What Are the Meanings of the 5 Most Popular Boy Names?

Before you choose one of the most popular boy names for your upcoming baby, you might want to research its meaning and origin. After all, you don’t want your babe’s name to mean “destroyer of peace” or “crooked nose,” do you? Some of the best names have awful meanings.

The meanings of the 5 most popular boy names are diverse, including “supplanter,” “God has been gracious,” and “strong warrior.” The most famous names of the last century are James, John, Robert, Michael, and William. Current popular boy names are Liam, Noah, and Oliver, which also have varied meanings.

In this article, we’ll explore the five most popular boy’s names of the last century as well as in recent years. We’ll also discuss each name’s meaning, origin, and history. This way, you can choose the best name for your upcoming bundle of joy, as well as discover more about popular names.

What Are the Meanings of the 5 Most Popular Boy Names?
What Are the Meanings of the 5 Most Popular Boy Names?

5 Most Popular Boy Names in the Last Century

In terms of masculine names, there are certainly a few winners over the last century. According to the Social Security Administration, five boy names have become favorites among the general population. 

The five most popular boy names of the last century are:

  • James
  • John
  • Robert
  • Michael
  • William

You likely know at least one person with one of the above names, if not more. But do you know what these names mean and how they came to be? Chances are, your friend Bill or Bob doesn’t know either. Let’s fix that.

Source: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/decades/century.html

James – history and meaning

In the United States, the name James hit its peak in 1944. During that year, more than 56,000 US-born babies were given that name. Nowadays, roughly 7,000 newborn babes are given the first name James. 

That’s a massive decrease, though maybe not so much when you consider the annual decline in population growth. Still, perhaps the origin or meaning of this name had something to do with its eventual slide from the top spot on baby naming lists. 

Origin and History – James

James comes from the Hebrew name יַעֲקֹב (Ya’aqov), better recognized as Jacob. The variation results from a change in spelling executed by Roman theologists and scholars several hundred years ago. 

This name has powerful biblical connotations, as Jacob is heavily featured in the Old Testament. In this work, Jacob’s sons go on to found the tribes of Israel. Jacob’s name has been translated in two very different ways. 

The first translation calls him “supplanter” The Old Testament tells of Jacob’s unpleasant behavior toward his older brother, which may have influenced this particular interpretation. Other translations liken the name to a prayer that roughly means, “may God/Yahweh protect.”

John – history and meaning

It’s challenging to determine just how widespread this masculine name once was. On the one hand, the US data concerning given birth names stretches back into the 1880s. On the other hand, this name’s popularity seems to have been steadily declining since the beginning of such recorded data.

That said, roughly 88,000 American children (according to behindthename.com) were named John in 1947. Consequently, it might be plausible that this name will only continue to see spikes in popularity. But what does the name John mean?

Origin and History – John

Like with James, the name John has origins in the Hebrew language and culture. It comes from  יוֹחָנָן (Yochanan), a phrase that can be translated to “God/Yahweh has been gracious.” As such, this name is likely thousands of years old.

To understand the history of this name, you’d need to become familiar with the Hebrew language’s history. This task can be challenging, as it’s an ancient language that’s only recently been revived, studied, and taught. 

The world in which Hebrew originated is now something that exists only in museums and history textbooks. Additionally, the story of the Hebrew language is one with many twists and turns. For this article, let’s summarize the history of this name into a few key points.

John is an anglicized name. That means that it is the English version of a foreign name. English, as a language, is younger than Christianity. The Christian religion is younger than Judaism, which seems to have evolved in tandem with the Hebrew and Aramaic languages. 

In short, the name John is the modern English version of a prayer that’s been whispered throughout the last several thousand years of civilization. Pretty neat, right?

Robert – history and meaning

Robert isn’t only the name of a rotund and unlucky king. It’s also one of the most popular boy’s names in the United States. Common nicknames for this name include Bob, Bobby, Robbie, and Rob. Robert most commonly means “shining fame.”

Origin and History – Robert

This name comes from the Proto-German “Hrodebert”. If you break this old name into two halves, you’ll find the words “bright” and “fame.” It has been a popular choice among Scandanavian, French, German, and English royalty for several hundred years.

There’s something to be said of being a conqueror or king. If you’re good enough at what you do, you might inspire generations of women to name their babes after you. That’s somewhat the case with the name Robert, as there have been many infamous Roberts throughout history.

