Boys Baby Names: The viable and the verboten

Nameberry 9 by Abby Sandel, Appellation Mountain

A French film made its US debut this week.  What’s in a Name? takes us to a dinner party.  A happy couple announces that they’re expecting a son, and they’ve chosen a name.


It’s as scandalous a choice in French as it would be in English, and the fellow guests are aghast.

The party goes downhill from there.  Other guests are criticized for their children’s “pretentious” names: Myrtille and Apollin.

Such scathing comments are usually reserved for gossip, or maybe anonymous online forums.  Can you imagine yourself in a social setting, hearing your child’s name ripped to shreds?  Let’s hope the movie – and the play it is based on – are pure fiction.

Then again, even if Adolf is your beloved grandfather’s given name, I would think long and hard about giving the name to a son.  It’s one of a very few names, like Lucifer, that strike me as off limits for good reason.

Most names are more like Apollin – maybe they’re not your style.  Maybe you raised an eyebrow when you heard the name announced.  But it is tough to argue that the choice is truly burdensome.

Parents lament the limited pool of names for boys, and it is true that we tend to be more conservative with names for our sons.  But this week’s baby name news is full of choices that are mainstream, but far from ordinary.

There’s nothing wrong with William and James – they’re the kind of classic names that would provoke no comment in a social setting.  But there’s a wide range of possibilities that fall somewhere in between the out-there and the ordinary, choices that wear well but probably wouldn’t have been heard fifty or even twenty years ago.

Sky LynLee – Actress Clare Kramer and husband Brian Keathley have welcomed their fourth child.  When I heard Sky, I assumed it was a baby girl.  But no – Sky LynLee is the couple’s second son.  LynLee honors Sky’s late aunt.  Clare and Brian are also parents to two daughters, River and Gavin, and son Hart.  While some might balk at Gavin on a girl, I appreciate that they choose equally interesting names for their boys.

Ryker Mobley – Country music’s Lee Brice is known as a creative namer.  He and wife Sara are already parents to son Takoda.  Ryker seems like an almost safe choice in comparison, especially combined with middle name Mobley, borrowed from Lee’s family tree.  While Ryker might strike some as different, he actually ranked #219 in the US last year, making him about as popular as Peter or Charlie.

Zion – He’s another name that only seems different.  Zion is nearly as popular as Ryker, ranking #235 in 2012.  But he still made BabyCenter’s unusual names of 2013 list.  If Biblical place name Eden is stylish, and Ryan is an established classic, Zion could wear very well on a boy.

Trace – Here’s another name from the unusual list that also charts in the US Top 1000 – Trace.  Country music’s Trace Adkins makes this one familiar, a cool pick for a little cowboy.  With so many women called Tracy (and Tracey and Tracie) in the 1960s and 70s, using Trace for a boy feels like a fresh reinvention of a name we all recognize – and proof that names once popular for girls can inspire cool choices for our sons.

Colt – If Trace is a cowboy name, Colt is definitely straight from the Wild West.  There’s the young horse, the firearms manufacturer, and the Indianapolis football team.  Add it up, and I’m never surprised to meet a baby ColtColton ranked in the US Top 100, and Colt has been on the rise, too.  But this birth announcement, for a baby named Colt .45?  That might be taking things a bit too far.

Jaxon – First Kaitlyn overtook Caitlin.  Then Zoey became more popular than Zoe.  Could Jaxon be the next alternative spelling to outrank the original?  Canadian website Today’s Parent ranked Jackson #49 – but Jaxon/Jaxson #24.  Maybe it is the appeal of the letter x, found in other Canadian favorites, like Felix, Xavier, Maxime, Alexis, and Alexander/Alexandre.

Nolan – The late actor Paul Walker has a new movie coming out this month.  Unlike many of his roles, he’s not playing an action hero.  Instead Hours is about a father trying to keep his newborn daughter alive in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  His character’s name – Nolan – ranked #88 last year, a name rich with Irish appeal.

Walker – I’ve found myself thinking about Walker in recent weeks, too.  In the Will Ferrell movie Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby was the father of sons Walker and Texas Ranger.  But the surname name also has presidential ties and a very current sound.

Sullivan – Let’s end with one more surname choice.  Nameisms suggested Sullivan as a way to honor a Steven.  But even without an uncle Steve or grandpa Stephen to honor, Sullivan makes for another great surname name possibility.  He’s been on the rise in recent years, and fits right in with longer names like Sebastian, as well as other upbeat Irish choices like Ronan.

