Christopher Nolan’s new WW II epic, Dunkirk, has crowds of theatergoers at the edge of their seats as it depicts the harrowing evacuation of hundreds of thousands of Allied troops from northern France in 1940. The film is intense and inspirational—and perhaps, also, for expecting parents looking for some great hero names from the Greatest Generation.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt guided the US through the Great Depression and much of World War II—making for a pretty great namesake. Franklin, originally a surname meaning “free landholder,” jumped to the 33rd most popular spot in 1933, when FDR was first inaugurated. Now at #423 in 2016, the name, calling up other American greats like Benjamin Franklin, feels ready to serve again.
FDR’s wife, (Anna) Eleanor Roosevelt, led her own career as a tireless and outspoken activist during the war and beyond. Eleanor—brought to England by the French Eleanor of Aquitaine, 12th-century queen to Henry II—was a Top 100 name for most of the first half of the 20th century, to which it returned in 2014, climbing back up to #41 last year; it’s #12 on Nameberry.
FDR’s dogged British counterpart, Winston Churchill, launched this name all the way up to #234 in the US during the height of World War II. The name, which hopped from an English place name to a surname to a given name in the Churchill family, is now at #473 in the US, its highest since the 1950s. Across the pond, actor Idris Elba chose Winston for his son in 2014, and it’s the protagonist’s name in George Orwell’s 1984.
If you’d like a war hero name for your daughter, look no further than Odette. Odette Brailly was a French-born British secret agent who aided the French Resistance and survived torture under Nazi imprisonment. Along with the White Swan in Swan Lake, the daughter of actor Mark Ruffalo is also an Odette. It’s a noble choice—and a unique one, only once cracking the US Top 1000 back in 1905.
When General Omar Bradley was helping command the tide-turning Normandy landings in 1944, there weren’t too many other Americans serving with his name. It’s a much more popular choice in the US now (#223 in 2016), though it’s long been a favorite in Muslim families. With roots both in Arabic and Hebrew, other honorable Omars include Omar Khayyam, celebrated early Persian poet, and the late Egyptian actor Omar Sharif (born Michael). Omar was also a memorable character on The Wire.
As a Second Lieutenant of the Air Force, Elsie Ott was a military nurse who helped transport wounded soldiers all the way from Karachi, India to the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. For her bravery and service, she was the first woman to receive the US Air Medal. The name Elsie, originally a pet form of Elizabeth via Espeth, has made a major comeback in the UK, where she’s reached #33. That’s about where she stood in the early 1900s in the US, where she’s back at #340 as of 2016. Elsie Otter was the surprise choice of Zooey Deschanel for her daughter in 2015.
Based on the Latin word for “greatest,” Maximilian could seem like a boastful choice. But consider the humble St. Maximilian Kolbe, a Polish monk who sheltered Jewish refugees in his monastery during World War II before being sent to Auschwitz. There, he volunteered himself in place of a stranger the Nazis were punishing with starvation. Up in the 400s in the US last year, along with other Max names, Maximilian is much more common in Europe—including Germany, where it finished at #12 in 2016.
Captured by the Japanese in the Philippines, US Army nurse Colonel Ruby Bradley ministered to fellow prisoners and children in her internment camp during the war. She went on earn many major medals and serve in the Korean War. Her sparkling red gem name, in the Top 100 from 1900 to 1950, has recently reclaimed that status. Reaching #71 in the US in 2016, it’s in the top 20 in England, New Zealand and Australia. Ruby may have been helped recently by celebs like Tobey Maguire, who used it for his daughter Ruby Sweetheart.
FDR’s Secretary of State, Cordell Hull won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1945 for his work in forming the United Nations. Cordell, an occupational surname (“seller of cords”), makes for a distinctive and distinguished-sounding boys’ name. It’s not too unfamiliar, though, as it has variously registered on the US Top 1000 over the past century.
In what’s now Malaysia, Sybil Kathigasu helped resistance forces by supplying medical supplies, treatment, and information before the Japanese captured her, penning a powerful memoir, No Dram of Mercy, and earning the UK’s George Medal for Gallantry. Her name—taken from ancient Greek and Roman prophetesses—has enjoyed some popularity in the UK, from Benjamin Disraeli’s 1845 social novel Sibyl to Lady Sybil in Downton Abbey. While not as common in the US of late, it was a Top 500 name for much of the early 1900s and is #253 on Nameberry. In honor of Kathigasu, Sybil would make for a truly standout selection.