Way back in the day, as in before the 20th century, people gave their boys truly interesting names. They had a ring to them that a little boy could carry throughout his life with his head up and his heart full. Some of those truly beautiful names have carried on as old stand-bys, like James and John. There are many Roberts and Williams still around, too. However, some names seem to pop up only in the past. If you are a fan of history, you have probably read about at least one amazing man and thought to yourself, “He has an awesome name. Why don’t I hear that name more often?”
There was something about his moniker that flowed off the tongue and fit his daring deeds. Sometimes you would see them in fantasy novels or historical fiction, and think, “That name is too cool to be real,” but you would look it up and find it belonged to a famous king.
What we have here is a list of names that fit awesome deeds and sound like something from J.R. R Tolkein, but have faded from popularity. It is extremely unlikely that your little one will have to share a name with someone else in his class if he has one of the names from this list. That is really secondary, though. The great thing about these names is that their meaning and former namesakes will be conversation starters for decades to come, and there will always be a little zing in his life with these names.
This sweet sounding two-syllable name means 'forest dweller,' with all the suggestions of a gentle medieval hermit or manly woodsman that entails. This name was one of the top 100 names of the medieval period, probably because it was the name of one of St. Paul's companions. It stayed pretty common into the early 1800's, but faded out of general use after it was used as the name of the main character in 'Silas Marner,' a weaver who is saved from becoming a miser by adopting a little girl.
The few Silas' you will find these days are elderly and named after someone in the family. It's a proudly traditional name, and both its meaning and its former bearers showcase the sweeter side of masculinity. You can always call him Sy for short, too, which will be fun. And 'Silas Marner' is a short read- perfect for waiting in the delivery room.
In the more royal line of names, there is Tancred. I have seen it spelled Tankred, but that looks funny. I say it is more royal because a king of Sicily had that name. It was also the name of one of the most successful of the princes in the First Crusade. He was the one to become Prince of Galilee.
These days, the name only crops up in pop culture occasionally, as a character in the Witcher series and in Diablo 2. There’s a musician with the name and a play, but it is otherwise out of style.
This is a shame because it doesn’t just sound cool, it has a great meaning. The name is Germanic in origin, and the Normans were very fond of giving it to kings. It is a fitting name for a king, too, as it means ‘well-thought advice.’ We would all like our little boys to be thoughtful, I should think.
Everyone thinks their son could totally rule a great empire, and that their boy is definitely golden. This is why the name Aurelius is perfect for everybody. It is a name from Ancient Rome that means ‘golden’ or ‘gilded,’ which may be self-explanatory, since ‘aurom’ means ‘gold’ in Latin. It is pronounced aw-REL-ious: go ahead and sound it out. It sounds like money, doesn’t it? And there are some beautiful variants, like the Italian Aurelio, and the German Aurel. Both examples roll of the tongue.
It is a surprise that you don’t find many Aurelius’. The most famous Aurelius is Marcus Aurelius, the Roman emperor and philosopher from the 2nd century. With such a forbear, you would think it would continue in popularity. However, today it is ranked #2577 in popularity in America, and it was never more than #2466 on the charts. This is going to be a great name that will let your son stand out from the beginning.
If you want a name that is both easy to spell, has good mouth feel, and has a long line of famous name-bearers, than Otto is a great name for you. It’s a later Germanic version of Audo or Odo, which meant “wealth” or “fortune.” Who wouldn’t want to wish their son good fortune?
These days, it isn’t a particularly popular name here in the US. It was a whopping #527 on the 2016 charts, and it hasn’t moved much. The only ‘famous’ Otto is Otto Criek, the vampire photographer in Terry Pratchett’s Disc World novels. But, there was a time when it was far more common. It was #75 most popular in the Victorian Era. Of course, the most famous name-bearer would be the man who welded the modern nation of Germany together, Otto von Bismark. This may explain why it is still relatively common in places like Sweden, where Otto is ranked #74 most popular name, and England, where it is #286 most popular. Hey, now that you know what a cool name it is, you can help bring it back.
There are few names with more fantastical meaning and history than Alfred. For one thing, it is from Old English, the same language that ‘Beowulf’ was written in. For another thing, it translates into a fantasy: it breaks down as ‘Aelf,’ or elf, and ‘raed,’ or ‘counsel.’ Since elves were thought to be wise, it translates as ‘wise counselor.’
The name stayed popular after the Norman Conquest because of King Alfred of Wessex, although it started to fade away in popularity by the end of Middle Ages. It went through a revival in the 18th century after people became more interested in History. It was #39 in popularity in Victorian Era, and has dropped off to #235 today. But really, it needs to come back. It’s a name that a boy can grow into, from being nicknamed Alfie to being a full-bore Alfred. Plus, who doesn’t want a little elf in the house?
