Stephen or Steven? Lindsey or Lindsay? The ‘right’ way to spell 21 of the most popular names in the US

Some spellings of baby names are more popular than others.

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Some spellings of baby names are more popular than others.
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Timothy Hiatt/Getty Images for Knowledge Universe

  • Baby names with variant spellings can be tricky: Which do you choose?
  • In the US, Alan is a more popular baby name than Allen or Allan, for example.
  • We compared the most common variations of popular baby names to see which spelling parents choose most.

Naming your child is a unique experience – linguist Steven Pinker called it “the only opportunity that most people get to anoint an entity in the world with a word of their choosing.”

That means that whatever a parent decides on for their baby’s name, the rest of the world pretty much has to go along with it – even when they choose an unusual spelling.

But what constitutes an unusual way to spell a name, and what’s the “normal” way to spell them?

We compared the most popular variations of common names – think Shawn or Shaun instead of the more popular Sean – using data from Names.org, which tracks the names of babies born in the US dating back to 1880.

The results were surprising: According to the records, there have been 345,000 babies named Alan born in the US since 1880, compared to 268,000 named Allen and just 94,000 named Allan.

Meanwhile, girls named Makayla outnumbered those named Michaela by more than 50,000, making it by far the most popular variant of that name.

The names we chose to compare come from the Social Security Administration‘s list of the 100 most popular boys’ and girls’ names in US history, as well as a few other popular names with several spelling variations with at least 10,000 representatives.

Read on to whether Stephen is more popular than Steven, whether Lindsey beats Lindsay, and whether Philip or Phillip reigns supreme.


Alan, Allen, and Allan

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Allison, Alison, Allyson, and Alyson

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Ann and Anne

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Brian and Bryan

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Brittany, Brittney, Britney, and Brittani

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Carl and Karl

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Catherine, Katherine, Kathryn, Katharine, and Catharine

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Duane, Dwayne, and Dewayne

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Elizabeth and Elisabeth

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Erica, Erika, and Ericka

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Jeffrey, Jeffery, Geoffrey, and Jeffry

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Kaitlyn, Katelyn, Caitlin, Kaitlin, and Caitlyn

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Lindsey, Lindsay, and Lyndsey

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Louis and Lewis

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Makayla, Mikayla, Michaela, Mikaela, Micaela, and McKayla

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Mark and Marc

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Megan, Meghan, Meagan, and Meaghan

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Philip and Phillip

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Sarah and Sara

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Sean, Shawn, and Shaun

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider

Steven and Stephen

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Shayanne Gal/Business Insider