Bold Baby Names: Exploring the explorers

Aloha to Zebulon

By Linda Rosenkrantz

Babies and young kids are natural explorers, as they discover and begin to navigate the world around them.  How about encouraging these instincts to continue through life by choosing as a namesake a historic explorer? Here are 13 prime examples.


Born Idris Galcia Hall, Aloha Wanderwell, who was known as “The World’s Most Traveled Girl,” visited more than 80 countries in six continents, was the first woman to drive across India and recorded the first film documentation of the Borero people of Brazil. She took the warm and welcoming name Aloha while still in her teens.


This Norse-Icelandic explorer is believed to be the first European to discover the mainland of America in 986 but—for which he was reprimanded by King Eric—he didn’t stop to explore it. I kinda like this old Icelandic diminutive of Bjorn, which was a Top 50 name in Iceland from 2010 to 2101.


One of Portugal’s great explorers, Magellan was the first navigator to cross the Pacific and lead an expedition that ultimately circumnavigated the glove, discovered the Philippines and the need for an international date line, reporting of unknown creatures like the penguin and the llama. Ferdinand, which means “bold voyager,” was as high as #279 in the 1880s, is now in the Top 1000 on NB and 140 in Germany. Nando is a sweet Spanish nickname.


A 16th century Spanish maritime explorer (of Basque origin) is credited with discovering and naming New Guinea. His name derives from the old Basque name Eneko, meaning ‘my little love’ and gained some popularity in Wales, its most famous bearer the English architect Inigo Jones and—much later the Inigo Montoya character in The Princess Bride. An intriguing choice, with its strong beat, and creative and evocative sound. But not to be confused with Indigo.


The pre-Columbus Columbus, Erikson, a Norse explorer from Iceland, was the first known European to have set foot on the North American continent. Known as “Leif the Lucky,” he was the son of explorer Erik the Red. Now #952 nationally and at 269 on Nameberry, Leif is one of the most popular Scandinavian names and has the asset of evoking the nature name Leaf (though pronounced LAYF in Scandinavia), while being less obvious.

MARCO POLO (shown)

This 13th century Venetian traveled further into Asia than any European before him, helping to open up the Far East to Europe, bringing back tales of curiosities like paper money, eyeglasses and spaghetti, and inspiring other explorers like Christopher Columbus. Marco makes a lively namesake for Uncle Mark. It ranks at #337


Best known for his expedition with William Clark to explore a route west to the Pacific coast, to, as conceived by Thomas Jefferson (Clark was his personal secretary), among other things such as mapping, and clearing the way for commerce, to ”make friends and allies of the far Western Indians.”  Meriwether Lewis inherited his mother’s maiden name, which continued down through Clark’s family, and, with its merry beginning, could make an adventurous middle.


Mungo Park was a Scottish explorer of West Africa, the first Westerner to travel to the central part of the Niger River at the end of the 18th century. Mungo is a Scottish name that originated as an endearing nickname for St.Kentigern. Though quite common in its native habitat, its various aural associations have blocked its entry into the US mainstream. Trivia note: It’s one of Hugh Grant’s middle names.


In 1890, the 26-year-old journalist (born Elizabeth Jane Cochran) set the record for the fastest trip around the world, traveling by ship, train, rickshaw, horseback and mule—all in 72 days. Nelly/Nellie is a versatile nickname name, short for Helen, Eleanor and more,


Roald Engelbregt Gravning Admundsen was a Norwegian polar explorer, the leader of the Antarctic expedition of 1910-12, the first to reach the South Pole, and later becoming the first person to reach both poles. His Scandinavian name means ‘powerful’ and is famously shared with Roald Dahl of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda, and James and the Giant Peach fame. The Norwegian pronunciation is ROO-all.


Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian adventurer who organized and led the famous Kon-Tiki, a transoceanic scientific expedition on a primitive raft and later voyages on crafts made of reeds, all to provide evidence of his theories of cultural diffusion. The name Thor, meaning thunder, the powerful name of the powerful Norse god of strength, has come down from the heavens, and, thanks largely to his Marvel superhero status, now ranks at #419 on Nameberry.


15th century Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama was the first person to sail from Europe around Africa to India, thereby connecting the West to the Orient and opening the way for an age of global imperialism. Vasco is a shortening of the Spanish name Velasco, which is thought to mean “crow” in Basque.


Zebulon Montgomery Pike—for whom Pikes Peak is named, and which he described as “a small blue cloud” —was one of the first white men to explore the wilderness that is now Colorado, leading a 2-year expedition that had a profound effect on the history of the American southwest. An Old Testament name with a Puritan feel, Zebulon leads to the cool nickname Zeb. It ranks at #444 on Nameberry.

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3 Responses to “Bold Baby Names: Exploring the explorers”

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Janie_Larkin70 Says:

September 12th, 2018 at 6:17 am

Zebulon is a great name. It calls to mind, for me, trips I’ve made across the U.S., and the breathtaking moment the Rockies just seem to appear against the starkness of The Great Plains. The first time I experienced that was at age 14, on an Amtrak train bound from Chicago to Los Angeles. My journal entry is full of superlatives!

Zeb is also a darling nickname. It’s good that this name is starting to get some use. Plus, I just really like Z names for boys.

mill1020 Says:

September 12th, 2018 at 5:48 pm

I feel like Pike is kind of a mix of a name—part badass (like Spike), part nature name. Magellan reminds me of the dragon from Eureka’s Castle, who may have been a muppet if I remember correctly?

ruolan Says:

September 15th, 2018 at 6:40 am

I like several names that mean something about travel, like Ferdinand, Somerled, Wayfarer.

There is also Abubakari II, the Mali king who abdicated his throne to find the other side of the ocean and probably made land in Brazil.

Modern explorer, photographer, and skier, Kt Miller is capturing pictures of mountain and coastal changes.

Mau Piailug, a 20th Century Micronesian navigator, inspired the pacific renaissance of seafaring based on star and wave navigation techniques.

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