Animal Names: The Wild Kingdom

This week, Appellation Mountain‘s Abby Sandel leads us into the jungle for some wild animal names.

Not so long ago, baby boys were named Jason and Kevin and Joshua, and a lynx was something we saw at the zoo on the kindergarten field trip.   

Now a growing number of boys are sharing their names with the zoo’s residents – and not just any residents, but the fiercest of creatures.  The trend owes something to nature choices like River and Sky, as well as tough names for boys like Gunner and Slade.

It isn’t completely new.  Plenty of given names refer to animals.  Wolfgang is a traditional German appellation worn by the legendary MozartFactor in nicknames and the list grows.  There’s Coach Bear Bryant, only his mama named him Paul.  Comedian Bobcat Goldthwait?  He was born Robert Francis.

For parents leaning towards hyper-masculine options like Cannon and Blaze, choosing an apex predator for a son’s name might feel just right.  The more dangerous members of the animal kingdom offer more options than you might imagine, though some are extreme.

I have to offer a disclaimer: this just isn’t my style, though I find some of these intriguing.  Would you consider any of the animal names for your child?  And is there a difference between a gentle creature and a more aggressive one?

Bear – Actor Alicia Silverstone used the name for her son, Bear Blu.  Musician Anthony Kiedis has a son called Everly Bear.

 Caiman – Part Cayden, part tropical island.  The Caymans take their name from this native word for alligator.  You wouldn’t name your son crocodile, but this feels surprisingly wearable.

Dhole – It looks like a kreatif spelling meant to distance Dole from the pineapple and/or the politician.  But dholes are actually wild dogs native to India, China, and Vietnam.  When hunting in a pack, they’re tough enough to take down a tiger.

Eagle – Perhaps a patriotic choice for American parents, and the logical masculine equivalent of stylish girls’ names like Wren and Raven.

Falcon – Another sky-worthy option, worn by the boy who caused a media sensation in 2009, when his parents reported that he’d stowed away in a homemade hot air balloon and was drifting in the Denver skies.

Fox – One of the more stylish options, made famous by X-Files detective Fox Mulder and recently chosen by parents featured on Bravo’s Pregnant in Heels.  (No, not the couple who requested an in-depth name consultation.)

Hawk – Another avian option, this time with links to occupational surnames for someone who bred or trained the birds.

JackalJack and Jackson are wildly popular.  If a jackal was just a canine cousin to the wolf, it might be a possibility.  But given the tendency of real and fictional terrorists and assassins to wear this nickname, it feels more extreme than Tiger or Bear.

Kestrel – Another bird of prey, and perhaps the only name on the list that seems better suited for a daughter.

Leo, Leon, Lev, and Lion – The king of the jungle has inspired plenty of names for boys over the centuries.  There’s nothing outrageous about naming a son Leo in 2011.  He and his cousins Leon and Lev don’t quite make the list of tough names for boys, but Lion might.

Lynx – The big cat is somewhere between the perfectly wearable Leo and outlandish ideas like Panther or JaguarLynx stays on the right side of possible thanks to his similarity to the presidential Lincoln and the Latin origins of lynx – it means light, inspired by the cat’s bright eyes.

Marlin – Despite the gamefish, this ocean-inspired name is probably not striking fear in anyone’s heart.

Monitor – Like Caiman, a reptilian pick that isn’t too obvious.  Unthinkable if your last name is Hall.

Python – In one sitcom, the dad was always worried that his teenage daughter will date a ne’er do well called Snake.  I’d suggest that Python, Boa, and Rattle are all equally unthinkable.

Ray – As in the stingray and the electric ray.

Taipan – The only snake name that might work, thanks to his similiarity to surname Tyson.  Taipan is also a Cantonese term for a business exec, translating to “top class.”

TalonEven if you’re into tough names for boys, Claw is probably not on your list.  Talon means claw and has been in the US Top 500 since 2006.

Tiger – For better and for worse, associated with star athlete and famous philanderer Woods.

 Wolf – At the end of the list, here’s the name that started it all.  From Twilight to True Blood, werewolves are a major pop culture force. MTV launched a rebooted version of Teen Wolf this month, promising to be more Jacob Black, less Michael J. Fox.  Speaking of Fox

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33 Responses to “Animal Names: The Wild Kingdom”

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Olivia Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 5:44 am

Bear Blu? What?! The only ones I’m slightly keen on are Marlin, Leo and Fox. Nice blog, though.

Kristen Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 7:49 am


Lola Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 8:18 am

Leo’s the only one up there I love enough to use but Wolf intrigues me, it’s my favorite animal. Fox is asking for trouble, I think, at least a little. Would make a neat middle, though. 😀 But Bear Blu made me cry, a lot!

pdxlibrarian Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 8:25 am

I’m with Oliva. The usable ones seem to be Marlin, Leo and Fox. The rest are OTT.

