3 Quiet Classics: Peter, Paul & Philip

3 Quiet Classics: Peter, Paul & Philip

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.

Nicknames: Pete, Petey

International: Pierre, Piero, Pietro, Piet, Peder, Pedro, Piers, Pearse, Piet, Boutros


Current status: Number 206, 224 on Nameberry

Highest past point: #12 in 1916, 1930-31

International popularity: #2 in Germany

Single-syllable Paul has had a more sober, even scholarly image—except maybe during the Beatles era, when Paul was ‘the cute one’.

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.

Nicknames: Paulie

International: Paolo, Pablo, Paulo, Pol, Pavel, Pavlo, Paavo


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.

In fact, Philip feels less generic than John or Charles, with a more distinctive personality than a Daniel or David.

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.

Nicknames: Phil, Flip, Pip, Pippo

International: Philippe, Philbin, Filippo, Felipe

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.