Last week we identified the seven baby girl names that have produced the most variations from which to choose, all stemming from the same appealing root etymology, and allowing for great flexibility when it comes to naming your child. This week we’ll take a look at the baby boy names that keep on giving. Just as with the girl names, about 15% of parents who gave birth to a baby boy in 2012 chose one of the several names listed on this page:
7.) Root Name –> Marcus (Latin)
Marcus comes from the Latin, either in homage to Mars (the Roman god of war) or from the Latin adjective “mas” meaning “male, virile”. Either way, both etymologies are very closely related. Marcus is one of the oldest Roman forenames in existence; in fact, back during antiquity and the classical era, Marcus was one of only a dozen or so given names used for Roman baby boys. Marcus Antonius and Marcus Aurelius are two well-known Emperors of the ever-expanding Roman Empire as we moved into the Common Era. However, for your typical medieval parent of a now-Christianized Europe, Marcus and his off-shoot names were used more in remembrance of St. Mark the Evangelist, one of the authors of the New Testament’s four gospels. Marcus and his brethren remain “virile” in today’s baby naming marketplace. After centuries upon centuries, he’s still going strong. Here are some other “manly” Marcus alternatives:
Other Languages: Marcus (Latin); Mark (English); Marc (French/Welsh); Demarcus/Jamarcus (African-American); Marco (Italian); Marcos (Spanish/Portuguese); Markus (German/Scandinavian); Maleko (Hawaiian)
Diminutive: Marcel (French); Marcelo (Spanish/Portuguese)
Close to 10,000* baby boys were given some form of the name Marcus listed above in 2012, Marcus and Mark being the top two favorites. The Italian Marco is in third place – not surprisingly Italian names are on the rise here in the United States. Our favorite? Probably Marcus. It’s the most flexible.
6.) Root Name –> Nikolas (Greek)
The Greek name “Nikolaos” (Νικολαος) is composed of the Greek elements “nikÄ“” (victory) and “laos” (people), and therefore translates to “victorious people” or “people of victory”. Perhaps not the winner of our “Most Humble Name” category, it is nonetheless a strong etymology attractive to American parents of baby boys. As with the majority of Western Civilization’s oldest and long-enduring names, their roots can either be found in the Bible, or else it’s associated with some prominent saint venerated in the Middle Ages. In the case of Nicholas, it’s a 4th century saint (especially worshipped in the Eastern Orthodox Church), St. Nicholas of Myra. While little has been historically proven of Nicholas’ life, spectacular legends grew up around him in the Early Middle Ages. He was perhaps one of the most venerated saints ever with one of the strongest cults around. In the East, Nicholas was invoked by sailors for safe travels (“May St. Nicholas hold the tiller.”). In the West, Nicholas was believed to watch over children (quite reassuring for your average medieval parent). The legend of St. Nicholas also developed from the Dutch figure of “Sinterklaas”, a magician-like character who left gifts for children around St. Nicholas’s Feast Day (December 6), inspired by the saint’s reputation for secret gift-giving and for his patronage of children. It could be said that this “victorious” name is the true epitome of the gift that keeps on giving.
Other Languages: Nikolas (Greek); Nicholas (English); Nikolai (Russian); Nickolas (English/American); Nicolas (French); Niko (Finnish)
Short Forms: Col (Medieval English); Colin (English derived from Col); Nic, Nick (English); Claus/Klaus (German); Nico (German/Italian/Spanish); Niko (Slavic)
Diminutives: Nicky (English); Kolya (Russian)
Surname Derived from Given Name: Nixon
Over 15,000* baby boys were given some form of Nicholas in 2012, and the traditional English spelling of Nicholas is by far and away the most popular. Colin is the second most common form of this name, stemming from “Col” which was a medieval short form of Ni”c(h)ol”as (although Colin is also considered a Scottish-Gaelic name). Nico and Niko are cool nicknames, but our sleeper favorite has to be Claus/Klaus (as in Santa).
5.) Root Name –> Karl (Germanic)
Karl is an ancient Germanic name, from “karl” meaning “free man”. In Old High German and Old Norse, the Germanic term “karl” signified a “free” man but not one of nobility; i.e., from the same medieval root as the Olde English word “ceorl” which stood for “man of low birth, a common man”. In the later Middle High German or Middle English, the terms evolved their definitions to mean more simply “man, fellow, husband”. Despite the name’s rather “lowly” beginnings, many Europeans of high rank and those among the royalty bore names derived from Karl/Carl. In fact, the 8th/9th century Frankish leader, Charlemagne (Latin for Charles the Great), had a lot to do with the name’s perpetuation among the early Franks (a Germanic tribe and precursors to the French people). The French brought Charles to England in the 11th century after the Norman Conquest where it quickly flourished (there have been two English kings named Charles and a whopping 10 King Charles of France). The English pronounce the name “CHAHR-É™lz” while the French say “SHAHRL”. The current reigning King of Sweden is Carl XVI Gustaf. You are “free” to use any of these variations of Karl:
Other Languages: Karl/Carl (German/Scandinavian); Charles (English/French); Carolus (Latin); Carlo (Italian); Carlos (Spanish/Portuguese); Carol/Karol (Slavic); Séarlas (Irish); Kale (Hawaiian)
Short Forms and Diminutives: Charlie/Charley (English); Chuck (English); Chas/Chaz (English); Chip (English); Carlito (Spanish/Portuguese)
Other: Giancarlo (Italian)
Close to 15,000* baby boys were given one of the Karl names; the obvious favorite being Charles. The Spanish Carlos was in second place and the diminutive Charlie came in third. Charles and Carlo(s) are naturally risk-free, but we find the Hawaiian Kale delightful. The elaborate Italian Giancarlo (John Charles) ain’t too bad either!