Lisa Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 9:13 am

I find this hilarious! My 5 year old loves to play World of Zoo on the Wii and has a fondness for naming his virtual zoo animals after apex predators, snakes and other reptiles. We have a number of animals from giraffes to koalas to penguins named like those above, Taipan, Mamba, TigerSnake, LemonShark, Viper, Mulga, Anaconda, FerDeLance, Komodo, DeathAdder, CoralSnake, KingCobra, Gharial… 🙂

Though you mentioned Monitor, there are a few types of monitors that might be more wearable: Savannah Monitor, Salvador’s Monitor, and Nile Monitor. Nile also could reference the Nile Crocodile.

Abby Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 9:14 am

I have frequently Googled Alicia Silverstone’s son’s name to make sure that I don’t have that wrong. It’s just wildly weird.

Someone mentioned on FB that she knows a Caiman.

As for Kestrel? I do kind of love it for a girl. Lev & Fox seem wearable, too.

And how could I miss Ram – a totally legit Israeli choice. Far more plausible than Python. 😉

chakrateeze Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 9:33 am

No offense to anyone but… yeah, I HATE word names! And made-up, being different just to be different ones a come a close second.

Bear? Really? Lynx? Talon? {{{{{{{shudder}}}}}}}}
My friend named her daughter Genesis. Trying to keep my disgust quiet was a hard job.

Give me an funky classic name any day! One with actual history of being a name, but not one you hear everyday of the week. Only Leo, and maybe Ramsey, which wasn’t mentioned, fits that bill.


Ashley Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 10:29 am

I love this list! I think it’s fun, and I would definitely consider some of the names on here for first names, and quite a few for middles. I would have loved to have been given a nature name rather than the ridiculously overused moniker I bear now, especially if it had significance to my parents or a great story.

And at least these are actual words already, not some made up name that’s just something spelled backwards or misspelled (or given a meaning that’s completely incorrect) that only became popular because everyone fell for it (like Nevaeh, Amanda, Wendy, or Jaden).

Brandie Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 10:30 am

I really do love animals but some of them should be allowed to keep their names in the zoo. Leo of course is already a pretty popular name that I love.

The only other one I liked, make that Love with a capital L, is Fox. IDK if anyone remembers that soap show Passions or not but that is where I origanlly fell in love with the name. Justin Hartly (who is currently playing Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow on Smallville) played Fox on Passions. I think Foxworth was the characters middle name actually but he went by Fox. Me being the former soap junkie that I am have had Fox on my top ten boys list every since they first introduced the character in the early 2000’s.

So this was a fun little blog and I’m excited other people are starting to catch on that Fox is a usable baby name.

Linelei Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 10:59 am

Well, in direct opposition to the last commenter, I really like a few of these, and love word names in general because they have clear meaning. All names were once word names; we’ve just come so far from the original root words that few people know the real meanings anymore.

I love both Kestrel and Lynx, and Fox of course. To your “lion” list you should add Lavi, a much softer Hebrew variant.

Also, I know you’re talking mainly about boy names, but one of my absolute favorites is Morelia: the Latin python genus.

Valentina Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 11:09 am

I don’t usually like animal names, but Lynx is one I’ve adored for a very long time. Marlin, Kestrel, Falcon, and Hawk also appeal to me, but the last two fall into the nickname category for me.

C in DC Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 11:46 am

Hypothetically, I’d go for the birds: Condor, Falcon, even Hawk.

kashed22 Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 12:53 pm

A good friend of mine just named his son Panther. Whenever I tell people the immediate response is “Panther?” We joke they are saving Cougar for a girl.

Charlotte Vera Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 1:16 pm

My first instinct would be to say that animal names just aren’t my style. However, I could see both Wolfgang and Peregrine being tabled in discussions about future babies’ names given that the former is favourite of my husband’s and the latter a personal love.

But Bear and Jackal? Definitely out.

Abby Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 1:26 pm

@kashed22 – HA!

@Charlotte – Jackal is ridiculous, except that I can imagine meeting one. (“I wanted Jack, after my grandpa, but he wanted something different more masculine …”)

@Linelei – Morelia … ooooh, pretty!

@C in DC – Condor should be on the list. If not for the Balloon Boy drama, I might think more kindly towards Falcon.

@Lisa – I think you’re raising a zoologist! I love the idea of a penguin named Mamba. 🙂 Nile does seem like a very cool, adventurous name without being as crazy as, say, Python.

iheartnames Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 1:30 pm

I know a Caymen. Her parents named her that after a very happy vacation in the Cayman Islands.

