Classic Boys’ Names: The Alexandrians from Alex to Xander
By Linda Rosenkrantz
There are several girls’ names—Mary, Margaret, Elizabeth, Katherine—that have spawned copious numbers of female variations and nicknames, as have boys like John and William, but there is one name whose progeny has embraced both genders, and that name is Alexander.
In 2013, there were 19 forms of Alexander on the Social Security list—almost split between boys and girls, and that doesn’t count names like the Scottish Alistair, which was Number 181 on Nameberry, or newcomer nicknames Xan and Zan. Enough for a two-part blog. Today, it’s gentlemen first.
Alexander the Great still rules over his dominion– a Top 10 name at Number 8. Always expecially favored in Scotland, it reached the US Top 10 in 2008, peaking at Number 4 in 2009, when 18,211 boys were given the name, which has been on the list since records have been published. And its presence is felt worldwide, from Albania (Aleksandër) to Ethiopia (Eskender) to Malta (Lixandru) to Vietnam (Alêchx?ngdro).
According to Greek legend, the first Alexander was Paris, who was given that as a nickname by the shepherds whose flocks he defended against robbers, hence the meaning “defender of men.” It was the Macedonian King Alexander III who earned the title Alexander the Great, as the creator of one of the vastest empires in ancient history. It was then borne by a number of Scottish kings and Russian royals, several saints and 8 popes, an American Founding Father (Hamilton), the inventor of the telephone (Graham Bell) and the discoverer of penicillin (Fleming).
Alex and Alec are Alexander’s two most common nicknames, and both have long been used independently, with Alex ranking now at 110 for boys, as high as 47 in 1996; it is also used for girls., when it’s sometime spelled Alix. Alec, currently represented by Alec Baldwin was in the past more popular abroad (Alec Guinness, Alec Waugh), is now at 453, down close to 300 places since its year 2000 high. Since it’s single-sex and less common, we think Alec sounds fresher than Alex.
Alejandro and Alessandro, the eternally romantic Spanish and Italian versions, both appear on the American list, the first at Number 165, the latter at 630. Alejandro is a Latino classic– recently in the news was Mexican Oscar-winning Birdman director Alejandro González Iñárritu, and Lady Gaga had a hit with the song ‘Alejandro.’Alessandro has ranked here since 1998; its nickname Sandro is often used on its own, another shortened form is Alessio. Alessandro is the first name of the great painter Botticelli and the composer Scarlatti.
Xander and Zander—Coming in at 219 and 230 respectively, these are the newest arrivals to the clan, with the last two syllables now taking precedence over the first. Xander, on the list since 1999, was first noticed as the nom de show of the character Alexander Lavelle Harris on the TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starting in 1997, followed by Vin Diesel’s character Xander Cage on the XXX films, has also been a Power Ranger, and teen Dana Brody’s boyfriend on Homeland. Mad Men star January Jones named her son Xander Dane.
The phonetic spelling Zander popped onto the list in 2000, starting a rapid climb, and was used by Good Charlotte guitarist Billy Martin for his son. The even shorter Xan and Zen are now used independently.
Alexis comes in at Number 294 for boys, though it’s quite a bit more popular for their sisters. It stems from the Greek Alexios and was the name of an ancient Greek comic poet as well as several saints. Alexis Denisof, who has Russian heritage, was seen in Buffy and other Joss Whedon. Projects. Alexei is another variant.
Alistair—Never on the US list, the Scottish version of Alexander is, nevertheless, Number 181 for the Nameberries. Spelled variously Alasdair, Alastair, Alasdair, Alistar, Alastar, and Alister, it has been used in Scotland since the 17th century and still ranks high in Scotland and England and Wales. Rod Stewart used it for his son, and Alistair is a demon on the show Supernatural.
Sasha—The long-term Russian unisex nickname for Aleksandr is now used 90% for girls in the US, though it was chosen for the sons of Chris Hemsworth and, more recently, Shakira and Gerard Piqué. It’s also spelled Sacha, as in Baron Cohen, and Sascha.
Stay tuned for the female side of the family, coming up soon.
What’s your favorite form of Alexander?
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on March 23rd, 2015 at 10:35 pm
I think that the Ethiopian Eskender is very handsome…
Also love Sascha (spelled like that), but it’s a shame. Us girls sure steal a lot of names!! 😉
on March 23rd, 2015 at 11:15 pm
Alistair is definitely my favourite!
on March 24th, 2015 at 12:09 am
I love Sasha so much in all its spellings, Sacha and Sascha! But only for a boy! Its such a shame its so popular for girls 🙁
on March 24th, 2015 at 1:49 am
on March 24th, 2015 at 2:46 am
Love Alec, Alistair and Alexis for the boys and Alessandra for the girls.
on March 24th, 2015 at 7:30 am
My mom’s friends just had a baby boy and they named him Aleksander. I cannot really say much about it as Aleksandra is my middle name and my younger sister’s first name. Also, I have a close cousin Aleksandra…
overall, I think it has a great meaning, giving me feeling of a strong, righteous and fair person always ready to defend those in need, so it is a good name to give your child.
My favourite versions are Alistair and Alessandra. I quite like Alexis (for a girl) if that counts. Spanish Alejandro is handsome, too.
on March 24th, 2015 at 8:31 am
“The phonetic spelling Zander ” is actually wrong since Alexander is pronounced Alex-Ander. Zander just seems trashy to me…sorry. None of the versions even come close to the greatness of the original. I love Alexander.
on March 24th, 2015 at 10:50 am
I named my son Alexander in March 1980. I always loved the name. I was distressed when” General Hospital” added a character Alexandra Quartermaine in 1981 because it seemed to start the trend of Alex for girls and there is also an Alexis on the show as there was a Zander (boy). I also hated when they named a baby girl Maxie on the show because my son Max was a toddler at the time. This name also gained in popularity for girls. Perhaps soap operas do not influence women for naming their children like it used. I am an example, my mother named me after a character on “The Brighter Day” Babby, although my mother spelled it after the first few years, Babbie. I have never liked unisex names. My daughter is Addie, just Addie and Addison is another example of a mans name morphed into a female name for which they use the nickname Addie or Addy.
on March 24th, 2015 at 11:16 am
Hmm. Well, it depends on how one pronounces Alexander. If I’m going to sharply separate the syllables, I say “Alek-zander,” although in practice I run the k & z-sounds together to get an x that ends the second syllable of the name & starts the third. So I can see Zander being a nn for Alexander.
My pet peeve is the alternate spellings, like Aleczander, Alexzander, Alexxander, etc. But we all have different things that trip our triggers. 🙂
on March 24th, 2015 at 7:07 pm
Also love Alastair!
on March 30th, 2015 at 1:08 pm
Alastair, so handsome!
on August 29th, 2015 at 1:35 pm
I love the Turkish form Iskender
on October 3rd, 2017 at 12:55 am
Great post. I would have loved to see Evander on here too! Van and Vander as nicknames. I love Xander as well. I like Alexander but hate nickname Alex which most Alexanders will be called. Alex is so common.
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on May 8th, 2020 at 8:58 am
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