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Boys’ Baby Names: 9 Ways to Name a Son

boys' names

By Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

Naming a boy has always been a little bit different.

It isn’t harder, necessarily.  For some parents, settling on a son’s name is a picnic compared to naming a daughter.

But there are definitely some differences in the way we think about boys’ names.

  • Around 79% of all boys born in the US receive a Top 1000 name.  For girls, that statistic is much lower – about 67%.
  • Since 1880, 23 boys’ names have ranked in one of the top five spots.  But the number for girls?  42, or nearly double.
  • More variants of popular names are in use for girls.  Classic John remained the #1 name for boys for generations, while we named girls Joan, Jeanne, Janet, Joanna, Janelle, and Jane.
  • Plenty of parents worry that their favorite boy’s name will be borrowed by girls, causing confusion for Avery, Riley, or Emerson.  There’s no such concern when naming a daughter.

The overall picture?  Fewer names to consider, and a narrower definition of what makes an acceptable boy’s name.

Let’s take a look at nine different ways to name a son – and where this week’s highest profile names fit on the scale.

JamesPick an enduring classic, like James.

It’s hard to go wrong with a name that has been bestowed for generations.  The pool of possibilities is small, but they’re great names, time-tested and almost universally well-received.  William and Joseph are two more.  You might expand the definition to include names like Henry and Alexander – though they’re less consistently popular in terms of numbers, they have the same feel.

Ryan –  Choose a twentieth-century classic, like Ryan.

One hundred years ago, few men answered to Ryan or Carter.  But after decades in the Top 100, a name stops feeling novel and starts to feel comfortable.  Evan is your brother’s college roommate, Jason is one of the dads at playgroup.  The names aren’t classic in the traditional sense, but they’re accessible and familiar.

DeclanFind a new favorite with deep roots, like Declan.

With deep roots and great stories of their own, there’s a cluster of up-and-coming names like Declan to consider.  Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and wife Elisa Yao chose this name for their firstborn.  Declan is as Irish as dad’s name, borrowed from a fifth century saint.  Declan has ranked in the US Top 1000 for less than two decades, but he’s #121 now – pretty popular, and on the rise.

MaxtonGo with a modern invented name, like Maxton.

First there were the -aidens and -aylens.  Now there are the -axtons. Maxton is the name of Ashton Kutcher’s new nephew, and at #817 in 2013, the name is more common than you might guess.  Or maybe it seems even more common, with so many other Max– names in use, and plenty of boys answering to Braxton, Paxton, and Jaxton, too.

MaverickPick a modern not-quite-name, like Maverick.

Duana recently wrote about ultra-male names like Maverick and Cash, and she’s right – they can end up sounding more like comic book characters than real boys. A boy called Crew might grow up to be a professional snowboarder or an artist.  But maybe Ryker is a gifted cellist and Blaze pursues a career in accounting.  Awkward, right?  Maybe not.  After all, Maverick is currently #272 in the US, meaning his name might be brash, but it’s not unusual.

ArthurRevive a neglected classic, like Arthur.

Scores of names have long histories and are well known in English: Walter, Arthur, Louis, Hugh.  They’re just not very popular in 2014 – which means that while they have the same enduring feel as James, they won’t be as universally appreciated.  The great advantage of names like this?  They’re just as substantial as James, but odds are that your Arthur or Albert will rarely have to share his name.

RoccoChoose an import, like Rocco.

American parents used to give their kids the English version of a name, regardless of their background.  Now parents are reclaiming their roots and embracing names like Rocco and Santiago, Nikolai and Gunnar.  Zoe Saldana is expecting twin boys with husband Marco Perego, and she recently shared that all of the grandparents are suggesting names from their cultures: Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Italian.  A bonus?  Honoring your family’s heritage can be quite stylish.

GreyBorrow a surname, like Grey.

Family surnames have always been passed down from generation to generation, but choosing one for the sound alone is a more recent phenomenon.  Langston, Stetson, Garrison, Miller, Foster, Bridger, and Cortez are all up-and-coming surname names.  Some feel as crisp as James.  Others are more like Maverick.  What’s certain is that more parents choose this approach now than ever before.

SimchaGo way out on a limb, like Simcha.

Facebook alum – and Mark Zuckerberg’s big sis – Randi Zuckerberg has welcomed son #2.  Randi and husband Brent Tworetzky have a son named Asher, and now he’s joined by Simcha.  Both names have Hebrew roots, and share a meaning: happiness or joy.  They’re calling their new arrival Simi for short.  With just 51 boys called Simcha in 2013, it is the rarest on this list. It’s a daring name, but one that works.

What’s your style when it comes to naming boys?