Annalise Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 1:50 pm

I really don’t understand the disbelief and outrage about Bear and some of the other animal names on here. Animal names have a long history of use, even if we don’t speak the language that they come from anymore. Arthur or Orson, anyone? Bear was on the list for our little boy’s middle until a close friend said they were considering it for a first name. We’re leaning more towards Orsino or Bjorn, now. Animal names are generally not my style, but bear has special meaning to us, so there we are.

Macy Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 3:11 pm

I actually do like Kestrel, but for a boy. Lynx is kinda cute. But overall, I prefer nature boy names like River, Sky, Forest, Sequoia, Ocean.

Steponme Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 3:22 pm

I totally agree with Annalise. Bear was actually the name of my great great great grandfather! Like a few of you mentioned, animal names are pretty common in Hebrew. So it was only natural that when some Jews emigrated to English-speaking countries, they elected to translate their names. Really interesting, isn’t it?

I also went to high school with a guy named Marlin. I have to say the general consensus was that his name was really weird. Maybe because it sounds and reads a bit too much like Marilyn (which kids only associate as feminine these days)? I do get the appeal of the name, though.

As for the others, I think that Wolf, Lynx, Bear and Fox would all make great middle names for just about anyone and fun, adventurous first names for a select few. Fox and Lynx are the most usable in my opinion. Bear works, I think, because it sounds like a more masculine Barry. I do have two or three Wolfs in my family tree as well, most of them were born in the late 1800s or the early 1900s. But it doesn’t quite have comeback appeal to me just yet. It also reminds me of Blitzer. 😉

Claire Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 3:28 pm

I spotted all these names in the SSA records for boys in ’09 and ’10:

Leviathan (my favorite!)

Abby Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 4:29 pm

Wow, Claire – great list! I love Kodiak.

@Annalise – Orsino is beyond cool. But you’re right about plenty of names meaning fox or bear or spotted tree lizard, and we just forget because they’re obscured by different languages and the passing of time.

Steponme, Lynx seemed too much to me at first, but I kept saying it and it grew on me – and really, that was only over a day or two. So why not all at once?

spinfairy Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 5:38 pm

Isn’t Marlin the name of the dad clown fish in Finding Nemo?

Abby Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 7:00 pm

@spinfairy – Nice point! It is – I think it starts out as a joke, since the dad is so timid. But of course he ends up being quite bold.

Nell Says:

June 6th, 2011 at 8:59 pm

I am one of the guilty! Wolf and Bear are on my short lists! On a scarier note: I was goofing around with the DH and suggested Bison. He actually LIKED it! Some of our more out-there (sometimes this list makes people angry?!) ideas:

Civet (g)
Cheetah (g)
Anaconda (g)

Obviously I LOVED this post, haha! I love Lynx, Kestrel, and Falcon. I also liked Condor, Panther, and Coyote!

Elizabeth Says:

June 7th, 2011 at 2:10 am

Todd is an animal name.

I kind of like Owl as a middle name for a girl.

Julie Says:

June 7th, 2011 at 2:32 am

The only animal names I would actually consider are Ari and Dove… but I adore Kestral and would love to meet one.

Oh and back many, many generations I have an ancestor who answered to Otter, although I believe he was actually christened Otto.

Nicole Says:

June 7th, 2011 at 3:30 pm

I think Lynx is wearable, I like Fox.. I actually had a cousin who went by the name Shark … it was a family pet name that turned permanent nn .. kinda like calling someone who scoots around the crib scooter but it just sticking his whole life.

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June 30th, 2011 at 3:03 am

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madamecoco Says:

July 21st, 2011 at 7:40 pm

I plan on naming my son Edward – when he’s very little he will be teddy/teddy-bear and when he grows up and wants an off beat cool name he can be Bear which I also really like as a first name. (There is also survival expert Bear Grylls whose name is also a nickname for Edward) Edward will always be there as the non teasable, interview friendly name.

Paloma is sweet(means Dove) and i’ve always liked Aslan from Narnia which means lion in Turkish.

What about Fisher, short for Kingfisher?

Lucky*Clover Says:

July 25th, 2011 at 7:06 pm

I actually like the name Talon. I know a little boy named this and it’s not as bad as people make it out to be. I think it’s a strong name. The mother of Talon chose it because in her Native American culture it is normal to give a child a nature or animal name. I don’t think of an eagle’s talon when I hear his name any more than I think of a robin bird when I hear the name Robin.

Owl Says:

August 4th, 2011 at 1:46 am

Wow, the animal names I love are not on this list at all!

My favorite boy names are all animal names except Jasper (#1) and Gareth (much further down).


I sort of like Otter and Fisher, actually. Fisher doesn’t have to be short for Kingfisher – a fisher is a mammal, similar to a marten. Probably would not choose Otter, though, as my husband and his nephew both have names starting with O (Orin and Oliver).

One of my professors in college named his daughter Kestrel.

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