Messiah, Odin, Maverick - what do these grand and gallant names have in common? All three names are the most popular they’ve ever been, indicating a trend among modern parents. Though each comes from a unique tradition, namers are drawn to the heroic sound present in each. Why not choose a name for your little boy that is sure to inspire courage and leadership?
If you’re a fan of this noble style, check out these fifteen fearless names that are currently flying under the radar. From historic warriors to literary giants to contemporary favorites, these choices exude valiance and excellence - and happen to be accessible enough to fit on a birth certificate.
Albion. The original name for the island of Great Britain, the name Albion comes from a combative son of Poseidon in Greek mythology. A few major figures in American history have worn the handsome name, and sweet nickname Albie makes it friendlier for daily use.
Magnus. Magnificent Magnus comes from the Latin for “great,” with dozens of royal leaders throughout history bearing this illustrious moniker. It’s similar to classic names like Maximus or August, but Magnus has a more unique and striking personality.
Zeno. Derived from the name Zeus - the king of the gods in Greek mythology - Zeno is connected to a few philosophers; one of them is possibly the first philosopher to address the idea of infinity. Energetic and masculine, Zeno still feels approachable despite its extraordinary history.
Evander. A name with two origin stories, dashing Evander is associated with both a Trojan War hero and an Old Norse name meaning “bow warrior.” Boxing fans may associate the name with Evander Holyfield, but it also works as a stylistic compromise between kind Evan and kingly Alexander.
Aurelius. While Anglophone parents have embraced Aurelia for girls, the masculine form of the name has yet to inspire such notoriety. Aurelius comes from a Roman family name meaning “golden,” and was worn by a venerated emperor in the second century. Nicknames such as Ari, Leo, or Arlo help this marvelous name feel more usable, too.
Roark. Since 1948, American parents have been naming their children after the infamous character Howard Roark from Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, who is meant to represent strength and integrity in the modern man. This surname choice has a one-of-a-kind sound that’s bound to make an impression - though its controversial connections may raise some eyebrows.
Florian. Though romantic Florian is especially popular in Europe, parents across the pond have yet to adopt this elegant name. A few royal and religious namesakes make Florian particularly compelling - one of whom is the patron saint of firefighters - and its form fits in with trendy picks like Dorian or Adrian.
Xerxes. A thoroughly noble name, Xerxes is actually the Greek form of a Persian name meaning “ruler of heroes.” A few real-life Xerxes’ ruled Persia, but the name has received more attention in recent years, appearing in literature and films. If the two X’s don’t deter you, Xerxes is an especially cool alternative to Xander or Xavier.
Sylvan. Sylvan’s unassuming sound is balanced by its etymological link to a Roman god of the forest, who was also known for his protective abilities. Distinctive Sylvan had a bit of popularity in the beginning of the twentieth century, and could make an excellent vintage choice.
Peregrine. From the Latin for “traveler,” the distinguished name Peregrine was bestowed upon a species of raptor loved by warriors and royalty. The first English baby born in the New World (while the Mayflower was docked offshore) was named Peregrine, and the Lord of the Rings series features a hobbit with the name, called Pippin for short.
Gawain. One of the most gallant knights of the Round Table, Sir Gawain was known for his compassion and chivalry. While Gavin is the more popular variant, beautiful Gawain has adorned prominent musicians, athletes, and politicians throughout the world.
Rafferty. This Irish surname comes from a word meaning “flood tide” or “overabundance,” imbuing this roguish name with a kind of greatness. Darling Rafferty has a spirit all its own, along with an air of mischief - thanks to a few fictional characters - but it remains an accessible and uncommon choice.
Calix. It may appear to be a mix of lively Felix and biblical Caleb, but Calix comes from a much richer background - the name is a version of Callistus, associated with the Latin word for “chalice.” This luxurious option has been used continually in the United States over the past decade, but has never been given to more than 50 boys in a single year.
Theron. Another name with conflicting etymologies - some connect it to a Greek word for “hunt,” while others link it to a Latin word for “height” - bold Theron is one of the oldest names on this list, dating back to the fifth century BCE. This daring choice was fairly common among the American population at the turn of the century, but hasn’t ranked on the top 1000 since 1992.