Remember when all your male classmates were named Brian? You had to know at least one. It may even be your husband’s name. It dropped in popularity after 1990 for some reason, and it’s now only #204 in the US. Still, it’s a great name. It comes from Ireland, and it was popular there before Brian Boru, a semi-legendary king, had it in the 11th century. It moved into England in the Middle Ages. It actually stopped being used much until the 20th century, when it peaked in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
It isn’t too hard to see why it was popular when we were younger. It’s a sweet name, strong and lovely to hear. The variant Bryan is slightly more exotic, but it’s still simple enough for a baby. These aspects made it a winner in the past. You can always say that you are going retro when you pick it, too.
This name gets no love. There have been practically no Aland’s since the 1880’s in the US, and yet it was one of the top 100 names in the Middle Ages. It means ‘bright as the sun’ and ‘precious,’ and comes from Old German. Its variant, Allan, is more popular, though even that was consistently #656 on the charts throughout the 20th century. Seriously, the name reached its highest point in popularity in 2014 when a whopping 14 people named their baby boys Aland.
I can’t figure out why it isn’t more common, though. It has a fantasy-novel panache that I like, and a romantic appeal. Plus, everyone thinks their son is precious and bright as the sun. Well, at any rate, at least if you give it to your son, you will be giving him a chance to be the one with the most sun-like name in class.
This is another name that was one of the top 100 in the Middle Ages, but has fallen out of favor since. It’s only #1721 in popularity in the US now. Personally, I think it should definitely make a comeback, simply because it sounds quite a bit like one of the most popular names going the rounds now: Aidan.
They aren’t related by meaning at all; Aiden means ‘fire’ and comes from Gaelic and Auden means ‘old friend’ and comes from Old English. However, the ending ‘den’ sound is pleasant and having a name that starts with an ‘A’ gets you on the top of a lot of lists. It is a great name for little boys because it can be shortened down to Audie and it has a nice ring to it. Personally, I think it is the type of retro name that is so old it sounds cutting edge.
There is a name that lends itself to a whole genre in Fantasy, and that is Arthur. Just reading the name brings to mind knights and dragons. Even its origin is fantastical. It could be from Gaelic words for ‘bear’ and ‘king.’ It could be from a Latin last name Artorius, or it could be from Old English for ‘noble hill.’ As you can imagine, it was one of the 100 most popular names of the Middle Ages and came roaring back in the Victorian Era, as you might be able to guess by noting that the most famous Arthurs, Arthur Conan Doyle and Arthur Shopenhauer, lived in the late 1800’s.
These days, the best-known Arthur is an anteater, and the name is ranked #273 in popularity. This gives it some of its great traditional vibe, but it can stand on its own because it sounds sweetly masculine and fits a kid from birth to death. If you have a love of Arthurian romance and retro names, this is a great choice.
I know most of us have seen this name used by little girls, but it is the 21st century. Unisex names are all the rage. Besides, it was from a last name, so it can cover anyone. Truthfully, though, this is just a great name. It comes from Middle English, and it means ‘cheerful’ or ‘merry,’ which was derived from a Gothic word meaning ‘kindly, friendly, and merciful.’ It seems classical and wholesome. Who doesn’t want to describe their child as happy? This was likely why it was one of the 100 most popular names in the Middle Ages.
It is currently ranked as 10856th most popular in the US for boys, but it was more popular in 1941. I think this is another name that goes so far around behind it comes around to the front again. It’s fun to say, sounding as cheerful as it means, and your baby will never have to be called by their last initial in class because someone else has his name.
Garrett isn’t just a cute name that fits a bundle of baby boy. It’s a strong Anglo-Saxon and Teutonic name that means literally ‘strong spear’ and ‘spear warrior.’ In English, it gets loosely translated as ‘rules by the spear’ or ‘defender.’ It is also a derivative of an old English family name, Gerard or Gerald, which are not names that I like. Garrett was one of the more popular names in the Middle Ages, and it made a deserved revival in the early 2000’s, though it was never more than #80 on the name charts. The name’s popularity dropped to #308 since, so your little boy may have an older cousin with the name, but probably not a lot of classmates.
The two-syllable name has a nice staccato ring that will continue to fit a kid as he grows, and the older cousin will appreciate having a namesake. It’s one of those names that should become an old standby.
This is a Breton name that means ‘handsome.’ All right, everyone thinks their baby is the most good-looking creature ever, so that makes it the best name for every child. As a variant of the French Yves, it also has the advantage of being something people can pronounce and spell. This may have been what made it so popular in the Middle Ages as a boy’s name that it made it in the top 100.
