Looking for a strong, masculine and traditional name that stands out from the crowd? Consider reaching way back, to the handsome options of the medieval era. These names were commonly used across Europe in the Middle Ages, but remain almost unheard-of these days. Their aura of knights and barons, soldiers and saints still shines through.
Anselm. A soft-sounding name with ingrained gravitas, Anselm comes from Germanic roots, meaning “divinely protected”; fitting, since the name was notably borne by a few saints and theologians. Anselm is also incredibly rare, having never been given to more than 12 boys in any year.
Falco. This dashing pick may seem contemporary, with its O-ending and avian connections, but Falco has been recorded as far back as the 1046 AD. Falco works well for namers who like the current animal trends - Fox and Bear, for example - but want something more timeless and tenacious.
Berenger. Worn by a few kings of Italy and Germany, appealing Berenger has an aristocratic history tempered by its surname sound. Nicknames are one facet to Berenger’s allure, with options ranging from retro Berry to modern Ren, but Berenger is an unparalleled first choice.
Gilbert. Though it’s associated with nineteenth and twentieth century namesakes, Gilbert actually comes from Old German for “bright pledge.” Today, Gilbert hovers at #960 on the US Top 1000 - could its vintage vibe and pleasant sound bring it back into wide circulation?
Diggory. A possible option for Harry Potter fans, Diggory originally came from the name Degaré, used in Middle English poetry. While the etymology specifics remain unclear, the name’s boundless energy and geek-chic charm make Diggory a contender today.
Everard. With Everett and Everly rising through the ranks, perhaps it’s time to reexamine sophisticated Everard. Quite a few intelligent and powerful namesakes have endured through the name’s history, but a contemporary, boisterous Everard is long overdue.
Alphonse. While Alonzo and Alfonso - two variants of Alphonse - persist as classic choices in Italian- and Spanish-speaking nations, elegant Alphonse has yet to recur in Anglophone nations. Another name with excellent nickname options, Alphonse feels both well-established and unexpected.
Hann. Originally a medieval English form of Johannes (John), modern audiences are more likely to associate the name with Star Wars hero Han Solo - not necessarily a bad link, now that Luke, Leia, and Finn are on the table. Hann would work well as a unique honorific, and may interest fans of names like Lane, Jack, or Harrison.
Venture. It may sound like a hip word name, but Venture was used as far back as the twelfth century as a short form of Bonaventure. Venture calls to mind exploration and excitement, a truly bold choice with links to religion, travel, and bravery.
Teague. Friendly and accessible Teague comes from the Old Irish word tadc, meaning “poet.” Teague at once meshes with current playground trends - single-syllable, surname sound, occupational link - but manages to feel fresh and upbeat.
Mauro. Pronounced “MOW-roh,” this gorgeous Latin pick works well alongside names like Hugo, Milo, or Cairo. Romantic Mauro ranks in the top 100 in Spain and Belgium, and thanks to a number of athletes, the name has been increasing slowly in popularity in the US over the past few years.
Joceran. It may be initially confused with Jocelyn, but the quick correction is worth it - splendid Joceran feels like it would adorn a knight in shining armor. This medieval French name can be shortened to adorable Joss, and it could work as a rare alternative to J-n names like Jonathan, Jordan or Julian.
Holm. Simple and stunning, Holm is a chic option with a hidden nature connection - it comes from Old Norse for “island.” Originally a surname, Holm is a fantastic nickname-proof option for fans of refined yet minimalistic styles.
Darwin. Another geek-chic choice, Darwin carries a scientific and sophisticated vibe, perfect for parents looking to honor ancient and recent history while staying current. Darwin comes from the name Deorwine, meaning “dear friend” - a sweet origin story for a superb name.
Alden. Already at #664 on the US Top 1000, Alden was given a recent boost by actor Alden Ehrenreich, the star of the upcoming Han Solo film. In addition to this celebrity connection, Alden has the added bonus of usage as a surname, working well with modern trends.
Gerard. Thanks to Scottish actor Gerard Butler, this debonair French name has been saved from the fate befalling other mid-century names, like Gary or Gerald. Gerard comes from the meaning “strong as a spear,” and maintains a suave and engaging image.
For more names in this style, check out 75 Genuine Medieval Baby Names with Enduring Style.
The names of our great-grandparents' time have a special appeal. Throwbacks like Clara and Hazel were gone for long enough that they've started to sound fresh again, and their past popularity gives them roots and warmth. Based on the standard retro name curve, many of today's popular names should be hitting their stride again around the end of the century.
But there's a catch. Today's popular names aren't all that popular. The names at the top of today's baby name hit list are only a fraction as common as the top names of past generations. The average American baby now receives a fairly uncommon name.
If we're not oversaturated with a specific name today, will it even acquire a generational date-stamp that sends it into hibernation? Or will the great-grandparent rule start to break down, and name comeback cycles become unpredictable, or non-existent?
My prediction is that the future retro cycle will be ruled by the same force that dominates today's naming choices: sound. In the past generation we've largely abandoned the core names of English tradition, and even stopped naming after our own relatives. That has left sound-based style ruling the roost. As sound families sweep in and out of fashion, the "freshness" of an individual name will increasingly be determined by the history of dozens of its near stylistic neighbors.