Michael – history and meaning

As you might imagine, Michael is a biblical name that derives from ancient Hebrew. It most likely means, “Who is like God?” This name’s meaning translates into a question, making Michael one of the more unique options featured within this article.

Origin and History – Michael

The English variation of the Hebrew מִיכָאֵל (Mikha’el), Michael is a popular name in many Western and Semitic communities. In the Old Testament’s Book of Daniel, Michael is the name of an archangel said to lead God’s army against the forces of Hell.

As with other Hebrew names, this masculine first name likely spread throughout Europe during Christianity’s initial rise. It only became more popular as Catholicism and Protestantism took hold.

William – history and meaning

Though the name William is often associated with English culture and royalty, it has roots in the European mainland. Meaning “stubborn desire” or “protected will,” this name can be traced back to the very beginning of the German language.

Origin and History – William

This name doesn’t originate from any Hebrew texts or Aramaic scrolls. Instead, it’s a descendant of the Old French and Proto-Germanic languages. In its modern Germanic form, William becomes Wilhelm. Broken apart, this becomes “will” (want) and “helm” (helmet). 

If the Saxons and Angles had never invaded the British Isles, this name might have never become one of the most popular among United States citizens. When these early Germanic tribes decided to call England (or Angleland) home, they brought their language and customs along for the ride.

After the Norman Conquest and eventual death of King Stephen, the last Norman king of England, William the Conqueror would ensure that his name would last at least an age or longer.

Read: 38 worst baby names

5 Most Popular Boy Names in Recent Years

If you’re hoping to learn a little more about some of the more modern popular boy names, don’t worry. We’ve got them all laid out for you to see, and they are:

  • Liam
  • Noah
  • Oliver
  • Elijah
  • Logan

As you might imagine, each of these names has a unique origin story, history, and associated meaning. Let’s find out what these popular boy names have in common with the all-time greats and perhaps discover how they differ. (source: https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/top5names)

Liam – What Does Liam Mean

Liam is simply a permutation of the name William. Because we’ve already addressed that name, its origins, and its meaning, we’ll skip ahead to the next name: Noah.

Noah – What Does Noah Mean

If you guessed that these names might derive from ancient biblical prayers or characters, then you guessed correctly. Noah comes from the Hebrew נֹחַ (Noach). 

If you’re familiar with Christian, Catholic, or Jewish lore, you may know Noah as the man who built a massive ark to house the world’s animals and survive a great flood. It translates to “rest and repose.”

If you were born after 1999, you likely went to school with at least one Noah. That’s the year that nearly 15,000 parents (according to behindthename.com) selected this masculine name for their bouncing baby boys. 

Oliver – What Does Oliver Mean

You can trace this cute boy’s name back to ancient Rome. It comes from the term olivarius, which means “one who plants olive trees.” If you’ve got a green thumb, this might be an excellent name for your son. 

Oliver likely arrived in England via the Romans and Normans, though it didn’t gain much popularity until after the 1700s. Nowadays, it’s consistently one of the most popular masculine names in the United States.

Elijah – What Does Elijah Mean

The name Elijah has many forms (including Elias), but its origin is singular. Like so many others that are popular among English speaking populations, this name originates from an old Hebrew expression. Elijah most nearly means, “My God is Yahweh.”

As with Noah, this name burst into continued popularity around the turn of the millennium. In 2004, nearly 12,000 baby boys were named Elijah (according to behindthenames.com). By 2010, that number had increased to almost 14,000 children per year.

Logan – What Does Logan Mean

This name can be translated in two ways. That’s because its origins can be traced to two different but similar cultures. If you believe that the name Logan derives from Scottish culture and language, then the name means “little hollow,” as in a space within a tree.

But if you’re more inclined to associate this name with ancient Irish Gaelic, you might translate Logan as “one who descends from a great warrior.” Interestingly, this duality makes the name appropriate for both boys and girls. 

Read: What Are the Meanings of the 5 Most Popular Girls Names?


Overall, the most popular boy names in the United States are James, John, Robert, William, and Michael. They have diverse origins, with some hailing from Proto-Germanic while others originate from Hebrew. They also have varied meanings, including “supplanter,” “strong-willed warrior,” and “bright and shining glory.”

In recent years, the most popular boy names have included Liam, Noah, Oliver, Elijah, and Logan. These names also have many different meanings and origins. Some translations include “comfort,” “one who plants olive trees,” and “warrior’s son.” Often, the source of the name dictates the precise meaning.


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