Are you more conservative when it comes to naming a boy?  Are there names that you consider unwearable?  Which names are on your shortlist that you might not have considered five or ten years ago?

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19 Responses to “Boys Baby Names: The viable and the verboten”

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JH Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 12:43 am

I am conservative when dealing with boy names. Frederick and August are both on my short list and I don’t think either would have been a few years ago.

sbm602 Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 7:07 am

I am traditional with boys names, but in recent years, Stellan, Rafferty, Noble and August have made my list. Sometimes I’m still not sure if I’d be brave enough to use them; but they’re on the list!

skizzo Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 8:41 am

I am anything but conservative when it comes to boy names, in fact, I really dislike the classics, they just bore me to no end and are soooo overused. Also I suppost most kids names Michael or David these days share the first name with their fathers, which is even more annoying.

There’s just so many more interesting names beyond the top100, and beyond those ever-so-popular names, why give your child a beige name when there are so many colors on the rainbow? Doesn’t mean you need to name your son Pineapple, but there are loads of cool legit names that aren’t overused.

Saracita00 Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 9:45 am

I’m an exception to the rule: my boys get names found off the beaten path. Way off the beaten path. Even all of the names listed here are far too mainstream for my taste. I do like most of them though, particularly Sullivan and Ryker, but if my baby due in this spring turns out to be a boy, he’ll be Ragnar. I think that parents have forgotten how many amazing, historic, ancient names there are for boys, just waiting to be found.

CsprsSassyHrly Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 11:33 am

I think I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to boy names. William, David and Michael bore me (though Liam as a nickname for William brings it close to revival for me, I’d much rather just use Liam), though names like James, Adam, Patrick, Alexander and Henry I love. I do find myself on the more conservative side for boy names. I think my craziest names are on this list, Nolan, Sullivan and Sebastian. Maybe Weston, Rhys and Wesley. But those are names that aren’t too out there compared to some of the girl names I like, Verity, Mercy, Prudence, Agnes, Gemma and Evangeline. I really don’t think I’d be brave enough to use them though, whereas Nolan and Patrick, I would definitely use.

KateMP91 Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 1:07 pm

Colt is one of our favorites for many reasons! We both still love it and if we ended up with three boys it would definitely get used. Recently though, it was surpassed by Briggs. Hubby has found Colt a little too obvious and popular in his circle of acquaintances.

indiefendi Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 1:23 pm

I fancy myself to be quite the liberal namer but Gavin on a girl? And Sky on a boy? Why? Why? WHY?

Adolphe/Adolf/Adolph/Adolfo is a name that has obviously been ruined for eternity and it was really never appealing at all to begin with.

I love Zion, it’s ardent!

Lucifer? One would REALLY name their son after the Devil? What is humanity coming to? Isn’t it a crime in New Zealand too? It should be a crime everywhere!

Ryker is one of those tacky “tough” names. Riker’s Island is a prison for Pete’s sake! Naming your kid after a prison!

Trace and Colt are great in my book.

Sullivan is a family name of mine but I’m meh about it. Indifferent.

brittany3 Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 1:27 pm

Walker (my dad’s middle name) and Sullivan (my cousins’ surname) are both already in my family. I have had Walker Louis on my list for a boy for 6 years now 🙂 Too bad it looks like I’ll never get to use it!

ELO Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 5:12 pm

I was going to leave a comment but I can just say an enthusiastic “ditto” to everything @indiefendi already wrote.

EmilyVA Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I love the names James, William, and Michael. Although all of these names have been rather popular at one point.

I don’t mind Sky on a boy. It makes me of Guys and Dolls (the musical/movie).
Gavin on a girl I don’t like.

Ryker is also not great and Adolph is despicable! So is Colt .45! I wonder if years later we will ever have data on if you name your son for violence, will he grow to be a criminal or violent individual?

Abby Says:

December 16th, 2013 at 9:23 pm

@KateMP91 – Briggs is FABULOUS! And yes, very underused, too – plus cool/rugged without being so obviously cowboy. Will you use it?

@indiefendi – I think Lucifer is off limits – probably more so than Adolph. It comes up on name boards from time to time, and about 50 boys have been named Lucifer in the past decade. Really.