Sound-based styles aren't an entirely new phenomenon. I once identified name suffixes specific to every decade, from the -TTIE babies of the 1880s (Hattie, Lottie) to the -TNEY babies of the 1990s (Courtney, Whitney). But in the past, those sound clusters sat in the shadows of individual mega-hit names, and were themselves largely comprised of a handful of hits. For example, the total popularity of boys' names ending in the sound -ALD in the 1930s was even greater than that of boys' names ending in -the sound -AYDEN in the late 2000s. But take a look at the makeup of those two trends:
Each stripe in the graphs represents a single name. The 1930s trend was dominated by four hit names, Donald, Gerald, Harold and Ronald. The sound of the 2000s was spread out among dozens of variations on a theme. That makes the theme itself the trend, one we instinctively recognize even when an individual name may be unfamiliar. The style is an emergent property of a whole naming wave, represented equally by common names like Jayden and Aiden and rarities like Tayden and Graeden.
This raises a paradoxical option for future generations: authentic, newly invented antique names. Our great-grandchildren may be able to hark back to the turn of the millennium by custom-tailoring their own examplars of our style. Perhaps they'll give them a uniquely 2090s spin by incorporating hot name elements of their own time. Today's parents are already dabbling in this, creating "new antiques" by cobbling together stylish parts (e.g. Elizabella) or creating bible-inspired spellings (Lilah). In the future, some new sound we can't yet imagine will likely merge with endings like -ayden to summon up images of our era.
Special thanks to @nedibes for suggesting this topic
Only in the British royal family could the name Louis be greeted as a bold, unconventional choice. Louis is an age-old classic, well-represented in various forms in the royal family tree. It's also popular—in Britain, at least. The names Louis, Louie and Lewis all rank among the top 100 names for boys. Unlike the names of big siblings George and Charlotte, though, it wasn't one of the top predictions of London oddsmakers. And that's big news.
Choosing a royal name is an exercise in heritage and continuity. The name carries outsize symbolic weight, and has to extend a powerful and long-lived brand. You can't strip away all of the trappings of royalty and stay regal. Yet it's also parents naming a baby in the 21st Century. Royal parents William and Kate have proven to be masters at balancing the symbolic and personal sides of the process, and in the process they've demonstrated the subtlety and power to be found in even the most tradition-bound name choices.
Image via kensingtonroyal/Instagram
Their first child's name, George, was an inspired branding statement. The name put aside the troubled recent history of the royal family and harked back to the essential spirit of the realm. It was a nod to the patron saint of England, and to the last man to hold the throne, George VI. Yet the name George was also a contemporary choice, from the perspective of English name style. It was fashionable in England at the time, particularly in the higher socioeconomic strata. In other words, it was probably a name that the new parents just plain liked.
The name of their second child, Charlotte, was an elegantly woven fabric of individual connections and identity. The full given name was Charlotte Elizabeth Diana, a combination that honored William's iconic parents and grandmother (Charles, Diana and Elizabeth) as well as Kate's mother (Carole, which like Charlotte is a feminine form of Charles). Yet as "Princess Charlotte," the girl wouldn't actually share a first name with any of them. That artful balance of homage and individuality placed the young princess securely in the royal line, but outside of anyone's shadow. Once again, it was also a thoroughly fashionable choice.
For baby number three, they've already checked off all the key boxes, meaning some of the naming pressure was off, too. That's a familiar experience in larger families. With relatives already honored, traditions maintained, parents have freer reign to follow their own taste within the constraints of sibling fairness and cultural expectations. Which brings us to Prince Louis Arthur Charles. Louis (reportedly LOO-ee, not LOO-iss) is a classic with regal associations, yet compared to George it's lighter on symbolism, heavier on style.
First, the regal bonafides. Louis and Louise are prominent names in the Hanover family tree. Princess Louise was a daughter of Queen Victoria, and Lord Louis Mountbatten, who was killed by the IRA, was Prince Philip's uncle. Today, Lady Louise Windsor is William's first cousin. And yet, Louis doesn't come across as a core name of English tradition. The spelling Lewis is more distinctly English, while Louis (especially in the LOO-ee pronunciation) is linked more strongly with the French throne. As for an homage to Lord Mountbatten, William and George already bear the middle name Louis in his honor.
So why pick Louis for a new baby? Well, because it's Louis. Who doesn't love that name?
If you're an American, that statement may surprise you. Despite a modest recent uptick, Louis and Lewis remain decidedly out of fashion in the U.S. In Britain, though, all things Lou have been hot for the past generation. The trend peaked around the turn of the millennium, when Louis, Lewis and Louise were all full-on hits and Louise became a popular second element in combo names like Ella-Louise. More recently, with England in the grips of a nickname craze, Louie has taken off on its own and now ranks in the top 50. Louis offers that coveted nickname sound with a formal spelling that sits naturally alongside the formal George and Charlotte.
So much room for self-expression along with symbolism, all without leaving the narrow naming confines of the British royal family tree. It's a good reminder that every name is unique, even if it's shared with countless others throughout history. Sometimes, in fact, that sharing is the very source of the name's power.