Classic Boys’ Names: Let’s hear it for Henry!

Why does Henry consistently rank as one of the top two Nameberry favorite boys’ names? (Finn is the other one.)

Because in many ways Henry is the most perfect of the classic boys’ names—as historic as James and John and William –yet with a quirkier edge that makes it seem modern, and even hip.

Henry has a lot going for it.  Let us count the ways:


At #67 on the Social Security list last year, Henry was given to a little over 6,000 boys across the country—as compared to almost 22,000 Jacobs.  Henry was much more commonly heard in the past, having been #10 in 1900, 12 in the 1910s, 18 in the twenties, 25 in the thirties, then dipping to a low of 146 in 1994, after which it started its edge back up.


To pick out just a few among the many distinguished Henrys, there was explorer Henry Hudson, industrialist Henry Ford; in political history there have been Henrys Clay and Kissinger, in literature Henry FieldingAdamsJamesLongfellowThoreau and Miller, and other notables in the arts including PurcellMooreFonda, Mancini, Winkler and Rollins—not to mention that historic string of English sovereigns, as well as pop culture icons from the Henry comic strip to the Oh Henry! candy bar.


Henry has been a Hollywood hit since at least the early 1990s, when it was used by Meryl Streep, Martin Short,  Dennis HopperJulia Louis-Dreyfus and others.  More recently it’s been the choice of Heidi Klum and SealJulia RobertsSteve Zahn, Minnie Driver, Jack White and Karen ElsonNorah O’DonnellRachel Weisz and, just a couple of weeks ago, Emily Deschanel.


HARRY is currently huge in the UK, thanks to the combined power of the younger royal prince (christened Henry) and Harry Potter, while mysteriously remaining at a low point of #658 in the US.  A nickname for Henry since the Middle Ages—Shakespeare used it as the familiar name of the mature King Henry V– it has also long been used on its own, with the distinction of claiming one American president—Truman—which Henry cannot.  Other famous Harrys include Houdini (born Erich), Bing Crosby (born Harry), Belafonte, Connick and Reasoner.  In addition to the Harry Potter franchise, it’s familiar through such titles as When Harry Met Sally, Dirty Harry, and Harry & the Hendersons, and as characters in John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ books (Rabbit’s given name), The Third Man, To Have and Have Not and Twilight. David Letterman, Richard Dreyfuss, Simon Baker and Billy Bob Thornton all have sons named Harry.

HALHenry V’s familiar name as a young prince, now has a Mad Men-esque feel.  Nickname-named Hank (see below) Azaria called his son Hal.

HANK is the all-American athlete of Henry nicknames, with a catchy, good-guy, vintage feel.  Distinguished bearers include baseball greats Hank Aaron and Hank Greenberg and country music legends Hank Snow (born Clarence) and Hank Williams Sr (born Hiram) and Jr., and the aforementiond H. Azaria. Kendra Wilkinson named her son Hank IV.

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19 Responses to “Classic Boys’ Names: Let’s hear it for Henry!”

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agirlinred Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 12:54 am

I think the Green Lantern gives Hal some cool points too.

ConsultantMeghan Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 1:27 am

Henry is my favorite name! I actually hope to discourage people from using the name Henry so it won’t become too popular and I can keep it to myself… 😉

anniebee Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 6:08 am

It may not be epidemically trendy yet, but then again neither was Isabella 10 years ago. I have heard this name EVERYWHERE – HGTV, the forums, people I know, friends of friends, etc.

I completely agree that it is a wonderful name and I love nn Hank. I just know that there are going to be tons of kids with this name born in the next few years. I think this will be a top 5 name in the next few years – perhaps the next Aidan without the sound-alike offshoots.

emmyk12 Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 9:47 am

I think it’s a great name, but I agree with the previous poster–it seems really trendy around here, and I think it will only continue to rise.

mynameisrachael Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 10:15 am

Wasn’t this exact article published a while ago??

Lola Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 10:50 am

I LOVE Hal, but always thought Hal was more traditional for Harold. Hal Jordan wasn’t Henry! And while I think Henry’s quite whiny, Harold’s completely awesome in both sound & feel.
Huzzah Harold! Yeah, Henry!

i.heart.nerds Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 11:41 am

I love Henry but he is too popular for ne 🙁 . I would use him the middle spot in a second though.

dublin Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 11:47 am

I do love Henry, so much so that I would consider using it despite it’s popularity. It’s extremely on trend in my peer group so I feel like in our circle, we’d run into lots of little Henrys. Due to this, we are more likely to choose Hiram as a way to get to Hank. I’d love to use Harry, but since it rhymes with our last name, it’s not an option.

rollo Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 3:02 pm

It has taken me years to warm to the name Henry, years ago I thought it was definitely only a name for geeks. The first modern day Henry I know would be about 13 now and I was amazed and horrified to think a parent would use THAT name for their child.

Henry reminds me of chickens, “Hen, Hen, Hen.”

However, I love Harry! I think it is a gorgeous stand alone name, and of course Harrison is high on my list too.

Having said that one I think the combo of John Henry is really nice especially said as a double barrel first name.

skizzo Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Not a fan of the classics, but I dont mind Henry. Its nowhere near as permanently dull as John, Michael, Robert or Richard, or not as ugly sounding as Ronald, Harold, Herman and Horace.

thetxbelle Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 5:26 pm

My Dad’s name is Henry and he goes by Hank, not a big fan of that nn, I like Henry on its own. I think Hal is a little bit of a stretch as a nn for Henry.

