Elizabeth and John were the most popular names in 16th-century England

What were the most popular names in England during the 16th century? A study that examined over 100,000 baptismal records discovered that throughout this period the names Elizabeth and John usually took first place.

In his book Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700, Scott Smith-Bannister used the records found in 40 parish registers spread throughout England. These parishes typically noted the newborn children who were baptized in their church, including details about their parents and godparents. By following their records from 1538 to 1700, the author was able to get a sample of 122,710 names.


The top 10 women’s names for the 16th century were:

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

Elizabeth dominated nearly every decade during this period, which is not surprising as this was the era of Queen Elizabeth I, who reigned from 1558 to 1603. People may have even wanted to avoid naming their daughters Mary so as not to have any association with Elizabeth’s rivals – Mary Tudor or Mary, Queen of Scots. The name Mary would become more popular in the 17th century.


The other names tend to come from Biblical or Christian sources. You can read more details and a decade-by-decade breakdown here.

For men’s names, the top 10 list is as follows:

1. John
2. Thomas
3. William
4. Robert
5. Richard
6. Henry
7. Edward
8. George
9. Nicholas
10. James

John was consistently the most often chosen name throughout the 16th century and would continue in first place for decades afterwards. While Thomas and William vied with each other for second place, and Robert and Richard for fourth, there was a little more movement in positions among the other top ten boys’ names. Nicholas, in particular, started this period in sixth place, it found less and less popularity, and by the end of the 16th century was barely making the tenth place. Other boys’ names that could be found just outside the top 10 list included Roger, Francis, Anthony and Christopher.

Smith-Bannister’s research indicates that the most usual reason a person got their name was because it was the name of their godparents. This trend was prominent during the 16th century, but would change to being named after their parents in the 17th century. You can learn about this evolution in the book Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700.


You can read also about unusual names for girls and boys in medieval London.

A list of the names of the principal actors – Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, & Tragedies. Published according to the True Originall Copies. [Edited by J. Heminge and H. Condell.] Ed. Pr – British Library: C.39.k.15