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Isabella, Jacob are U.S. top baby names

Call it the “Twilight” effect: Names from Stephenie Meyer’s vampire novels and their hit film spin-offs sank their teeth into the list of most popular baby names of 2009, with Jacob and Isabella (the long form of Bella) topping the respective lists for boys and girls, and Cullen rising faster than any other boy’s name.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

Call it the “Twilight” effect: Names from Stephenie Meyer’s series of vampire novels and their hit film spin-offs sank their teeth into the list of most popular baby names this year, with Jacob and Isabella (the long form of Bella, Meyer’s heroine) topping the respective lists for boys and girls, and Cullen rising faster than any other boy’s name.

While Jacob held sway for the 11th consecutive year as the most popular baby boy name in the U.S., Isabella edged out last year’s most popular girl name, Emma, in the list compiled annually by the Social Security Administration.

The list, released Friday, showed some movement from the 2008 list: Jayden and Noah climbed into the Top 10 for boy names, while Mia made a bow in the girl Top 10 list.

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It’s not unlikely that young mothers who loved Stephenie Meyer’s series of “Twilight” books, and the subsequent film franchise, also fell in love with the names of the characters — and likely convinced dads to go along with them in naming their babies. “Twilight” features female protagonist Bella — a variation of Isabella — and the teen-to-wolf character Jacob. And perhaps not coincidentally, the fastest-rising baby boy name in 2009 is Cullen, the surname of “Twilight” vampire Edward Cullen.

While Isabella was a name most often associated with royalty in the 15th and 16th centuries, it fell out of favor for centuries. As recently as 1990, it barely cracked the Top 1,000 among baby names in the U.S. But it surprisingly re-emerged as a favored baby girl name last decade, entering the Top 10 list in 2004.

Since then, Isabella has made a steady ascent up the popularity list — Isabella ranked as the second most popular name for baby girls in 2007 and 2008.

Emma slid down one spot to No. 2, but it marks the eighth year in a row the name has landed in the Top 4 among baby girl names.

Everything’s JakeAnd as for the babies named Jacob, it’s likely they will shake hands with plenty of namesakes as they grow up. Jacob ranked in the Top 100 a century ago, and has remained popular since — although the name did take a dip into the 300s during the 1960s. Jacob has been one of the U.S.’s Top 100 baby boy names for the past 36 years, and has been in the Top 10 since 1993.

The SSA clearly has fun with its annual list, compiled from the names of babies applying for Social Security numbers, which is customary these days. It reports that Baby Jacob and Baby Isabella issued a joint statement thanking parents for “their support and good taste.”

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While it’s a given that baby boy name popularity tends to hold over time — Daniel and Michael continue to rank in the Top 10 — the popularity of girls’ names tends to ebb and flow. For example, Danielle was a solid Top 20 finisher from 1984 to 1994, but only ranks 170 in 2009.

Famous folks might even be able to track their own popularity by how many parents choose to name their children after them. Malia, the name of President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter, made the biggest year-to-year jump for girls, from 345th-most popular girl baby name in 2008 to 192 in 2009. But Miley Cyrus may have something to worry about — her name fell from 128 in 2008 to 189 in 2009. Interestingly, the name on Miley’s birth certificate, Destiny, ranked higher on the list — 57 in 2009.

Among the hottest new boy names, Cullen (no doubt inspired by brooding vampire Edward Cullen in the “Twilight” books and movies) was the fastest riser, leaping from 782 to 485 in the past year.

For the record, only 69 Americans chose to name their baby boys Barack, while the First Dog fared better: There are 782 baby Bo’s crawling around the country.

Strangely, the girl name Heaven ranked No. 275, but Neveah — a variation on “heaven” spelled backward — ranked a lofty No. 34.

The Top 10 names for girls, based on the 2009 SSA statistics:

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

The Top 10 names for boys:

  1. Jacob
  2. Ethan
  3. Michael
  4. Alexander
  5. William
  6. Joshua
  7. Daniel
  8. Jayden
  9. Noah
  10. Anthony

The Social Security Administration limits the list to 1,000 names out of a concern for privacy, not wishing to single out children who may be the only ones in the nation with a particular name. Their list of most popular baby names dates back to 1880, even though the agency was not created until 1935. Earlier name rankings are based on the Social Security applications of older people registering for the first time in the 1930s.