BritishAmerican Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 5:41 pm

I’d say that being used for a King and in the plays of Shakespeare gives ‘proper history’ to Hal as a nickname for Henry. 🙂

We call our Henry “Hen” as a nickname. It used to be “Hens”. I do like that he has the option of being Harry or Hank or Hal in the future. We kind of teased him that we were going to start calling him “Hank” and he said he didn’t like that name.

I did have a friend tell me that she would have named her son Henry, if we hadn’t already used the name. (She preferred to use a name that wasn’t already used in her circle of friends.)

And yes, I remember this article from a couple of years ago too. I even checked back, to make sure I wasn’t imagining it.

I kind of wish it wasn’t getting more popular – but at least it’s a classic name with a long history, rather than a newly coined trendy name that might date badly.

Nyx Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 6:39 pm

Almost 22 years ago my sister gave my nephew the middle name of Henry (first name Nicholas “Nick”). At the time (I was only 13) I thought Henry was a rather stuffy choice and glad it was his middle name and not his first. Now, however, I can see just what a gorgeous, classic and timeless, and oh-so beautifully masculine-without-trying name it truly is. Both names were family names, and I can see them being used by future family members again (an idea which really appealed to me when I was thinking about names for my sons!).

miloowen Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 9:39 pm

While I have always liked Harry and Hal, it took me a while to warm up to Henry. Now, however, I like it. I’ve always been a fan of the Norwegian Harald, as well as the Dutch Henk. Still, Harry and Hal are the best of the nns for Henry. I remember when Princes William and Harry arrived at Burnaby High when we were living in Burnaby in BC. The principle introduced Harry as HRH Prince Henry, and Prince Charles joked that “we only call him that when he’s bad.” It was quite sweet.

MaryB Says:

November 1st, 2011 at 11:45 pm

I feel that Henry has been up-and-coming on the radar screen for a while now and parents may now be more apt to choose a fresher neglected boys’ classic, of which there are many. Having known a few; my opinion is that the nickname ‘Hank’ is harsh sounding and it also kind of conjures the image of a farmhand or some unsophisticated individual. The nickname Hal is handsome but I agree w/ others that it might be a stretch from Henry.
The issue with ‘Harry’ seems to confuse the adminstrators of this site, b/c I know the pronouciation issue has been mentioned in the past by other posters, however I’ve never seen it acknowleged by Pam or Linda so maybe they can’t ‘hear’ the problem based on their native accents.
The fact is in most of the US the name ‘Harry’ will be pronouced as’Hairy’. That is not the image that most parents want for thier son and it also very ripe for teasing.

In the UK (where both Prince Harry and Harry Potter originate)the ‘a’ in ‘Harry’ is pronouced the same as in the word ‘pal’ or ‘Hal’.
In most of the US, the ‘a’ in ‘Harry’ is pronouced the same as in the word ‘care’. Hence ‘Hairy’.
I grew up in New England, and we use the UK pronouciation for names like Harry, so to me the ‘Hairy’ pronounciation sounds strange, and I grew up hearing it the Harry as in Hal pronouciaton. This short A/long A issue also effects names such as Sarah(I hear others say Sairah), Carrie(I hear others say Cairrie) both of these names have an ‘a’ as in ‘Hal’ to me, Kerry (to me the ‘e’ should be as in ‘met’ not ‘Kairry’). I have also heard a few discussions on the forum where parents had named their daughter Clara, but were confused b/c some people were calling her ‘Claira’ and others Clara with a short ‘a’ as in ‘Hal’. I know this linguistic discussion seems confusing but it is a pronouciation issue that affects any name(Sarah, Kara, Carrie, Derek, Clara, Karen, Mario, Larry, Carol, Erin etc…)…with the ‘ar’ or ‘er’ sound in the 1st syllable. It is not just the UK/US pronouciation divide, but there are also regional differences to how these names are pronounced.

Sarah A Says:

November 2nd, 2011 at 12:02 am

I absolutely love Henry. It’s a name that’s grown on me, as I used to dismiss it as “boring” along with names like Robert, Michael, etc. But somehow DH started loving it and now I do too. Classic, regal, tailored, the Y-ending, what’s not to love?

If we ever had a Henry we would most definitely call him Hank. I actually like Hiram and Hanif to get to Hank as well. I can see that it sounds harsh but I still love it. And I love that it honors Hank Williams, one of my favorite musicians.

@MaryB – as a Sarah who grew up in MI and now lives in NJ, I can attest to the regional differences in that short A/long A. People here in NJ and NY say my name with a real nasal tone and really draw the A out. I really don’t like it. To me, my name rhymes with care-a.

ChristineR Says:

November 20th, 2011 at 1:40 am

My son is 5 and his name is Henry. We call him “Hen” for short and sometimes “Henna” (I know that sounds kind of girly, but we do call him that, idk how or why it started!). I’d like to call him “Harry” but can’t quite bring myself to do it b/c of how popular Harry Potter is 🙂 It was not it the top 100 US Social Security names the year we used it. I do not like the nick name “Hal” at ALL and I hope my son never uses it. I don’t love “Hank” but I don’t hate it either. My daughter is 7 and her name is Catherine… so I think you can read into that “History Geek Parents!!” and see why we like the names we do. 🙂

ChristineR Says:

November 20th, 2011 at 1:41 am

Oh, I have not met any other little boys named Henry… yet… we live in California.

heimarmene Says:

January 21st, 2012 at 12:12 am

Oh dear, I kind of hope Henry suddenly vanishes from the charts…like ConsultantMeghan said, it’s my favourite name and I want it all to myself. :3 It’d be a shame to see it shoot to the top and consequently be ridiculed like the Aiden pandemic.

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