By Linda Rosenkrantz
When we hear the phrase ‘virtue names’ we tend to think first and foremost of the girls—Faith, Hope and Grace, Prudence and Patience. But some parents are beginning to acknowledge that there are good boys as well as girls, and considering some of the old male virtue names that have been off the grid for decades, and would make especially meaningful middles.
Abel — Okay, Abel is more biblical name than virtue, but its modern appeal hinges on its literal meaning of ready, willing, and…. Plus Abel (or Able) is such an excellent all-around virtue.
Constant—Whereas the feminine Constance has long been in common usage, Constant never has in this country—although it is heard in France. Much more usable here is Roman emperor/papal/video-game name Constantine, which has been on the US list sporadically since the nineteenth century.
Earnest/Ernest—Hard to resist starting this off with “the importance of being earnest”—but Earnest, condensed to Ernest can definitely be considered very much a virtue name. This country was at one time filled with Ernies—Ernest was a Top 25 name in the 1890s and stayed in the Top 50 through 1956, while the Earnest version was also a well-used early option, as high as Number 107 in 1907. And Ernest certainly has his share of notable namesakes, most famously Mr. Hemingway.
Justice—Now considered a unisex virtue name, the blue version made a comeback in 1994, and is now at Number 518, while Latin spelling Justus—a popular name in Germany, pronounced YOO-stus– is at 792. Steven Seagal used Justice for his son back in 1976, while Jensen Ackles recently gave it to his baby girl.
Loyal—The Boy Scout-worthy virtue name Loyal resided on the Top 1000 list for almost sixty years, peaking at Number 555 in 1890, when Loy was a popular nickname, sometimes used on its own. Dr. Loyal Davis was a prominent neurosurgeon and the father of Nancy Davis Reagan.
Noble—Like Loyal and Justice, Noble was not uncommon at the turn of the last century, as high as Number 312 in 1901 and remaining on the list through 1954. One of its most prominent bearers was Noble Sissle, an important early jazz musician and composer, who co-wrote the song “I’m Just Wild About Harry” with Eubie Blake.
Prosper—A highly aspirational choice that is, like Constant, more commonly heard in France. Prosper Mérimée, best remembered for writing the novella that was the basis of the opera Carmen, was also a dramatist, historian, translator and archaeologist.
Sincere—Sincere was something of a surprise entrant to the popularity list in 2000, where it has remained, now at Number 703. It may have been jump-started by the character named Sincere, played by rapper Nas, in the 1998 film Belly.
True—A unisex virtue name found in several forms—True, Truly, Truthful—used by Forest Whitaker and Joely Fisher for their daughters. More unambiguously male is Truman—equally honest, upright, and presidential as well. Rita Wilson and Tom Hanks have a teenaged Truman.
Bravery –We first came upon Bravery when Talisa Soto and Benjamin Bratt made this creative choice for the middle name of their son Matteo in 2005, and are somewhat surprised that more parents haven’t picked up on it. With its three syllables, Bravery is more rhythmic than the other virtuous boy possibilities, and relates to cousin name Avery.
Clement—A more subtle choice, one of Clement’s definitions is ‘merciful,’ and is often used to describe mild weather. Clement has been in the Top 1000 for as long as Social Security records have been kept, reaching Number 267 in 1911. Clement, nn Clem, is currently at Number 980 and has numerous noted namesakes, from popes to saints to British prime ministers.
Worth—Worth sends something of a mixed message: are we talking about net worth, or a more general worthiness? Worth, which also has a bit of a preppy feel, was in fairly common use in the US at one time, on and off the popularity list through the mid-1920s. Worthy is another possibility.