3 Quiet Classics: Peter, Paul & Philip
By Linda Rosenkrantz
We talk a lot about cool boy names, like those beginning or ending in O, the ones with X in the middle, or maybe with a final er or en. But at the same time, under the radar, there are some quiet, trend-transcending classics that survive and even thrive. They are often passed down in families, and come with a choice of appealing nicknames and foreign variations.
Three prime examples are Peter, Paul and Philip, a trio of apostolic names that have a lot going for them as solid, underused classics with distinguished histories, are instantly recognizable, have infinite variations and are not likely to be duplicated in any contemporary classroom.
Current status: Number 207, 140 on Nameberry
Highest past point: #35 in 1955
International popularity: #189 in England
Peter, the warmest and friendliest of the three has cheery childhood links with fictional characters like Peter Rabbit, Peter Cottontail and Peter Pan. But his associations have a serious side as well: the apostle St. Peter, a key figure in the Christian canon, was born Simon bar Jonah, but was nicknamed Peter, which means rock, by Jesus himself, to signify his standing as the rock on which Christ would build Christianity. Later, Peter the Great was the czar who transformed Russia into a major world power.
In the world of entertainment there have been celebrity Peters Lorre, Sellers, O’Toole, Fonda, Frampton, Dinklage and Capaldi, to name a few; Stephen Colbert and Mikhail Baryshnikov have sons named Peter and there have been Peters in Harry Potter, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Divergent, Fringe and Pretty Little Liars series and countless other novels, plays, movies and TV shows.
Peter has been consistently popular since the Middle Ages, in the US Top 50 for more than a century. But now with less than two thousand Peters born across the country last year, it feels like a fresh choice for a 2018 baby boy.
Current status: Number 206, 224 on Nameberry
Highest past point: #12 in 1916, 1930-31
International popularity: #2 in Germany
Like Peter, the Apostle Paul (called Saul before his conversion) was a founder of the Christian church. Other distinguished bearers of the name range from six popes and several saints to European kings to painters Cezanne, Gauguin and Klee to patriot Paul Revere to singer-songwriters Paul McCartney and Paul Simon.
Paul is an ancient Roman family name that has been in use in English-speaking cultures since the 16th century. It was a Top 20 name in the US until 1970, but was unable to keep up with other classics like John and James, or newer biblical choices such as Jacob and Noah. Paul has, however, continued to be a literary stalwart, in series like Dune, Mad Men, Orphan Black and Twilight. One celeb who dropped the name for something more colorful: Bono. And Stephen Colbert has both a Peter and a Paul.
Current status: Number 434, 199 on Nameberry (Phillip 436/1407)
Highest point: #52 in 1941 (Phillip was 64 in 1950)
The third apostle name in this trio, has come to be associated in recent years with the imposing, straight-laced (maybe a little less so since The Crown) figure of the husband of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II, but can be lightened up with nicknames that go beyond Phil, such as the Dickensian Pip and the more feisty Flip.
Like Elliot, the name can be spelled with either one or two l’s, with the two spellings running almost neck and neck on the popularity lists, with Phillip now slightly ahead. A Greek name that means ‘lover of horses’, Philip has been a consistent presence on the Social Security list, now ranking at Number 434, but just outside the Top 200 on Nameberry.
Philip has notable namesakes galore, from Alexander the Great’s dad to French and Spanish royals to modern cultural figures such as novelist Philip Roth, architect Philip Johnson, artist Philip Guston, composer Philip Glass and pop musician Phil Collins—not to mention good old Dr. Phil. One contemporary celeb that has used Philip for her son is model Eva Herzigova. The ‘Lip’ character on Shameless was christened Phillip, and Phillip Price is a character on Mr. Robot.
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on February 6th, 2018 at 12:26 am
Philip (or the more feminine Philippa) will definitely be used for my first born in memory of my father. The name Philip itself is so handsome and my Dad went by Pip as a child.
on February 6th, 2018 at 12:38 am
Wonderful blog. I think all three names are fabulous and I love Pete or Petey, Paulie, and Phil or Philo as nicknames when they are little.