@EmilyVA – The only study that I’m aware of says that names – even extreme names – have no outcome on the child’s life path. It’s from Freakonomics. The basic sketch is something like this: the kid called Winner went to jail while the brother named Loser became a cop. I’ve also seen speculation that the negative name encouraged the child to rise above – but I haven’t actually seen their data, so take it for what it is worth …

Jenna5128 Says:

December 17th, 2013 at 1:54 pm

Having a problem with Ryker or Lucifer are examples of an ethnocentric perspective. Knowing that Riker’s Island is a prison is only going to be a problem for baby in the United States.

alphabetdem Says:

December 17th, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I liked that the Kramer/Keathley family were equal opportunists in their naming decisions. We always hear about girls getting boys names, but boys named Hart and Sky? Now that’s daring. Not my style, but super enthused about them doing it.

My SO actually likes Lucifer, and I had to shut that down. The name actually relates to light, and you can get the same meaning from Lucian/Lucien. I know those are still problematic for some people, but we’re not religious (at all), and can view them on their merits. Idk if it’s really my style, but when the time comes, we’ll see how I’m feeling.

I love Sullivan, and my dad’s a Steven, so that’s a cool connection. I like his middle name a lot though, Arthur, so there are options now! Nolan is cute too, especially for a baseball fan.

Abby Says:

December 17th, 2013 at 2:53 pm

@alphabetdem – Thanks for defending Lucifer. I get the appeal of the sound and the meaning. My hesitation is around others’ reactions when they hear the name. On the one hand, I don’t much care if other people like the names we choose for our kids – I think trying to choose a name everyone will like is the path to madness. But I would also rather avoid the ones that make others’ jaws drop. The “jaw drop” list that gets smaller and smaller with every passing year, though, so who knows? In 30 years, Lucifer might be mainstream …

tori101 Says:

December 18th, 2013 at 5:00 pm

@ indiefendi totally agree with you

My choice in boys seems to be quiet conservative in the eyes of berries but in ‘reality’ I think in Britain would be kinda unusual. My number 1 boy’s name is Levi. I love it so much and even though Levi appears to be incredibly popular in the USA, in the UK I have only met one Levi whose family originate from NZ. So for the UK Levi is unusual.

: )

svea Says:

December 18th, 2013 at 7:40 pm

I actually kind of like the name Adolf, it has lots of history in my country…

RainbowBright908 Says:

December 20th, 2013 at 6:33 pm

Adolph is a decent name on its own, though not my style. However, it’s been ruined. ForEVER. At least for the next few hundred years, I’d feel so sad for any child wearing this name. It’s unusable. Completely. Totally. 100%. Off. Limits.

Lucifer would likely be a burdensome name. I love the sound of it, but the association *most* people would immediately have is not a good one. Great name for a pet!

Delilah is an incredibly popular name. When I first heard it, I thought that most Christians would have a negative reaction to the name. Given the popularity of Delilah, I’m expecting Jezebel to make an appearance in the top 1000. However, the feminist blog may be too much of a pop culture reference to make the name viable. I love the sound of Jezebel. I think it’d be a great name for a dog or cat!

Sullivan, as a name, has a great historical tie to Helen Keller.

I’m not a fan of Jaxon. Jackson, not my style, but it looks and sounds classic. Jaxon and Jaxson sound classic, but not a fan of kree8f spellings.

I grew up with a somewhat kree8fleigh spelled name. I hate correcting people. Nearing 30 years old, and my extended family still misspells it!

miloowen Says:

January 5th, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Perhaps fans of the name Riker are merely Star Trek fans. After all, Riker’s first name was William and his middle name was Thomas….The name itself is Dutch and was originally spelled Ruyker. Ruyker’s Island dates all the way back to New Amsterdam.

I have to say as a teacher I am so tired of bizarre and creatively-spelled names. The kids with the weirdest names tend to be the worst readers. Is their a connection between bizarre spellings of names and an inability to understand phonics in English? I don’t know, but I’m not the first teacher to notice the correlation.

What exactly is wrong with the name John (spelled correctly), after all?

My son, aged 22, is Thomas. It’s a good name. He likes it. He goes by Thomas or Tom. It can be translated into most languages. It’s a family name. It’s dignified. It’s a name he’ll never be embarrassed by and which won’t typecast him to any generation.

Maybe I’m showing my age, but I don’t believe a name should be a burden. And I’ve met many, many students who feel burdened by their “creative” names.

ToNameAFlutist Says:

January 22nd, 2014 at 9:01 pm

The name Adolf is now a horrible name that no one should ever bear. I shudder at the thought of anyone even considering the name!!!

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