Boys’ Names 2013: Soft new choices


by Pamela Redmond Satran

Sssssssssh, have you heard the secret?

There may be a lot of Wild and Wilder names around these days, but boys’ names are also going in a softer direction.

The sh sound is stylish — or should that be shtylish? — for baby boys’ names, introduced by Joshua and Sean and led these days by such trendy choices as Asher and Dashiell.

Among the attractive sh names for boys are the following:

Asher — The Old Testament Asher, which means “fortunate, blessed, happy one,” was one of Jacob’s twelve sons who gave their names to the clans of Israel.  Contemporary diminutive: Ash.

Ashton –This English name meaning “ash trees place” became a mega-hit in 2004, mostly thanks to TV star/model Ashton Kutcher’s popular prank show Punk’d.

Bishop — Actress Reese Witherspoon got the ball rolling on ecclesiastical occupational names when she named her son Deacon in 2003.

Cash — A diminutive of Cassius or an economy-inspired word name, cool name Cash may also pay homage to American music legend Johnny Cash.

Cashel — In Ireland, a cashel is a circular stone fort or castle. Paired with the contemporary diminutive Cash, this Gaelic name may combine the perfect balance of old-world and modern feel.

Cassian — This Latin variation of Cassius alludes to Saint Cassian who was the patron saint of stenographers. The monk and ascetic writer, John Cassian, introduced Eastern monasticism into the West. If Cassian feels too traditional, exchange the C for a K like actor Patrick Wilson did for his son Kassian in 2009.

Cassius — This Shakespearean name meaning “hollow” has an ancient feel and an august American legacy: boxer Muhammad Ali was originally named Cassius Clay after his father, who was in turn named after the famous emancipationist Cassius Marcellus Clay.

Dashiell and DashDashiell originated as the Anglican form of the French name Chiel, but its meaning is unknown. Diminutive Dash is simple and handsome and may also, for better or worse, reference the Kardashian sisters.

Elisha — Though it sounds feminine, comparable to Alicia and Elissa, this Hebrew name is male and means “God is my salvation.”

Fisher — This fun occupational name broke into the Top 1000 in 2004.  Another spelling that nudges it further into surname territory: Fischer.

Hamish — This traditional name meaning “supplanter” is actually the Scottish variation for James. Though it hasn’t quite made its mark in the U.S. yet, it currently sits in the Top 50 in South Australia.

Ishmael – Not many parents call their sons Ishmael these days: The name made most famous by Moby Dick was briefly among the Top 1000 in the late 1990s for the first time since 1916.  The Biblical Ishmael was Abraham’s first son with the Egyptian servant Hagar. In Islamic tradition, it is believed that Ishmael was the ancestor of the Arabs.

Joshua — This name mixes an old-world biblical feel with the laid-back popularity of its diminutive Josh, resulting in its spot in the Top 10 from 1983 until last year! In the Old Testament, Joshua was the successor to Moses who ultimately led the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Krishna — In the Hindu Sanskrit tradition, Krishna was the human incarnation of the god Vishnu, a valiant figure who represented love and joy. Though it represents a male deity, this name is often used for both boys and girls in Hindu families.

Marshall — This French name meaning “one who looks after horses” is perhaps best known in contemporary America as the birth name of outrageous rapper Eminem.

Misha — The Russian diminutive of the male Mikhail, Misha was introduced to American by the ballet star Mikhail Baryshnikov.  Actress Mischa Barton made it more unisex.

Nash — This English surname came into fashion with the appearance of TV police drama Nash Bridges in the 90’s and the mathematician John Nash of the highly-praised film A Beautiful Mind.

Oisin — This Irish name can also be spelled phonetically as Osheen, which sounds a lot like Ocean.  In Irish mythology Oisin was the son of Finn McCool and Sadb, a goddess who was transformed into a deer.

Rush — This English name meaning “basket weaver” could suggest excitement and danger, if not for its best known pop-culture reference, commentator Rush Limbaugh.

Sasha – A diminutive for Alexander, Sasha is often used for boys in Russia, though in the U.S. there are now 30 girls named Sasha for every boy.  The Obamas use this nickname for their younger daughter Natasha, and singer Beyoncé chose it for her alter ego Sasha Fierce!

Seamus — As the Irish form of James, Seamus is notable the name of the Nobel Prize-winning Irish poet Seamus Heaney.

Sean —  Meaning “God is gracious”, Sean is the Irish variation of John and might also be spelled Shaun or Shawn.

Shane – Another Irish variation of John or Sean, Shane is a cool guy name reminiscent of the 1953 cowboy movie.

Shaw – Surname-name Shaw is both familiar and distinctive: It’s never appeared in the Top 1000.

Shay or Shea — Though Shea is a common surname in Ireland, it can be spelled phonetically as Shay and means gift.  For both sexes, Shea is the more popular spelling and the name is slightly more popular for girls, but only slightly.

Shepherd — This pleasant occupational name can be spelled in a number of variations, Shepard, Sheperd, and Sheppard, which all yield the likeable nickname Shep.  It was chosen for their youngest child by Jerry and Jessica Seinfeld.

Sheridan — This Irish male name may sound tranquil but it means “wild one.”

Sherwood — This English surname which means “bright forest” harkens back to Robin Hood’s favorite haunt.

Shiloh – This Biblical and Civil War place name tipped toward the girls’ side when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie chose it for their daughter in 2006; there are now about three girls named Shiloh for every boy, though the name works equally well for either gender.

Tavish — The Scottish variation of Thomas, this charming name gives off a more traditional ethnic feel than the usual alternative Travis.

Thanks to our intern Denise K. Potter for research help with this blog.  Photo by Georgia Brizuela.

About the Author

Pamela Redmond

Pamela Redmond is the cocreator and CEO of Nameberry. The coauthor of ten bestselling baby name books, Redmond is an internationally-recognized name expert, quoted and published widely in such media outlets as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, The Today Show,, CNN, and the BBC. Redmond is also a New York Times bestselling novelist whose books include Younger, the basis for the hit television show, and its new sequel, Older.