Popular girl names 1980

Last Updated on November 3, 2019

What do leg warmers, parachute pants and the end of the Soviet Union have in common? The 1980s!

The Bible, the Cold War, and boy bands that had better hair than girl bands were the perfect inspiration for a host of 1980s baby names. Do any of these top 100 sound familiar?

1980s Boy Names

Michael has been a top boy name for over a century. But as parents sought to honor the political heroes working to end to the Cold War — Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan — its appeal only grew.

Popular names from the 1980s also expressed a love of places far and wide. Ireland gave us “Sean,” “Adam” and Kevin while British royalty inspired classics like “William” and “Charles.”

Biblical names continued to be fashionable, but trends shifted from kingly figures like David and Joseph to humble characters, including Daniel, Joshua, and Jacob.

Most Popular Boys Names from 1980s

  1. Michael
  2. Christopher
  3. Matthew
  4. Joshua
  5. David
  6. James
  7. Daniel
  8. Robert
  9. John
  10. Joseph
  11. Jason
  12. Justin
  13. Andrew
  14. Ryan
  15. William
  16. Brian
  17. Brandon
  18. Jonathan
  19. Nicholas
  20. Anthony
  21. Eric
  22. Adam
  23. Kevin
  24. Thomas
  25. Steven
  26. Timothy
  27. Richard
  28. Jeremy
  29. Jeffrey
  30. Kyle
  31. Benjamin
  32. Aaron
  33. Charles
  34. Mark
  35. Jacob
  36. Stephen
  37. Patrick
  38. Scott
  39. Nathan
  40. Paul
  41. Sean
  42. Travis
  43. Zachary
  44. Dustin
  45. Gregory
  46. Kenneth
  47. Jose
  48. Tyler
  49. Jesse
  50. Alexander
  51. Bryan
  52. Samuel
  53. Derek
  54. Bradley
  55. Chad
  56. Shawn
  57. Edward
  58. Jared
  59. Cody
  60. Jordan
  61. Peter
  62. Corey
  63. Keith
  64. Marcus
  65. Juan
  66. Donald
  67. Ronald
  68. Phillip
  69. George
  70. Cory
  71. Joel
  72. Shane
  73. Douglas
  74. Antonio
  75. Raymond
  76. Carlos
  77. Brett
  78. Gary
  79. Alex
  80. Nathaniel
  81. Craig
  82. Ian
  83. Luis
  84. Derrick
  85. Erik
  86. Casey
  87. Philip
  88. Frank
  89. Evan
  90. Gabriel
  91. Victor
  92. Vincent
  93. Larry
  94. Brent
  95. Austin
  96. Seth
  97. Wesley
  98. Dennis
  99. Todd
  100. Christian

1980s Girl Names

Biblical girl names were also a hit — Sarah and Rachel gained in popularity. But the British royal family couldn’t be ignored.

“Elizabeth” flew to the top of the list of regal names from the 80s while a young new princess named made a splash in the United States. “Diana” rose from its number 97 spot in the 1970s to a cool 75.

But despite the continued popularity of classic names, baby names from the 80s trended toward the fun and romantic. Monikers like “Tara,” ”Brandi” and “Misty” had pop vibes, while “Kayla” entered the top 100 for the first time in homage to the romance of the decade on NBC’s daytime soap — Days of our Lives.

Enchanting names from afar were among the foremost choices for girls. “Heather,” a flowering evergreen from the barren lands of Scotland and “Kimberly,” meaning from the wood of the royal forest were favorites.

Other trends in 1980s names were girl-versions of boy names like Danielle, Samantha and Jamie, and Old English boy names for girls including Ashley and Lindsay.

