Editor’s note: This post originally ran on December 17, 2008, my son’s fourth birthday. It was revised and re-posted on December 17, 2012, my son’s eighth birthday.
It’s an undeniably ancient name that has reached dizzying heights of popularity in the 21st century.
In honor of a very special birthday boy, today’s Name of the Day is Alexander.
There are two contenders for the earliest use of Alexander. The first is as an epithet of the Greek goddess Hera – Hera Alexandros – literally, Hera, Defender of Men. There’s also Alaksandu, King of Wilusa. That might sound sci fi, but it’s actually a Bronze Age city, located in modern day Turkey. Alaksandu ruled circa 1280 BC.
But there’s no uncertainty about the Alexander who made the name legend. Born in 356 BC, Alexander III of Macedon conquered most of the known world, and became an almost mythological hero in his own time. Separating fact from fiction is tricky, but what’s certain is that he’s inspired countless parents to choose the name for their sons.
Other notable Alexanders include:
- Eight popes between the years 97 and 1681;
- At least ten saints;
- Several ancient writers, artists and scientists;
- Eighteenth century English poet Alexander Pope and nineteenth century Russian poet Alexander Pushkin;
- US Founding Father Alexander Hamilton;
- Kings of Scotland, Poland, Greece and Yugoslavia – to say nothing of princes and dukes;
- Three Emperors of Russia.
Following Alexander’s adoption as a royal Russian name, it became one of the most common choices for Russian parents and remains a staple in many Eastern European languages. Thanks to the saints, it is widely used in Western European tongues, too.
In pop culture, the name has been worn by legendary bad guys – A Clockwork Orange’s Alex; Superman’s nemesis Alexander Luthor, better known as Lex. He’s had far more innocent uses, like Judith Viorst’s award-winning children’s book Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day and the Irving Berlin hit Alexander’s Ragtime Band. You’ve probably seen Alex the Lion on the big screen in Madagascar and the sequels.
While Alexander never fell out of use, he wasn’t a smash hit until recently. In the late 1800s, you’d hear him with some frequency – he regularly ranked in the Top 100 in the US. But from the 1920s through the 1960s, Alexander usually fell somewhere in the 200s. Think of Martin, Calvin or Clayton today.
His fortunes turned in the mid 1960s, and he’s climbed steadily since then. Alexander has been in the Top Ten since 2008 and Alex has been in the Top 100 since the 1980s. Add in girls’ names like Alexandra, Alexis, and Alexa and the name feels very common, indeed.
If Alexander has a saving grace, it’s the nearly unending list of nickname options. Aside from the obvious Alex, there’s:
- Alexei, also bestowed as an independent name and also spelled Aleksey or Alexey, depending on your background.
- Xander, which got a boost from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Zander is also ranked in the US Top 1000.
- Zane, which has a Western feel thanks to popular author Zane Grey.
- Sasha, a valid Slavic choice that reads feminine in the US – but may experience a revival thanks to starbaby Alexander Schreiber.
- Alec, for a Scottish twist.
- Dex, my newest discovery.
Other choices include Al, Aly, Lex, Anders, Andy, Sandy and Sander, along with even more obscure options common to some languages. The Russian Shura, anyone?
He’s an enduring classic with history aplenty – but he’s also a fast favorite with many parents. I can testify that it wears well on a boy, but he will have to happy to share!