4.) Root Name –> Alexander (Greek)
We can thank the Greeks for the name Alexandros (Αλεξανδρος), composed of the elements “alexein” meaning “to defend” and “andros” meaning “man, warrior” (in the possessive sense). Therefore, Alexander means, quite literally, “defender of mankind”. That’s quite a responsibility to say the least! There is one reason, and one reason alone, why Alexander has persisted as a name of choice for well over 2,000 years: Alexander the Great. As the 4th century B.C. King of Macedon (an ancient Greek state), he was (and still is) considered the greatest military general of all time. Alexander the Great successfully defeated the Persian Empire in its entirety, expanding his Greek empire east to India and south to Egypt, spreading and infusing Hellenistic culture far and wide. Western Civilization owes a great debt to this great man. Great generals of Roman times modeled themselves after him. It’s no surprise that this “defender of mankind” has proliferated in every conceivable Western language:
Other Languages: Alexandros (Greek); Alexander (English); Alexandre (French); Alejandro (Spanish); Alessandro (Italian); Aleksandr (Russian); Alexzander (American); Alistair (Scottish)
Short Forms & Diminutives: Alex (English); Alec (English); Lex (English); Sandy (English); Zander (English); Xander (Dutch); Sasha (Russian/French)
Other: Alexis (Greek); Alexus (Modern)
Almost 30,000* baby boys “defended” an Alexander name in 2012. In fact, Alexander was a Top 10 name choice last year (ranked at #9 on the charts). Hugely popular right now, this long-enduring name will always retain risk-free status. You just can’t go wrong with such a “great” name, and all of the short forms and diminutives available offer added flexibility. Alexander is the best choice in our opinion, but the Scottish Alistair is one to think about.
3.) Root Name –> Michael (Hebrew)
Since Michael was the 20th century darling for so long (ranked #1 in America for 45 consecutive years between 1954 and 1998), the name feels very modern. But it’s not. Michael is an Old Testament (Hebrew Bible) name which is about as ancient as they come. It comes from the Hebrew “Mikha’el” (×žÖ´×™×›Ö¸×Öµ×œ) which translates into a question: “Who is like God?” Michael is the prince of all angels, the archangel of God who defeats Satan and casts him out of heaven. As the Leader of God’s Army, Michael might very well deserve his comparison to the Big Man Upstairs; however, the question mark at the end of Michael’s etymology (Who is like God?) is probably meant to convey a perception of humility. Here are some more “God-like” versions of Michael:
Other Languages: Mikha’el (Biblical Hebrew); Michael (English); Micah (Biblical English); Michele (French); Miguel (Italian/Spanish); Misael (Spanish); Mikhail (Russian); Micheal (Irish/Scottish); Mekhi (African-American); Mikala (Hawaiian)
Short Forms and Diminutives: Mike/Mikey (English); Mick/Mickey (English); Mitchell (English); Misha (Russian); Miguelito (Italian/Spanish); Michi (German)
25,000* baby boys in 2012 were bestowed with some form of the God-given name Michael (16,000 of those boys were given the traditional English form of Michael). Another etymologically related form, Micah, came in 2nd place, followed by the Spanish/Italian Miguel. Sweet diminutive Mitchell rounded out 4th place. We also love the African-American spin on Micah (Mekhi) and the Russian diminutive Misha. The French Michele is apparently too girly-girl for self-conscious Americans because a mere 10 baby boys born in 2012 were given la version française.
