By Abby Sandel
What makes a boy’s name all-American? We’ve exported a long list of modern names across the English-speaking world – Jayden, Jaxon, and Kai have all been spotted in the UK and Australia. But perhaps the truest red, white, and blue American baby names tie to our history and culture.
They also capture the American spirit in a way that more traditional names might not. George was our first president, but it was also the name of the king against whom we rebelled. American baby names feel rugged and individualistic. While their roots may run deep, they’re not typically ancient names with a long history of use. In fact, many of these are newly popular in the twenty-first century.
Here are fifteen of our favorite all-American boy names.
Arlo – Edmund Spenser introduced a place called Arlo Hill in The Faerie Queene back in 1590. But folk singer Arlo Guthrie, of “Alice’s Restaurant” fame, is who makes this name feel particularly American. It’s rising rapidly in use, too, rising all the way to Number 502. On Nameberry, it’s even more popular, at Number 119.
Austin – Place names could dominate this list, like Austin, Texas. Originally a contracted form of Augustine, it brings to mind the capital of Texas. Named for the state’s founder, Stephen F. Austin, the city is known for its thriving arts community and the annual music & media festival South by Southwest. Other Americana city names include Dallas, Macon, and Houston.
Boone – Legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone could inspire parents for two reasons. First, his surname is synonymous with the pioneer spirit. But it also just happens to come from the French word bon – good. Other famous frontier figures with wearable surnames include (Jim) Bridger and (Buffalo Bill) Cody.
Cash – Johnny Cash was the Man in Black, a country singer with an unmistakable voice and a long list of hit songs. The best-selling artist died in 2003; that same year, the name Cash entered the US Top 1000 for the first time. It fits right in with other musical surnames, several of which feel every bit as American, like Presley and Hendrix.
Clark – Clark earns a place on this list for multiple reasons. First, there’s William Clark. Along with Meriwether Lewis, he led the Lewis and Clark Expedition, claiming the Pacific Northwest for the US in the early 1800s. Hollywood icon Clark Gable won his first Oscar in 1934. And Clark Kent, better known as Superman, was among the earliest of a uniquely American breed – comic book superheroes.
Ford – To ford a stream is to cross at a shallow place. That almost makes Ford a nature name. But it brings to mind the open road, thanks to Henry Ford. The company he founded still makes iconic American automobiles today, from the Ford Mustang to Ford F-150. The long-time company tagline, “Built Ford Tough,” might appeal to families seeking something masculine and modern for a son.
Indiana – Indiana qualifies as an American baby name simply because of its place on the map. But the state name is also famously worn by the daring archeologist hero Indiana Jones. While we learn his birth name was Henry, we know him as the fearless adventurer Indy. 73 boys were given the name in 2015 – a new high! – though it’s also used in equal numbers for girls.
Justice – Pilgrims are famous for their virtue names. While those earliest American settlers preferred religious choices like Mercy and Resolved, Justice might have fit right in. The Pledge of Allegiance promises “liberty and justice for all.” And American parents have used it for their sons and daughters since the 1990s.
Knox – Kentucky’s Fort Knox is home to the nation’s heavily guarded gold reserves. Even though the surname’s roots are Scottish, it occupies a place in the American imagination. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt put it on the map in 2008, when they gave the name to their youngest son. Since then, Knox’s all-American boy status combined with a stylish sound have made this a fast-rising favorite.
Langston – Literary baby names with an American sheen abound. There’s Hawthorne and Hemingway and Wilder, too. But author Langston Hughes was part of the Harlem Renaissance, an early jazz poet whose work remains widely read today. It seems more uniquely tied to the US than other candidates. 361 boys were given the name in the US last year, a new high.
Levi – When does Old Testament patriarch name become an all-American boy? When it’s associated with the quintessential American fashion statement: blue jeans. German-born entrepreneur Levi Strauss made his fortune selling dry goods in San Francisco. The denim trousers he and Jacob Davis patented in 1873 became known as Levi’s, and that makes the name red, white, and, most of all, blue.
Lincoln – The original Lincoln is found in England, settled since the Iron Age, populated by the ancient Romans. But it feels like a distinctive American baby name for boys thanks to the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln. It’s a president’s name, but a hero’s name, too, thanks to Lincoln’s role in leading the US through the Civil War.
Miles – Myles Standish arrived in the New World via the Mayflower, an English-born military officer hired to help the Pilgrims establish their new colony. Maybe that’s not enough to make Miles an American boy name. But legendary jazz musician Miles Davis should tip the scales in favor of including the name.
Truman – Like Lincoln, Truman is a presidential surname. He became president in 1945, on the death of Franklin Roosevelt. That’s enough to put it on the list of American boy names, but it helps that it sounds quite virtuous. Other Tru– names include surname Truett and word name True. Writer Truman Capote is another notable bearer of the name.
Twain – Not only is Mark Twain among the greatest American writers, his pen-name also has a uniquely American origin. It comes from the calls of riverboat pilots on the Mississippi: “mark twain” indicated that the river was deep enough for safe passage. Saintly and traditional Mark is found in many languages, but Twain would feel specifically American.
What are your favorite American baby names? What would you add to this list?