Tuesday May 15, 2012

WASHINGTON -- Reality TV is giving birth to some of the most popular baby names. No, not Snooki. But Mason, as in Kourtney Kardashian’s son, jumped 10 spots to become the second most popular name for newborn boys in 2011.

The more traditional Sophia is the new top name for girls, while Jacob is No. 1 for boys for the 13th straight year, according to the list released Monday by the Social Security Administration.

Kardashian, the reality TV star, gave birth to Mason in December 2009 following a heavily publicized pregnancy. In 2010, Mason jumped from No. 34 to No. 12. Last year, 19,396 baby boys were named Mason, an increase of nearly 4,600, by far the biggest jump for any name.

"It shows what we’re paying attention to, what we’re thinking about," said Laura Watten berg, creator of the website babynamewizard.com. "Today, you can’t walk through a supermarket without learning more than you hoped to know about the Kardashian family. That’s just reality."

Rounding out the top five for boys: William, Jayden and Noah. Michael came in sixth, the lowest ranking since 1948.

Isabella drops to No. 2

Isabella, which had been the top girl’s name for two years, dropped to second place in 2011. Emma, Olivia and Ava rounded out the top five.

The Social Security Admin istration provides lists of baby names dating to 1880 on its website. The top two names that year were John and Mary. John is now No. 27 and Mary has fallen to No. 112 -- the lowest for both names.

The list, which also includes top baby names by state, draws millions of viewers. The agency hopes that people go to the website to see the baby names and stay to learn about other services, said Social Security Com missioner Michael J. Astrue.

Top girl names tend to be more volatile -- changing from year to year -- while the top boy names are more stable, Astrue said. William, for example, has been a popular boy’s name for more than 100 years, never falling out of the top 20. Mason is the exception, entering the top 100 for the first time in 1997.

On the girls’ side, Sophia first cracked the top 100 in 1997. Isabella dropped off the list altogether from 1949 to 1990.

Social Security also tracks which names increase in popularity and which ones drop.

Reality fast risers

The fastest rising name for girls: Briella, which jumped 394 spots, to No. 497. Briella Calafiore stars in "Jersey licious," a reality TV show about battling stylists at a beauty salon in Green Brook, N.J. She’s also in a spinoff called "Glam Fairy."

Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi is the star of another reality TV show about New Jersey called "Jersey Shore." Snooki has never cracked the list of top 1,000 names, but she is in the midst of a well-publicized pregnancy, so stay tuned.

Barack and Mitt have never made the list, either. But Willard, which is Mitt Romney’s first name, was on the list as recently as 1989.

Brantley was the fastest rising name for boys, jumping 416 spots to No. 320. Brantley Gilbert is a singer who had a No. 1 country hit called "Coun try Must Be Country Wide".

Americans get baby names from a lot of places -- religion, relatives and, yes, popular culture, Wattenberg said. She likened baby naming trends to "a fossil record of our culture."

Wattenberg said, parents aren’t necessarily paying homage to celebrities when they give their children the same name.

"Celebrity naming is just about the exposure and about everybody hearing that name at the same time," Wattenberg said. "It’s not about the fame, it’s about the name."

Religion has influence

Religion continues to have a big influence on baby names, but with a twist.

"The traditional biblical names were New Testament names -- John, James and Mary and Elizabeth," Watten berg said. "Today, the hot names are all names from the Old testament precisely because they were neglected for so many generations."

In addition to Jacob and Noah, Elijah at No. 13 and Joshua at No. 14 are all from the Old Testament.