2) First Runner-up…..Root Name –> Jacob (Hebrew)
Jacob might very well be the poster child of names that keep on giving. Studying the etymology and linguistic history of this name was nothing short of fascinating. While we’re calling Jacob the “root” name, the real root is Ya’aqobh, which is Hebrew meaning “at the heel” (because in the Bible Jacob came out of Rebecca’s womb “at the heel” of his twin brother Esau). The name is also associated with the verb "to supplant" since Jacob supplanted his older brother’s position and rights as first born. The Greek used Ιακωβος (Iakobos) which became Iacobus in Latin (and Jacomus in Late Latin). The English developed both Jacob and James from this very same root, while the Spanish came up with Jaime, Diego and Santiago (St. James). Even the Celtic-Galician Iago is derived from the same place (remember the infamous villain in Shakespeare’s Othello?). Even the Irish have their own version of the original Ya’aqobh and it’s called Séamus (SHAY-mus). Hard to believe some of these names are even related to one another, but they totally are. That’s what’s so great about a name like Jacob or James – there are so many different things you can call your son! Here are more names “at the heel” of Jacob:
Other Languages: Ya’aqobh (Hebrew); Yaakov (Biblical Hebrew); Jacob (English); James (English); Iago (Celtic); Jaime (Spanish); Santiago (Spanish); Jakob (German/Scandinavian); Jaycob (American); Séamus (Irish); Giacomo (Italian); Jacopo (Italian); Kimo (Hawaiian)
Short Forms and Diminutives: Diego (Spanish, short for Santiago); Coby, Jim, Jimmy, Jamie, Jeb, Jake (English); Lapo (Italian); Jeppe (Dutch); Jockey (Scottish)
Surnames Derived from Given Name: Jameson; Jacoby; Jakobe
Other: Santiago (Spanish for St. James); Israel (God gave this name to Jacob in the Bible)
Over 46,000* baby boys received one of the Jacob/James names in 2012 (only including one of the versions listed above). Not to mention Jacob is currently the #1 boy’s name in the United States right now. You really can’t do much better than that! Diego and Santiago are neck-and-neck in the Hispanic-American community and the short form of Jake does quite well on his own, thank you very much. Our favorites? The Irish Séamus and the Hawaiian Kimo. The “boldest choice” prize goes to Iago.
#1…and the winner is…drum roll, please….John! (Hebrew)
John and Mary are considered the two most successful male and female baby names of all time (in terms of Western Civilization). As a crowd-pleaser for over three millenniums, John has had ample time to form various versions in different languages across the globe. The first original form of John was the Biblical Hebrew “Y’hohanan” meaning literally “Jehovah has favored” (i.e., God is gracious). The Hebrew John from the Old Testament was mentioned as one of King David’s mighty men. However, it was the New Testament Johns (Greek: Ioannes/Ιωαννης) who claim property rights to John in terms of Christianized Europe starting in the Middle Ages (especially after the knights were reintroduced to the name during the Holy Crusades). John the Baptist (who baptized Jesus in the River Jordan) and John the Evangelist, author of one of the four gospels, are the real inspiration behind John’s success as a masculine given name. Y’hohanan has “graciously” spawned the following:
Other Languages: Yohanan (Hebrew); Ioannes (Biblical Greek); John (English); Jean/Yannic(k) (French); Johan(n)/Johannes (German/Northern European); Jan/Jens (Scandinavian); Giovanni (Italian); Juan (Spanish); Seán (Irish); Shane (Northern Irish); Ean (Manx); Ian (Scottish); Evan (Welsh); Ivan (Russian); Keoni (Hawaiian); Deshawn/Keshawn/Tyshawn (African-American)
Short Forms and Diminutives: Johnny (English); Jon (English); Hank (Medieval English); Gianni (Italian); Juanito (Spanish); Hans (German/Scandinavian)
Surname Derived from Given Name: Jensen (Scandinavian); Johnson (English)
Other: Jonathan (etymologically related, although slightly different)
We had to give the blue ribbon to John. This name (in all its forms above) went to nearly 60,000* baby boys in 2012. About 20,000 were equally dispersed between John and Jonathan. Evan (Welsh), Ian (Scottish) and Juan (Spanish) were in 3rd, 4th and 5th place. To shake things up a little, our favorites are actually Seán (Irish), Giovanni (Italian) and Shane (Northern Irish anglicized pronunciation). The biggest surprise for us, though? Definitely Ean. It’s the Manx form of John. Manx is the Celtic language spoken on the Isle of Man between Ireland and Scotland. It’s also a tailless cat.
Honorable Mention: Andrew (Greek)
Andrew means "manhood, manly" in Greek. The name has persisted since ancient times thanks to St. Andrew the Apostle, who also happens to be the patron saint of Scotland, Russia and Greece (among other places). This name has remained popular in many languages:
Andreas (Ancient Greek); Andrew (English); Andre/Deandre (African-American); Andre (French); Anders (Scandinavian); Andreas (German); Andres (Spanish); Anderson (English surname); Andy/Drew (English diminutives)
*The data for the amount of 2012 boys given one of the root names is a gross underestimation of reality because we did not include several lesser-known linguistic forms of the names; altered and creative respellings of the names or elaborations on the names. We achieved our 15% number by roughly estimating that 300,000 baby boys were given some form of the seven root names listed above, out of nearly 2,000,000 babies born in 2012. It could very well be more than that.