The most popular names of the last 500 years: which biblical names made the top 25 and what do they mean?


With the rising trend of parents naming their children after the characters in popular films and TV shows, in years to come there's likely to be more Khaleesis, the title of the character played by Emilia Clarke's in Game of Thrones, than Kates in the playground. The increase in the number of parents opting for unusual baby names may cause people to think that traditional, biblical names are falling out of favour. But a study of more than 34 million UK and Irish birth and christening records by Ancestry, one of the largest genealogy companies in the world, reveals that biblical names have remained among the most common registered.

For women, Mary tops the list with more than 4.5 million choosing the name during the period from 1530-2005, and John takes the top spot for the most common choice for males with more than 5.8 million opting to register their children with this name.

Below is a list of the biblical names which made into the top 25 on Ancestry's lists, and the meanings behind them.

Mary – The name of a number of significant women in the Bible, not least Jesus' mother, tops the list for the most popular female name registered in the 500 year period that Ancestry's research covers. However, in recent years it's failed to make the top 10. It originates from the Hebrew Miryam and has several meanings including "rebellious woman", but most parents probably have the mother of Jesus or his devoted follower in mind when they name their baby girl Mary.

Elizabeth – In at number two was Elizabeth. It means "promise of God".

Sarah – This name came in at number three on Ancestry's list. As with Emilia Clarke's Game of Thrones character, the regal connection could be reason for its popularity among parents. Sarah means "princess".

Hannah – This Hebrew name means "gracious". It makes the list at a respectable 15.

Ann and Annie – These two versions of the names aren't found in the Bible but both are derivatives of Anna, a variant of the Hebrew name Hannah.  Anna is recorded in Luke 2 as a prophetess and long-time widow who was among the first to see and testify of Jesus. Ann makes number five on Ancestry's list, while Annie comes in at nine.

John – This name took the crown for the most popular male name. A name of Hebrew origin, the meaning behind John translates to "God is merciful".

Thomas – Thomas came in at number three. It means "twin".

James – Considering James was the name of two apostles it's fitting that it translates to "following after". It charted at number five in Ancestry's research.

Joseph – The name given to Mary's husband, Joseph means "God will add".  

David – This Hebrew name means "adored" and charting at number 10, it's definitely one that has attracted adoration from millions of parents over the years.

Michael – "Which man is like God?" is the translation for the meaning of Michael. It makes number 17 on the list.

Peter – Close behind Michael is Peter, in at number 18. This name's meaning translates to "rock".

Samuel – Often shortened to Sam, Samuel charts at number 21. It means "to hear God".

Stephen – In at 23, this name may not have taken the crown but it means it.

Paul – This name of Latin origin came in at number 25. It means "small or petite".