Why Emma is the baby name that can’t be stopped

She probably has a very short name with multiple vowels.
She probably has a very short name with multiple vowels.
Image: AP/Scott Roth
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There have been some great baby name runs in American history. Emma is on one of them.

For five consecutive years, Emma has been the most popular name for girls in the United States, beating out number-two name Olivia in each of those years. Last year was also the 15th in a row that Emma has been in the top 3. (The most popular names of 2018 were announced today.)

Only 10 names have ever topped that list of girls’ names since 1909, the earliest year for which US Social Security Administration has data. The last time a name dominated the rankings like Emma was Emily’s incredibly streak from 1996 to 2007.

Most popular name for baby girls in the US

So what accounts for Emma’s dominance? “The key to Emma’s success is that it’s the meeting point of two trends,” says Laura Wattenberg, a preeminent US naming expert who runs the website Namerology. Wattenberg explained to Quartz that in the early 2000s, names that sounded classic and had alternating consonants and vowels, like Sophia and Amelia, were all the rage (classic names with two consonants in a row, like Mildred and Florence, never came back). Today, the trend is toward short names with multiple vowels, like Ella and Lila, that feel light on the ear. Since Emma fits both these trends, it has been the 21st century champ.

Wattenberg thinks Emma’s place atop the ranking isn’t permanent. “[F]ashion generally moves incrementally, seeking freshness in small steps away from the familiar—until the trend has reached its limit and something totally new sweeps in,” she says. It’s possible, she thinks, that we may soon reach the apotheosis of the trend towards short and vowel-centric. May Mildred rise again.