Most Popular Girls Names from 1980s

  1. Jessica
  2. Jennifer
  3. Amanda
  4. Ashley
  5. Sarah
  6. Stephanie
  7. Melissa
  8. Nicole
  9. Elizabeth
  10. Heather
  11. Tiffany
  12. Michelle
  13. Amber
  14. Megan
  15. Amy
  16. Rachel
  17. Kimberly
  18. Christina
  19. Lauren
  20. Crystal
  21. Brittany
  22. Rebecca
  23. Laura
  24. Danielle
  25. Emily
  26. Samantha
  27. Angela
  28. Erin
  29. Kelly
  30. Sara
  31. Lisa
  32. Katherine
  33. Andrea
  34. Jamie
  35. Mary
  36. Erica
  37. Courtney
  38. Kristen
  39. Shannon
  40. April
  41. Katie
  42. Lindsey
  43. Kristin
  44. Lindsay
  45. Christine
  46. Alicia
  47. Vanessa
  48. Maria
  49. Kathryn
  50. Allison
  51. Julie
  52. Anna
  53. Tara
  54. Kayla
  55. Natalie
  56. Victoria
  57. Monica
  58. Jacqueline
  59. Holly
  60. Kristina
  61. Patricia
  62. Cassandra
  63. Brandy
  64. Whitney
  65. Chelsea
  66. Brandi
  67. Catherine
  68. Cynthia
  69. Kathleen
  70. Veronica
  71. Leslie
  72. Natasha
  73. Krystal
  74. Stacy
  75. Diana
  76. Dana
  77. Erika
  78. Jenna
  79. Meghan
  80. Carrie
  81. Leah
  82. Melanie
  83. Brooke
  84. Karen
  85. Alexandra
  86. Valerie
  87. Caitlin
  88. Julia
  89. Alyssa
  90. Jasmine
  91. Hannah
  92. Stacey
  93. Brittney
  94. Susan
  95. Margaret
  96. Sandra
  97. Candice
  98. Latoya
  99. Bethany
  100. Misty

Does a baby name always have to have a classical meaning to reflect a child’s one-of-a-kind personality? Maybe not.

Why the name “Jessica,” topped the list of the 80s most popular girls name is a mystery — cultural inspirations are absent. And the most popular name for boys, “Michael,” could reflect Christian tradition or a fascination with the “King of Pop.”

Names with meaning matter, but ultimately, it’s what they mean to you.

Looking for other baby names?

Simply click the baby name letter or enter the idea you have into the search box below!

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There’s a line in a poem by Czeslaw Milosz that’s always stuck with me: “Love means to learn to look at yourself/ The way one looks at distant things/ For you are only one thing among many.” The key to happiness, the poem suggests, is to understand that you’re not that special—so that you can better relate to the world around you.

I love that idea, since I’ve never felt particularly exceptional. After all, I grew up with the name Sarah.

Between 1980 and 2000, the name “Sarah” consistently ranked as the fourth- or fifth-most-popular name in the US. I was born in 1983. The practical effect of this was that I spent my childhood expecting to be one of many anytime I walked into a room. My own father hollered “Sarah Todd” whenever a friend called on the landline, just to distinguish me from all the other Sarah’s who might be hanging out upstairs in my bedroom.

If the purpose of a name is to signify an object, a very common first name seems like a pretty ineffective signifier. When people on the street say my name, I often don’t bother to turn around, knowing that there are probably other Sarah’s in close proximity. And so I think of “Sarah” less as a name that’s specific to me and more as a general descriptor—another word for “woman” or “girl,” or something else that applies both to me and to a lot of other people, too.

Recently, I got curious about whether other people with very popular names felt similarly unattached to their own monikers. There’s been plenty of publicity about the possible drawbacks—and benefits—of unique names. But what are the psychological effects of growing up with a name that you have to share with everyone else?

What’s in a name?

The fact that I’m even bothering to ask this question is a sign of the times, according to Laura Wattenberg, founder of the baby-naming site Baby Name Wizard.

“I think in past generations, parents were much more concerned about their kids’ names fitting in. But in the past 20 years, the focus has been 100% on standing out,” Wattenberg says. “Parents are really, really worried about their kids being ordinary.”

“Parents are really, really worried about their kids being ordinary.”

Wattenberg attributes the cultural shift to several factors, including the introduction of baby-name statistics and the cable TV explosion, which let people see a wider variety of names. But the most important change was the dawn of the digital era. “Two aspects of the internet had a big impact,” Wattenberg says. “All of us were choosing user names and becoming accustomed to the idea that a name has to be unique to be usable.” Search engines also changed the way we think about names. “It used to be that if there was a Sophie Adamson, there would be 100 other Sophie Adamson’s and she’d never know about them. But now parents type a name into the search engine, see the name is ‘taken,’ and panic.”