Being a book-loving nameberry, they make me think of Dorothy Sayer’s Peter Wimsey, Paul in the Anne of Green Gables books, and Raymond Chandler’s cool Philip Marlowe.
If I had named a son any of these, I would have paired them with wilder middles such as Peter Kenelm , Paul Dresden, and Philip Taliesen. Or something like those. Danube maybe or Tarquin or Maurice. That way if their first names proved too prim for them they could use their middles.
on February 6th, 2018 at 6:49 am
I adore Paul.
on February 6th, 2018 at 8:10 am
Peter and Paul are two of my all-time favorites, and I don’t see them get a lot of love on Nameberry. ‘Peter Pan and Wendy’ is my favorite children’s book, and Paul is my favorite Beatle. Both names are contenders should my Anna ever get a brother.
on February 6th, 2018 at 8:36 am
Peter is so soft and sweet, and I love Philip’s nicknames! I’d be tempted to use Pip, Pippa or Pippin as is.
on February 6th, 2018 at 9:01 am
oooh Peter would be a good choice for the next royal baby, if it’s a boy.
There must be a Peter in the royal family somewhere. I think there is a Paul. George and Paul as siblings would be too funny. I’m pretty sure William and Catherine wouldn’t want to name their children after members of The Beatles.
on February 6th, 2018 at 10:26 am
My oldest son is Paul. My third son was set to be Philip which is one of my husband’s all time favorite name, but we made a switch and used it as his middle name. My husband has championed Peter through many a pregnancy and we nearly used it last time but somehow a Peter and a Paul seems like too much P for one family.
on February 6th, 2018 at 2:26 pm
My brother is Paul. It’s a family name, and its understated simplicity suits him perfectly. It also pleased my nickname-averse dad–although you can use Paulie, it’s not inevitable in the same way Chris or Andy or Josh are. Personally, I tend to like splashier names, but I think Paul is especially underappreciated by the same folks who adore more popular classics like James and Charlotte.
on February 6th, 2018 at 6:27 pm
You forgot about Philip Hamilton!!
on February 6th, 2018 at 6:30 pm
Love all these names. We chose Peter for our son (8 months old now) but Philip was a top 4 choice as well and Paul was somewhere on our long list. We didn’t really set out to use a nickname but we usually do call him Pete, which I love. All the charm of Jack but so much more surprising.
on February 6th, 2018 at 8:12 pm
My brother is named Peter, so I love it when people use it! I also have an Uncle Peter (my brother was named for him), and I have relatives named Phillip and Paul, as well.
One note about the pop cultural uses of Peter: Peter and its variants pop up multiple times in Marvel Comics, and its big-screen adaptations (mainly the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the X-Men films). Both Spider-Man and Star Lord (the leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, played by Chris Pratt) are named Peter; Quicksilver’s name is Pietro Maximoff–he got to keep his name in Avengers: Age of Ultron, but his name was anglicized as Peter Maximoff in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Another X-Men, Colossus*, is a Russian character named Peter/Pyotr Rasputin**.
*Colossus has appeared in the second and third X-Men films, and as a would-be mentor character in Deadpool.
**The writers at Marvel tend to pick famous foreign last names for their non-American characters. (Another example of this is Natasha Romanov/Romanoff, aka Black Widow.)
on February 6th, 2018 at 9:48 pm
A friend’s five-ish-year-old son is Paul, but I think that’s the only person I know named Paul outside of another friend’s husband, who’s in his early 50s.
on February 7th, 2018 at 12:55 pm
Love these names! Paul and Philip are family names for me. They all have good connections-Peter to Pete’s Dragon & Peter Rabbit, Paul to playwright Paula Vogel and Paul from the Wonder Years, and Philip to Hamilton. 🙂
on December 29th, 2018 at 12:07 am
I had an acquaintance named Paul in elementary and middle school.
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