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The list is out, and the most popular baby names in the U.S. in 2012 were Jacob and Sophia.

The Social Security Administration tracks baby name popularity in the U.S., and its annual list of most popular names is eagerly awaited by expectant parents looking for inspiration as well as by the parents of older children anxious to see whether their name choices are hot or not.

Jacob has been No. 1 for boys since 1999. Sophia unseated Isabella in 2010 as the most popular for girls. Liam made its debut on the top 10 list this year, pushing out Daniel, while the classic Elizabeth nudged Chloe out of the girls’ top 10 list.

The hottest trending names – those that rose the most in popularity in 2012 – are the military-inspired Major (for boys) and Arya/Aria for girls, perhaps inspired by characters on “Game of Thrones” and "Pretty Little Liars."

Sophia and Jacob "have so much going for them," says Pamela Redmond Satran, co-author of "The Baby Name Bible" and co-creator of the baby-name website Nameberry. "They're classic, with a rich history yet a lot of contemporary style. And they appeal to a wide range of parents so their popularity is understandable." (See the full list of top 100 most popular names at Nameberry.)

Elizabeth's return to the top 10 could be thanks to the visibility of Britain's Queen Elizabeth during the London Olympics and her Jubilee year (marking her 60 years of reign). Of course, if William and Kate's royal baby is named Elizabeth, Satran noted, that name will climb even higher.

There's a distinct Spanish accent to many of the top trending names, Satran said. "Many of the fastest-rising names are favorites with Hispanic parents," Satran said. "Gael, as in actor Gael Garcia Bernal, and Perla, a lovely spin on the newly fashionable Pearl. We also see the fast-rising Catalina, Elisa, and Iker, inspired by Spanish heritage or celebrities."

Laura Wattenberg, author of "The Baby Name Wizard," identified another fast-trending name that, in her words, "boils down to two words: beautiful and deadly." The girl's name Cataleya rose from obscurity outside the top 1,000 list to become No. 479 in popularity last year, making it Wattenberg's choice for hottest name of the year.

Cataleya is the name of the main character in the 2011 action movie Columbiana, played by Zoe Saldana. It's a variation of Cattleya, a genus of orchid, and sounds similar enough to the more traditional "Catalina" so that it doesn't seem strange to our ears.

The rising popularity of Cataleya says a lot about modern naming trends. "Name choices are really driven by sound and style nowadays. Tradition has fallen by the wayside," Wattenberg told TODAY Moms. "There's just a hunger for any new idea that sounds attractive and doesn't feel weird. What appeals to us is something that's just a little step beyond that we're used to."

Top baby names of 2012


  1. Jacob
  2. Mason
  3. Ethan
  4. Noah
  5. William
  6. Liam
  7. Jayden
  8. Michael
  9. Alexander
  10. Aiden


  1. Sophia
  2. Emma
  3. Isabella
  4. Olivia
  5. Ava
  6. Emily
  7. Abigail
  8. Mia
  9. Madison
  10. Elizabeth