May 13—Their son came three months early, so all Casey and Laura Hall had with them in the delivery room was a shortlist of possible baby names.
"The hospital was pestering us a little so they could fill out the paperwork for his Social Security number," Casey Hall said. "He was just Baby Hall for a couple days."
Plenty of parents have been in their shoes. Choosing a name is a big responsibility. The Halls, who live in Gorham, ended up picking Owen over three other finalists, and 13 months later, they can't imagine another name.
"I told my wife, 'You get to pick,' and she liked Owen best," said Hall, 43. "I think we wanted something that he could carry well throughout his life."
As it turns out, lots of parents liked Owen in Maine last year. It was the third-most-popular boys name in 2021, according to data kept by the U.S. Social Security Administration.
Every year around this time, the federal agency releases an updated list of the top names, both overall and by state, which inevitably sparks conversations among parents new and old.
There is some overlap between the national list and the Maine-specific list, but also some names that are more common here.
For the third straight year, the most popular name for a girl in the U.S. was Olivia. The second-most popular name in each of those years was Emma, which has been in the top five for 20 consecutive years. Rounding out the top five were Charlotte, Amelia and Ava. Ava has been in the top five for 16 consecutive years.
Falling out of the top five for the first time in a dozen years was Sophia, although it ranked sixth.
For boys, the top three names have been unchanged over the last three years: Liam, Noah and Oliver. James rejoined the top five in 2021 after a two-year hiatus. James is the most popular boys name in the last 100 years, used more than 4.6 million times.
In Maine, Owen, Jack, Jackson and Colton made the top 10 last year for boys but were not among the most popular nationally. For girls, Willow and Nora were in the top 10 in Maine but not in the U.S.
There is a cyclical nature to name patterns. Names that were really popular a decade or two ago — Jacob, Madison, Hannah, Michael — have slipped in popularity. Some names that haven't been popular in generations invariably come back around, too.
Kathryn Best had a rather uncommon name picked out for her daughter in 2019 — Seavey — but she and her husband changed it toward the end of her pregnancy to another name on their short list: Evelyn.
It was the eighth-most popular girls name that year in Maine, and this year it jumped into the top 10 nationally.
"That's crazy," said Best, 37, who recently moved to Belgrade from Yarmouth. "We knew a lot of people were using older names, and this was one of those older names that has come back around."
With the benefit of hindsight, Best said maybe she'd be less inclined to pick a name that has grown in popularity, but she doesn't have regrets.
Nicole Cammorata-Thornton's daughter was born in the fall of 2020. She and her husband had moved to York from New York the year before, but both grew up in Massachusetts. Cammorata-Thornton, 37, said picking a name was a lengthy process.
"It took us a long time," she said. "We didn't find out the gender ahead of time, so we were bouncing around names on both sides."
They each wanted a name that felt representative of them as a couple but not something that was "out there and weird." Her husband, Matthew, a teacher, didn't want any names of students he recently taught, which eliminated a lot of possibilities.
They settled on Willow, which was Maine's ninth-most popular girls name in 2020 and remained in the top 10 last year.
"We loved the idea of a nature-inspired name," said Cammorata-Thornton, a writer and editor who also runs Appleseed Flower Farm from the couple's home. "But symbolism was important, too."
Willow trees bend but don't break.
"That's a nice thing for a person to carry with them throughout their life," she said.
Dana Bisbee knew her son's name would be popular, but she chose it anyway.
About five years ago, when she and her husband were expecting their first child, they created short lists for girls and boys. They settled on a boy name early but ended up having a girl, Eleanor, in May 2018. That was the 13th-most popular girls name in Maine that year and has moved into the top 10 since.
When Bisbee, 37, was pregnant again last year, and they learned their baby would be a boy, they already had the name: Henry. He was born last month.
Henry has been in the top five boys names in Maine each of the last four years.
"We had it picked five years ago, but I guess it's only gotten more popular since then," she said.
Bisbee, who lives in Gray, said she's met other moms of Henrys on the playground. She knows another mom at day care with a Henry. A friend from college named her son Henry.
For Bisbee, the name has family connections. It's her husband's middle name. And the name of his great-grandfather.
"I'm very happy sticking with Henry," she said.
Rachael King, who lives in Farmington with her husband, had to come up with two names, not one when the couple found out they were having twin boys. King, 37, is a twin herself, but it was still a bit of a surprise.
They settled on one name — Avery — relatively quickly but were torn between two names for the second: Oliver and David.
"When you have the last name King, it makes things interesting," she said. "You have to run every name through the verb test. Joseph King becomes 'joking.' Ray becomes 'raking.' "
To break the stalemate, King's husband decided to poll the neonatal intensive care staff at Maine Medical Center. Oliver came out on top.
Oliver has actually been the most popular boys name in Maine for five years running.
"It does surprise me a little (that it's so popular)," she said. "But it's a sweet name."
Another name that has risen in popularity recently is Harper. It ranked 10th nationwide for girls in 2021 and fifth in Maine.
Michelle Hughes, 30, of Bangor, named her daughter Harper. Hughes and her husband also have a 2-year-old, Ella.
"We were looking for something that wasn't super popular but didn't sound so out there that it didn't seem like a name," she said. "We thought we were having a boy, so this was sort of our 'just in case' name. But we love it. It fits her perfectly."
Still, Hughes didn't expect so many other parents to arrive at the same conclusion.