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19 Responses to “Boys’ Baby Names: 9 Ways to Name a Son”

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The_Supernatural_Hufflepuff Says:

October 19th, 2014 at 11:36 pm

I usually chose boy names that flow with my last name and aren’t too out there

indiefendi Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 3:07 am

I’m gonna name my future boy by using a cute foreign name like Leonardo!

nat108 Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 4:26 am

My top boy names are short and come from nature or are words. I prefer soft or unisex names

Penguinkin Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 6:51 am

I am lucky that hubby agrees boy names don’t have to be all ‘macho’. We tend to prefer softer, more unusual sounding names on boys, those are the ones we can see ourselves enjoying calling out 100 times a day 🙂 I must be in the minority not to worry about boys names on girls – both my husband and his brother have names found on boys and girls, it has never been an issue so I wonder if this fear/dislike is only held by the parents and isn’t a big deal with the actual person. Its not like they have identity issues, they are both well travelled and no-one has ever said ‘you’ve got a girls name but you are a boy’ (I think the only problem was when my BIL booked a salsa class online abroad and they assumed that as an ‘Ashley’ he was a girl – one issue in 33 years and easily fixed)
For me and my husband it is more important that the names we give all our children (regardless of gender) are rooted in something important to us, the meaning, a loved one, an important memory etc but that they also invite our children to develop with who they are and into who they want to be – roots and wings, just like a family 🙂

Abby Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 7:57 am

@Penguinkin – I think that’s a really good point about the parents worrying about it more than the kids. We know boys named Delaney, Jordan, and Avery … and girls with those names, too. My kids seem pretty untroubled by this – which makes me think that the next generation of parents might happily bestow names without this worry. You must be ahead of the curve!

Maerad Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 8:00 am

I love the name James. Adore it. It’s fantastic. However, my partner is called James and I don’t like Juniors (it’s also bad luck in Judaism) and if I don’t marry him – well I can’t name my child after an ex!
I also adore the name Simon, I think it’s somewhere in between James and Arthur (popular classic vs. rare classic).

I really like the name Simcha, I’ve only ever known it for a girl. My children will be given ‘Hebrew names’ for use in services etc. Simcha is on the list for a Hebrew name for any little girls I might have.

namesnerd Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 8:59 am

I’m less inclined to worry about boys’ names being too popular and tend to go with standard classics like William, Patrick, or Matthew.

JH Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 10:47 am

I pretty much stay strictly to classics or neglected classics. Leo is my son (just Leo, not a nickname) and Frederick is my son due in a few months. If we have a third boy, the only names I like are Theodore (he’d have to be Teddy with Leo for an older brother) or Edward (but I don’t want the Twilight association). My husband and I, thankfully, have the same naming technique.

skizzo Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 11:16 am

I like softer unisex names for boys. Especially nature names.

skizzo Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 11:19 am

I just have 2 simple rules: wont be naming my son after dad, and no overused names.

Lo Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 12:02 pm

I have 4 sons and we’ve used enduring or neglected classics for their first and middles.

miloowen Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 12:34 pm

Maerad, in the Sephardic tradition, it is entirely expected to name your son after his living father….

I love Simcha. The only Simcha(s) I’ve ever known were boys.

I took an enduring classic — Thomas — for my son, with the added attraction that it was my grandfather’s name and has long been a family name. Then I added the English form of his Hebrew name — Caleb (Kalev).

MillieMM Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Here are my top ten boys names: Tobias, Sebastian, Atticus, Jeremy, Caleb, Tennyson, Isaac, Edmund, Arthur, Sidney… With these in mind I’d say my style is a revival of classics, and – although it’s not so obvious from my top ten – I love surname-names for boys; Archer, Asher, Beckett, Carson, Carter, Cooper, Jacoby, Lewis, Sullivan.

iwillpraise Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 2:49 pm

For the most part, neglected classics don’t speak to me… I like off-the-beaten-path-classics, which are actually quite different. Sometimes I like them paired with a more substantially classic middle, other times with a surname, depending on which one. Maybe I fall more into the New Favorite, Deep Roots, I don’t know for sure.

Tobiah Gregory, Jasper Silvio, Corbin Rupert, Elias Gordon, Cyril Ellison, Ambrose Gavriel are some combos I’m quite fond of..

bootsie Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 3:44 pm

@nat108 – I agree and think a lot of my names fit into this. I think people are a little too afraid of gender boundaries, and it kind of sends the wrong message if a boy sharing anything at all with a girl – even a name – is unthinkable or embarrassing.

I think more than anything my style is “go out on a limb”, even if it’s not always intentional. My current favorites: Quebec and Mountain.

ella17 Says:

October 20th, 2014 at 5:59 pm

I like soft ‘çhilled out’ names for boys like Jasper and Huey (Hugo).

Emmy67 Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 7:48 pm

We recently named our newest son Declan, and I’m happy to hear that it is growing more popular! Most who hear it really like the name, but a few have never heard of it. My husband and I have had it on our list for the past five years, ever since our first son was born, and finally got up the guts to use it!

eveyalecia Says:

October 21st, 2014 at 8:50 pm

I’d say my style is definitely neglected classics. Top of my list right now are: Rhys Alexander, Casper Nolan, Bertram Linus (Bert or Bram as nickname), Arthur Madison, Briar Valentine, and Ezra Prosper. The only deviations are Briar (a not-quite-name I suppose?) and Prosper (a surname).

The list of names I like for boys is pretty endless, though, whereas I find it much harder to find girls names I even sort-of like! Fingers crossed for boys when I start having kids. 🙂

spring13 Says:

October 22nd, 2014 at 6:15 pm

Simcha seems more like an import (from a particular language/culture) than something totally out of the blue to me. The Tworetskys are Jewish, there’s nothing weird about them giving their kid a Hebrew name! Interestingly, it’s one of the few traditional Hebrew names that actually is given to both boys and girls.

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