It’s understandable that parents get nervous about picking a name: Our names send a signal to the world about who we are. At a basic level, they may hint at our age, ethnicity, and religion. Research shows that our names can also reflect our families’ socioeconomic status and political affiliations. Because they disclose so much information to the world, choosing a name is a high-stakes game. As Maria Konnikova writes in The New Yorker, “We see a name, implicitly associate different characteristics with it, and use that association, however unknowingly, to make unrelated judgments about the competence and suitability of its bearer.”

But there is an exception: Extremely common, classic names give very little away. Biblical names like these never really go out of style, which means their bearers can be almost any age. They can be Jewish names, or Christian ones, or religiously unaffiliated. There are white Michael’s and David’s and Mary’s, and black, Latino, and Asian ones too. And these names are not particularly linked to politics: According to a 2016 Political Behavior study, “White mothers in liberal neighborhoods are just as likely to give their children Biblical names like Jacob, Daniel, Hannah, or Sarah as mothers in conservative neighborhoods.”

When you hear from a person with a name like Dave or Jen or Mike, “you’re more likely to answer their email, more likely to swipe right on Tinder.”

And so giving your child a classic, common name can be a way to steer clear of cultural stereotypes and unjust discrimination. Historically, Wattenberg says, research has shown that people find familiar, easy-to-pronounce names to be likable and trustworthy. When you hear from a person with a name like Dave or Jen or Mike, “you’re more likely to answer their email, more likely to swipe right on Tinder,” she says.

But a lot of people rightfully take pride in having a distinctive name that speaks to their family’s culture and origins. And bearing a name that practically screams “basic” can present its own challenges. To find out what those obstacles might be, I first turned to my natural cohort: a sampling of Sarah’s.

The Sarah’s and me

Most of the Sarah’s I spoke with said that they didn’t feel much ownership over their name. “Sarah has never felt like it belonged to me or like it says much of anything about my identity,” says Sarah Balistreri, an educator in New York City. “It’s not my name so much as it’s a name I share with loads of other women. This is one of the reasons I knew from a pretty young age I wouldn’t change my last name, since I do derive a sense of self and family from it.”

Last names do seem to take on added importance for my sample group. “People often call me by my last name and I always love it, which again, may be the result of my last name being unique as opposed to my first name,” says Sarah Stoeckl, a writer who works in education technology. “I also like that my last name is not gendered, so it feels more like me-as-myself, rather than a ‘girl.’” (Not all Sarah’s have the benefit of a gender-free surname: My last name, “Todd,” is also a man’s first name that tends to call up images of pop-collared frat bros.)

Some Sarah’s said they actually appreciated sharing their name with other people. Sarah Kessler, a reporter at Quartz, told me that she always felt an instinctive affinity with the Sarah’s she met—they had something in common, right off the bat. “It was like we were part of a club,” she adds.

The joy of fitting in

There are definitely benefits to growing up with a common name, particularly as a child—when fitting in is paramount. Emily Arden, owner of the arts organization ReCreative Spaces, says that as a kid, she was delighted by how easy it was to find her name on keychains and other trinkets, and happy that the name translated across multiple cultures and nations. “I have a bowl my dad brought back from Paris with the French spelling, Emilie, that I’ve always loved,” she says. “It never bothered me that it wasn’t an ‘original’ name.”

“Chinese parents often give their kids names that reflect good fortune or a wish for their lives.”

Another Quartz coworker, growth editor Jennifer Chang, said that she appreciated that her parents—first-generation immigrants from Taiwan—had given her a popular American name. It made her feel more at ease among her classmates in a predominantly white elementary school in Texas. “Chinese parents often give their kids names that reflect good fortune or a wish for their lives,” she says, “something that will keep them safe or make them happy. So to give me a common name like Jennifer reflected a desire for me to be accepted as American.”

Many immigrants follow this logic when naming their children. A 2016 study published in the American Sociology Review, for example, looked at census data on Irish, Italian, German, and Polish immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th century. The authors found a strong correlation between second-generation immigrants with traditionally American first names and occupational achievement. They suggest that parents who chose an American name were signaling their families’ orientation toward cultural assimilation, which worked to their children’s advantage in a society often wary of outsiders.