It’s also one of those names that is just cute. It is a bundle of fun syllables that ends with a chipper ‘an’ and flows out of the mouth. These days, you practically never find it in English-speaking countries, and in France, where it could be considered home, it is ranked 142 in baby names. So not only is this cute little name fun to say, but will make your kid as unique as he is handsome.
Is any great Victorian novel complete without an Edwin? It was always the great hero’s name. This reflects that it was the 59th most popular name in the Victorian Era. It has always been a low level favorite, the name of 16th century kings and astronauts. (Buzz Aldrin’s first name is Edwin. That’s right, ‘Buzz’ is a nickname.) Early in the 20th century it was the 53rd most common name for boys, and it has only gone down to #311 in popularity since then. Compared to some of the others on this list, that is not far down at all.
The appeal isn’t hard to fathom. The name comes from Old English, and it means ‘wealthy friend.’ You know, everyone’s best sort of friend. Besides bestowing your son wealth and friends with this name, it just sounds like the name of someone special. You can always call him Eddie or Ned if he seems too little for the name when he is first born. He will grow into it.
If your family tends toward descriptive names, this one is for you. It means ‘dark’ or ‘dark haired.’ It was one of the top 100 in medieval times, when people tended to give their children names that were less metaphorical and more literal. It languished in obscurity, though, until the 1980’s in America. Not that it was ever that popular. It reached its height of popularity in 2001, when it was #359 in the rankings.
So this name never really got its due. With the cute ‘y’ sound at the end and its bouncy sounds in the middle, it is sure to fit an active baby boy. And does your family have dark hair, as a rule? Little Kolby will fit right in. I know it is sometimes given to girls as well, but it works fine for boys. It was supposed be for boys to begin with, anyway.
You know how I said that people in the Middle Ages liked to give their kids descriptive names? Ryelan is one of those names. It means ‘dweller in the rye field.’ You can see some serf giving birth, looking around her Rye fields and deciding, ‘Yeah, that’s what I’ll call him.’ With that in mind, it may be why it was one of the top 100 names for boys in the Middle Ages. Rye is a great, hardy grain that a lot of people would be growing.
You probably aren’t growing rye, but the name is pretty sounding, and you can be sure that your boy won’t be sharing the name with anyone in their class. It’s #269 out of all names in the US, after all. In fact, there have been only 75 babies given that name between 1880 and 2016 in the US. This isn’t fair to the name, though. It’s such a charming gem, with so many nickname possibilities. Besides, this name isn’t literally about grain. It’s about abundance and wealth. It’s the sort of name that you can give to a boy as a wish for his happiness.
Stewart has great mouth feel for a name, and a lot of growing room for a little boy. It’s a Scottish job name, meaning “caretaker” or “steward of an estate.” It is a common last name, and this led to Stewart being popular back in the 1940’s, when there was a trend in giving children surnames as first names. The popularity of the name started dropping after the 1980’s, and is now only #455 in popularity.
Personally, I think it should get a second chance. The role of caretaker is a positive one for your boy to live up to, and the name is fun to say. If you prefer the variant spelling of Stuart or Steward, I won’t complain. They sound alike, and they are a little more popular than earlier in the century. I still like the original for myself. Its simple staccato sounds fun. It gives you the chance to call your little genius ‘Stewie,’ too.
You have probably heard the word in reference to quality or silver. In fact, the word comes from the emblem of a little star on Norman coins. This led to the English to use the word to mean ‘excellent’ or ‘of high quality.’ Another source of the name is the Scottish city of Stirling, which became a surname.
Naturally, many people in the Middle Ages thought their sons were excellent and named them Sterling. It was one of the top 100 names at the time. In the 1950’s and 1960’s it was also familiar because famous athletes and actors had the name. Now, we still think our boys are excellent, but the name is only 458th most popular name in the US. I think some people don’t realize it can be a name. But it is very sweet on little boys. It’s sounds charming, and I think anyone who wants to use a Medieval name could use it without doing a lot of explanation.
Warrick is a name that you probably haven’t heard a lot. It barely even registers on the charts because it ranks 5241 in popularity these days, though there was a Warrick Brown in 'CSI.' It is definitely a Medieval name. It was in the top 100 choices at the time. It is from Old German and Old English, and means “leader who defends; buildings near the weir.” It sometimes is translated as ‘protector and ruler.’
I love this name for the implications. We all think of our little boys as town heroes, defending our weirs. Besides the meaning, it has the sound going for it. It’s a name that ricochets around the mouth, bouncing back from the initial ‘war’ with a chirpy ‘ick!’ Exactly what a baby might say as he’s starting to talk. This is adorable, and we should all give ourselves the chance to hear it.
