The 10 Most Common African-American Names & Their Meaning

These popular picks consistently make the cut for baby names.


Naming your new bundle of joy can be a joyous occasion filled with themes of legacy, family pride, and anticipation. For African-Americans, it's often tradition to name children after a parent, an elder loved one, or an esteemed leader who had impact on the parents' lives. Some also name their children with a certain term or meaning related to prosperity, longevity, wisdom, or love. The Social Security Administration regularly reports on the most popular baby names in the country. Let's explore 10 top African-American names from states that, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, have the highest percentage of African-Americans:

Most Common African-American Names & Their Meaning

1. Noah

Many are familiar with the Biblical figure who is associated with bravery, noblity, and obedience to God. From state to state, this name made numerous appearances in the top 5, and singer Trey Songz recently had a son who is named Noah. Other notable stars with this name include Broadway actor Noah Ricketts, track-and-field star Noah Lyles, and football player Noah Fant.

2. Emma

The name Emma is reportedly English in origin and means "complete", "whole", or "universal." Famous women with this name include Emma Thynn, the first black marchionese in British aristocratic history, esteemed painter Emma Amos, and author and scholar Emma Dabiri.

3. Elijah

Elijah is another popular baby name from the Bible, with a meaning associated with connection to "Yaweh" or the "Lord" as "God." Famous leaders with this name include wrestler Elijah Burke, politician Elijah Cummings, and actor Elijah Kelley.

4. Mia

The meaning of this name can vary from culture to culture and it can go super-left with "bitter", or super-positive with "mine". It's also reportedly a pet name for Maria. Leaders with this name include politician Mia Love, the first black Republican woman to be elected to Congress in Utah and voice-over star Mia Bank as well as wrestler Mia Yim.

Image via Shutterstock

5. Mason

The name Mason typically refers to a "stone layer" or "stone maker", and celebrities with this name include rapper Mase, football player Mason Foster and baseball player Mason Williams.

6. Charlotte

With French and English origins, the name Charlotte is associated with royalty. Leaders include concert singer and Howard University professor Charlotte Holloman, law pioneer Charlotte Ray, and Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.

Image via Giphy

7. Jackson

We all know Jackson as a common last name for super-famous families from entertainment to politics, but it's also a popular first name. Its meaning is literally "son of Jack" and it originates from England. More than a few soccer players share this name including Jackson Martinez, Jackson Richardson, and Jackson Pereira.

8. Harper

Who doesn't remember the sexy author Harper (played by Taye Diggs) in The Best Man films? Well, the name has origins in Scotland, England and Ireland and refers to one who plays the harp. Celebrities who share this name are former NBA player Harper Williams, child model Harper Anthony, and Harper Rhimes, daughter of TV powerhouse Shonda Rhimes.

9. Ethan

A poetic man of the Bible, Ethan was a pivotal leader in the book of Psalms. Its meaning is related to strength and firmness. Famous figures with this name include actor Ethan Herisse.

10. Ava

In Hebrew, it translates into meaning "like a bird", and it's associated with glamour and grace. Leading ladies who carry the name well are iconic filmmaker Ava DuVernay and one half of the young online influencer duo the McClure twins.

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When I was ten, my Sunday school teacher put on a brief performance in class that included some of the boys standing in front of the classroom while she stood in front of them holding a heart shaped box of chocolate. One by one, she tells each boy to come and bite a piece of candy and then place the remainder back into the box. After the last boy, she gave the box of now mangled chocolate over to the other Sunday school teacher — who happened to be her real husband — who made a comically puzzled face. She told us that the lesson to be gleaned from this was that if you give your heart away to too many people, once you find “the one,” that your heart would be too damaged. The lesson wasn’t explicitly about sex but the implication was clearly present.

That memory came back to me after a flier went viral last week, advertising an abstinence event titled The Close Your Legs Tour with the specific target demo of teen girls came across my Twitter timeline. The event was met with derision online. Writer, artist, and professor Ashon Crawley said: “We have to refuse shame. it is not yours to hold. legs open or not.” Writer and theologian Candice Marie Benbow said on her Twitter: “Any event where 12-17-year-old girls are being told to ‘keep their legs closed’ is a space where purity culture is being reinforced.”

“Purity culture,” as Benbow referenced, is a culture that teaches primarily girls and women that their value is to be found in their ability to stay chaste and “pure”–as in, non-sexual–for both God and their future husbands.

I grew up in an explicitly evangelical house and church, where I was taught virginity was the best gift a girl can hold on to until she got married. I fortunately never wore a purity ring or had a ceremony where I promised my father I wouldn’t have pre-marital sex. I certainly never even thought of having my hymen examined and the certificate handed over to my father on my wedding day as “proof” that I kept my promise. But the culture was always present. A few years after that chocolate-flavored indoctrination, I was introduced to the fabled car anecdote. “Boys don’t like girls who have been test-driven,” as it goes.

And I believed it for a long time. That to be loved and to be desired by men, it was only right for me to deny myself my own basic human desires, in the hopes of one day meeting a man that would fill all of my fantasies — romantically and sexually. Even if it meant denying my queerness, or even if it meant ignoring how being the only Black and fat girl in a predominantly white Christian space often had me watch all the white girls have their first boyfriends while I didn’t. Something they don’t tell you about purity culture – and that it took me years to learn and unlearn myself – is that there are bodies that are deemed inherently sinful and vulgar. That purity is about the desire to see girls and women shrink themselves, make themselves meek for men.

Purity culture isn’t unlike rape culture which tells young girls in so many ways that their worth can only be found through their bodies. Whether it be through promiscuity or chastity, young girls are instructed on what to do with their bodies before they’ve had time to figure themselves out, separate from a patriarchal lens. That their needs are secondary to that of the men and boys in their lives.

It took me a while —after leaving the church and unlearning the toxic ideals around purity culture rooted in anti-Blackness, fatphobia, heteropatriarchy, and queerphobia — to embrace my body, my sexuality, and my queerness as something that was not only not sinful or dirty, but actually in line with the vision God has over my life. Our bodies don't stop being our temples depending on who we do or who we don’t let in, and our worth isn’t dependent on the width of our legs at any given point.

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