Given the extent to which names are often linked with cultural acceptance, some countries have even gone so far as to restrict parents’ choices to government-approved names. In Denmark, parents must select their baby’s name from a list of 7,000 government-approved possibilities—an attempt to protect children from schoolyard bullying and quizzical stares. This approach seems in keeping with the country’s so-called “Jante law”—the idea of aspiring to be average, which in turn leads to happiness, as people are satisfied when ordinary things happen to them.

Icelandic parents must pick from an even smaller curated list: 1,800 girls’ names and 1,700 boys’ names. Sweden and Norway regulate baby names as well, and France had a list—heavy on the names of Catholic saints—until 1993. Of course, some names on government-run lists are bound to be more popular than others. But they’re all indicative of the countries themselves: often-homogenous cultures that prioritize assimilation and a sense of belonging.

Making names personal

In the US and the UK, by contrast, the overall trend is toward more unique names—indicative of these culture’s more individualistic mindsets. “Finding a name that has authentic roots, but is completely undiscovered, is the ultimate baby name status symbol,” Pamela Redmond Satran, founder of the baby-naming site Nameberry, told the New York Times in 2013.

Wattenberg adds that this cultural shift also reflects anxieties about economic mobility and competition. “Parents are worried about their kids’ futures and want to carve out shelf space in the marketplace of life,” she says. “Some think that standing out with a name will help their kids do that.”

When you live in a culture that values standing out, it’s no surprise that some people with popular names try to find ways to customize their names to better suit their personalities. Kati Haynes Gulde, a freelance musician, recalls considering the various nicknames available to her as a “Katharine.”

“Katie’s were always nice and soft, something homemade or home-baked,” she says. “Someone you met through your mom. Definitely creative. Katy’s were popular, athletic, intimidating. Kate’s are really cool. They skateboard. They don’t talk much. They’re mysterious.” Ultimately, Kati decided to go with Katie, then dropped the “e” from her nickname in the sixth grade. “I felt pretty unique after that,” she says.

There’s also the option of attempting to change your name to something a bit more unusual. When I went to boarding school at age 16, I thought about going by one of my middle names, Charlotte. But I ultimately stuck with Sarah. To be a Charlotte, I felt, meant committing to a particular kind of personality—someone polished and feminine, the kind of girl who went to art galleries on weekends and spoke flawless French. The issue wasn’t so much that I didn’t feel like a Charlotte as that I was afraid of not living up to it. Sarah, by contrast, was reassuringly commitment-free.

The gift

A recent study (pdf), published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, confirms my suspicions about the anonymity conferred by a common name. Over the course of eight experiments, researchers asked people in France and Israel to look at photographs of strangers’ faces and guess their names from a list of five possible choices. Participants selected the correct name far more frequently than pure chance would allow.

Why are people able to guess the right names with such frequency? The researchers suggest it’s because our appearances are shaped by the cultural expectations and stereotypes associated with a given name.

“We show that people change their faces as they grow,” explains Anne-Laure Sellier, who co-authored the study and is a visiting assistant professor of marketing at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “You’re conditioned to look a certain way, because you want to fit in and be accepted.” We expect a girl named “Joy” to be cheerful and smiley, for example, so she develops a bright personality accordingly.

But there are exceptions. “If you think of a stereotype, a stereotype for Sarah is noisy,” says Sellier. There are too many examples—Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sarah Palin, Sarah Silverman, Sarah, Plain and Tall—to conjure up a firm association.

As to whether it’s a good or bad thing to grow up with a name that’s basically a blank slate, Sellier is uncommitted. “Maybe there are too many degrees of freedom and you don’t like it,” she says. “Too much choice is not good.” On the other hand, when you’re not saddled with cultural expectations about what a person with your name ought to look or act like, you can make of yourself what you will.

And that’s the gift my parents passed onto me when they chose my name. I may not have a name that feels particularly descriptive, but it has made me feel free. As a kid I knew Sarah’s who were bookworms and Sarah’s who were bold and popular, Sarah’s who could do tricks on the jungle gym and Sarah’s who were class clowns. I read about people with my name who were inventors and musicians and activists and writers. And so I grew up understanding that I might not have to choose. In this way, perhaps parents who give their children a common name are making their own kind of wish. Keep your options open, they’re saying. You could be anyone.