Hooray for Henry: The quirky classic that manages to stay cool

October 7, 2009 Linda Rosenkrantz

When Henry was chosen as the #1 favorite boy’s name on the collective 5-star lists of the nameberry community, I was somewhat surprised and yet somewhat not.  Because in many ways Henry is the perfect boy’s name—as classic and 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 #78 on the Social Security list last year, Henry was given to fewer than 4,000 boys across the country.  It 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 Fielding, Adams, James, Longfellow, Thoreau and Miller, and other notables in the arts including Purcell, Moore, Fonda, 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 Hopper, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and others.  More recently it’s been the choice of Heidi Klum and Seal, Julia Roberts, Steve Zahn, Minnie Driver, Jack White and Karen Elson, Norah O’Donnell and Rachel Weisz.


HARRY is currently huge (#5) in the UK, thanks to the combined power of the young royal Prince (christened Henry) and Harry Potter, while remaing at a low point of #644 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.

HAL, Henry 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.


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