Warrick. A variant of the English surname Warwick, Warrick fits in with modern Maverick and quirky Merrick - and could work well as an honorific for Warren. “Earl of Warwick” is one of the most prestigious titles in British history, giving this sophisticated name a feeling of power.
What's the difference between the names Jakiya and Jakiyah? Up until the 1990s, the question would have been moot. Neither name existed. Since then, thousands of American girls have received the two names, and the question of the final H turns out to be part of the story.
Over the past two decades, we've seen an explosion of three-syllable girls' names ending in a vowel followed by the sound "ya." It's a major trend that's hard to spot on a baby name popularity chart, because it's spread out across so many names, few of them individual hits. I've gathered 200 examples, from Aalaya to Zyriah. You can see that their combined popularity soared from 1997 to a peak in 2009, and has since plateaued:
There's a trick to the 200 example names represented by that graph. They're actually 100 matched pairs: the exact same names, spelled with and without a silent H at the end. Take a look at the popularity ratio of the H vs. A spellings over the same time period since 1997. In the graph below, a ratio of 1.0 means the A and H versions were equally popular. A value below the thick 1.0 line indicates that A names were more popular, and a value above means H names were more popular.
Even as the name style was surging, it was also changing. The H ending was taking hold.
That kind of spelling drift isn't unusual for newly introduced or imported names. For instance, -aden names like Jaden and Kaden were initially popular starting in the '90s, then gradually yielded to -ayden spellings like Jayden and Kayden. The H endings, though, seem a little more significant.
Adding a grace note H to the end of an invented name links that invention to specific traditions. It echoes biblical names like Delilah and Isaiah, and African and Muslim names like Aaliyah and Khadijah. That suggests that the H drift may be part of the same naming trend as "biblicized names" — names like Kenniel and Lilah that aren't found in the Bible but have been shaped along biblical style lines. It also highlights that the "ya" names are especially popular with African-American families, just as names like Isaiah and Aaliyah are. Over the past few generations, African-American parents have been at the forefront of the growing movement toward creative name invention.
To me, the H spellings represent the push and pull between tradition and innovation in modern naming. Name-seeking parents crave both individuality and connection; freshness and rootedness. Imagine parents with contemporary tastes who want to name after a Grandpa Herbert and Grandma Frieda. Much as they love their grandparents, they won't sacrifice their sense of style to honor them. The most common solution is to pare the honor down to just the initial letters, choosing names like Hudson and Finley. Similarly, creative-minded parents who want to honor cultural and religious traditions might do so with spelling, even with a single letter, even a silent letter like H.
As the end of 2017 approaches, I invite you to look back over the year and grasp its essence, in a name. What name was unique to the events, the style, the experience of our times? What was the Name of the Year?
The Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year isn't necessarily the most popular baby name, or even a baby name at all. It's a personal name (or at least something in the form of a personal name) that changed in usage or significance during the year, and points to more changes around us. It highlights the way names connect to our world, shaping the meaning and texture of events.
Looking back over past NOTYs is like browsing through a time capsule. We've seen the political elevation of the mythical everyman in Joe, the introduction of AI to daily life in Siri, the fishbowl pressure of modern celebrity in Blue Ivy, and societal grappling with the complex legacy of history in Atticus. Each name was chosen from your nominations.
In the comments section below, please share your Name of the Year nominations and reasoning, and feel free to second and respond to other reader's suggestions. You can cast your net wide, from silly to serious, but please keep in mind that the target is a name of the year, not a person or story of the year. The name itself should be at the heart of the story.
As you're thinking about the year in names, keep a lookout for these criteria:
- A dramatic change in the name's usage or social meaning
- A reflection of a broader cultural theme, or influence on broader style trends
- The "naminess" of a story or issue. How essential is the name to the event? Is it clearly a name, reflecting something about names and how they're used and perceived, and not a "term"?
And remember that your comments themselves count, too! The number of nominations factors into in the NOTY choice, and compelling arguments in support of your candidate count most of all.