So you like the meaning of Steven, which is ‘crown.’ Maybe you would like to name your child after the many kings of England, Serbia and Poland that have that name, too. But the name Steven rubs you the wrong way. Personally, I hate the way the name sounds. Fortunately, you have options. The Medieval French variant is Estienne. Your son would share the name with a famous line of 16th and 17th century printers, but virtually no one else. It never even became one of the top 1000 most popular names in the US, always staying below #1190 on the charts.
This is a shame, because it is a melodious name, that flows right out of the mouth. You can always shorten it to 'Esty' or 'Ten' if you are into nicknames, too.
If you think calling your bouncing baby ‘Rollie’ would be fun, and you also are a fan of medieval epic, you might like Roland. This was a ridiculously well-loved character who was supposed to be the nephew of Charlemagne, and his name comes from Germanic words for fame and land. When the Normans came to England, they brought their beloved character name with them, and, movie-star like, inspired lots of little Rolands. These days, its more popular variant is Orlando. It actually became pretty well-loved in the 1920’s, and was #108 in popularity. It has definitely slipped, however, and it is only #586 now in the US.
Really, this name has it all. It sounds cool. It gives you the chance to say, ‘oh, yeah, we named him after the nephew of Charlemagne,’ and it gives him a name that means ‘renowned land.’ He’ll never worry about sharing a name with a classmate, either. Not too much else is better, name-wise.
It’s a truly upper crust name. It was the name of a British duke, a great lawyer and an author. It sounds as smooth as a river; it’s Clarence. This name is Latin in origin, but it is also Celtic in a way because it means “person who lives by the river Clare,” a Celtic river. It was first used as a surname before the 14th century, though it wasn’t used as a given name until the mid-19th century. And, boy, did the Victorian’s take to it. It quickly became number 17 in the list of most popular Victorian names. It started to disappear after the early 1900’s, and is currently ranked at 1080.
This name does have a touch of the Victorian about it, and some people may find that vibe off-putting. I say it’s another name that is so old-school, it’s cool. You can’t beat it for style, so let’s give it to some lucky little boy.
Ira was another favorite from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s that has practically gone into hiding in this century. It’s gone from number 95 in popularity in the 1880’s to 1346 in 2017. In it’s prime, though, you could always count on a few Ira’s: there was Ira Gershwin, the song writer, Ira Davenport, the Olympic sprinter, and Ira Murchison, the athlete.
It means ‘watchful,’ which is what you are going to wish your baby was once he is scooting about. It’s from Hebrew, and originally belonged to King David’s priest. English speakers took to it after the Protestant Reformation, and the Puritans made it a moderately common name in the US. It remained so until the 20th century. Personally, I think it is glorious in its simplicity and sound. It has a strong and wholesome ring to it, and any little boy could stand to be reminded to be more watchful.
Virgil was only ever number 122 on the popular name charts in Victorian times, but I can’t imagine why. They were such fans of the classics, and few things are more classic than the author of the Aeneid. For whatever reason, the name reached peak popularity here in the US between 1900 and 1909 as the 101st most popular name and then faded away until it is now not even in the top 1000.
Even if we aren’t as into Classical Latin these days, there are plenty of reasons to give it to your little boy. It’s from the Latin surname Vergilius, which probably meant “staff bearer.” Staff bearer sounds very bold. Asides from being the name of a famous poet and referring to a dashing position, it just has a nice feel to it. It can be shortened down to Gil when you’re in a playful mood, and any teacher will be impressed with the name.
Gordon is an Old English or Gaelic name that possibly means “hills near meadows.” It was originally a Scottish clan name, so if you have some Scottish forbears, I say you have a legitimate claim on this beauty. Even if you don’t have any Scottish ancestry, it’s a fine first name. The Victorians started using it that way after the British general Charles Gordon became famous for his defense of Khartoum. It became the 159th most popular name of the era, and has stayed in the top 1000 favorite names ever since.
It isn’t hard to see the enduring appeal. It’s a strong, masculine name that is still sweet enough for a baby. In the 1930’s, it became common, but the trend blew over. It is ranked at 812 in popularity in the US now. But that’s all the more reason to keep this gem of a name going: it was embraced for good reasons and doesn’t have to fade into total obscurity.
Someone near me needs to name their baby Cyrus. We get this name from Persia, where it is related to the Persian name for throne, and from Greece, where it means 'lord.' There was a saint by that name in the 4th century, and there was an inventor named Cyrus McCormick.
Mostly, though, it just deserves to be used more. It was most popular in the 1880's, and even then it was only ranked #253. Now it is 472nd most popular around here. It sounds so sweet. Then there is the fact that every little boy should get such a vote of confidence from their parents. He could grow into a lordly name. In the meantime, you can read him 'Cyrus, The Unsinkable Serpent,' an old children's book with great watercolor illustrations and a sea serpent.
Sources: Behindthename.com, Thinkbabynames.com, Top-100-baby-names-search.com, Names.org