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The most popular girls’ names in Tudor England

Portrait of Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton (b. 15 June 1549, maid of honor early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth
Portrait of Elizabeth Knollys, Lady Leighton (b. 15 June 1549, maid of honor early in the reign of Queen Elizabeth

What were the most popular names for girls in England during the 16th century? This was one of the questions examined by Scott Smith-Bannister in his book Names and Naming Patterns in England 1538-1700.

The book examined what were the names that parents were giving their children during this period, why they choose particular names, and what trends emerged during the 16th and 17th centuries.

A large section of Smith-Bannister’s research was to follow the records of baptisms found in 40 parish registers spread throughout England. By following their records from 1538 to 1700, the author was able to get a sample of 122,710 names. Based on these records, here is a list of the top 10 girl names for each decade in the 16th century, starting with 1538

Years: 1538-49

1. Joan
2. Elizabeth
3. Agnes
4. Alice
5. Anne
6. Margaret
7. Mary
8. Jane
9. Margery
10. Edith

Years: 1550-59

1. Elizabeth
2. Joan
3. Alice
4. Mary
5. Agnes
6. Margaret
7. Anne
8. Jane
9. Margery
10. Catherine

Years: 1560-69

1. Elizabeth
2. Joan
3. Agnes
4. Alice
5. Anne
6. Margaret
7. Mary
8. Catherine
9. Jane
10. Margery

Years: 1570-79

1. Elizabeth
2. Joan
3. Margaret
4. Agnes
5. Alice
6. Anne
7. Mary
8. Jane
9. Catherine
10. Elinor

Years: 1580-89

1. Elizabeth
2. Margaret
3. Anne
4. Mary
5. Agnes
6. Joan
7. Alice
8. Jane
9. Catherine
10. Isabel

Years: 1590-99

1. Elizabeth
2. Margaret
3. Mary
4. Anne
5. Agnes
6. Joan
7. Alice
8. Jane
9. Catherine
10. Isabel





These results show that Elizabeth was the most popular name for girls in the second half of the sixteenth century, which perhaps is not too surprising considering England was ruled during this time by Queen Elizabeth I. The name Joan was also has strong popularity during the Tudor period, but as the decades passed this name became less and less popular – this downward trend would continue in the seventeenth century. Meanwhile, the name of Mary, while often in the middle range of the top 10 during the sixteenth century, would become more popular in the seventeenth century – by the 1650s it would replace Elizabeth as the most popular girls’ name.

Smith-Bannister also points out that the popularity of names could be greatly affected by location and social status. He points to a sample of 829 female names taken from tax records related to poor people living in Norwich during the year 1570. Here is the list of the top 10 girls’ names from this list:

1. Margaret
2. Agnes
3. Elizabeth
4. Alice
5. Joan
6. Katherine
7. Cecily
8. Margery
9. Helen
10. Anne

See also: Girls’ Names from Medieval London (not the usual ones!)