Jane’, ‘Alice’, ‘Ellen’, ‘Annie’ and ‘Florence’ comprising the rest of the top 10.

The most popular surname of the past five centuries is ‘Smith’ - more than two million since 1530, followed by ‘Jones’, ‘Williams’, ‘Taylor’, ‘Brown’, ‘Davies’, ‘Evans’, ‘Thomas’, ‘Johnson’ and ‘Wilson.’

Just sneaking into the Top 100 boys’ names were ‘Edgar’ (100th), ‘Cecil’ (99th) and ‘Abraham’ (98th), while for girls it was ‘Valerie’ (100th), ‘Amanda’ (99th) and ‘Eva’ (98th).

Day, Gibson and Booth were the surnames in position 100, 99 and 98 respectively in the top 100 surnames of the last 500 years.

But as some names become more popular, others fall out of favour, and that is especially the case for female names with none of the historic top 10 female names appearing in the most recent top 10 compiled by the Office of National Statistics (ONS).

Men’s names have seen much less change, with four of the most popular 10 overall still in today’s top 10 - ‘Thomas’, ‘George’, ‘James’ and ‘William.’

The most historically popular top names for both genders - John and Mary - have fallen out of the current Top 100 most popular names altogether. The figures show Mary started to decline in the 1920s, while John didn’t leave the top 10 until the 1970s.

The analysis also highlighted a modern trend for naming boys with abbreviations for some of the more common historical names. For example, the name ‘Charles’ - which ranks seventh in history - has been replaced by ‘Charlie’, while ‘Alfie’ - the twelfth most popular name today - replaces the more traditional ‘Alfred’.

But girls’ names seem to be more cyclical in nature, with many historic names making comebacks in recent years.

The research showed the most ‘yo-yo name’ in terms of popularity was Emma, which was the seventh most popular name in the 1830s, but dropped out of the Top 50 around 1900. It came from nowhere in the 1970s to reach the second spot, before falling back down to 57th today.

Miriam Silverman, Ancestry’s senior content manager, said: “This research shows that names will often drop in and out of favour, and while John and Mary may be the most popular name over the past 500 years, today they don’t even make the Top 100.

“That said, it might not be long until they become popular once more, just like the names Florence and Alice.”


1. John

2. William

3. Thomas

4. George

5. James

6. Robert

7. Charles

8. Henry

9. Joseph

10. David

11. Richard

12. Federick

13. Arthur

14. Edward

15. Albert

16. Alfred

17. Michael

18. Peter

19. Walter

20. Ernest

21. Samuel

22. Harry

23. Stephen

24. Frank

25. Paul


1. Mary

2. Elizabeth

3. Sarah

4. Margaret

5. Ann

6. Jane

7. Alice

8. Ellen

9. Annie

10. Florence

11. Emma

12. Edith

13. Emily

14. Eliza

15. Hannah

16. Susan

17. Martha

18. Dorothy

19. Catherine

20. Ethel

21. Ada

22. Anne

23. Frances

24. Elsie

25. Harriet


1. Smith

2. Jones

3. Williams

4. Taylor

5. Brown

6. Davies

7. Evans

8. Thomas

9. Johnson

10. Wilson

11. Roberts

12. Robinson

13. Wright

14. Thompson

15. White

16. Hall

17. Walker

18. Green

19. Edwards

20. Wood

21. Hughes

22. Jackson

23. Turner

24. Lewis

25. Harris