Alexander: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on December 17, 2012

Dex 2012

Dex 2012

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 SlayerZander 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!

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Waltzing More Than Matilda December 17, 2012 at 7:10 PM

Happy birthday, Alexander!

Alexander has never left the Top 100 in Australia – it’s never gone lower than #85, and for most of the time, it’s been in the 30s or higher. It’s so classic, it’s super-classic!

Strangely, you never get the feeling that there’s “too many Alexanders” around – probably because they all go by other names as their nickname. In fact, I think someone just called Alexander would really stand out as very distinctive.

It’s one of the handsomest classic names for boys there are, I think.

As for nicknames, I notice the British upper-classes tend to go with Xan.

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Bella December 17, 2012 at 5:58 AM

I just saw a wonderful museum exhibition on Alexander the Great the other day so I’m loving the name at the moment :)

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Jennifer February 5, 2011 at 8:28 PM

You missed another origin of the name — Alexander is a Biblical name as well. Mk 15:21; Acts 4:6; 19:33; 1 Tim 1:19,20; 2 Tim 4:14

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violetveruca October 5, 2009 at 5:00 PM

I know this post is old, but I just discovered this sight and of course was checking it out. As a mom of a Zane, I am always interested in his name and where it may pop up. After typing it in and seeing the posts with the tag, I was bewildered as to why it kept coming up with Alexander. I have never, ever heard of it as a nick name for Alexander…it is way, way too far of a stretch for me. It is actually a version of John. The association really bothers me…and other than having a nephew named Alexander that goes by Al…(ughh, it really suits him) that I’m not fond of, I’m not sure why!

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appellationmountain October 5, 2009 at 5:48 PM

Hi Violetveruca & thanks for visiting! I suspect there are multiple ways to arrive at Zane. The Zane family came to the US in the seventeenth century – their roots run deep, right through the Revolutionary War and up to the author Zane Grey. (His mother was a Zane – his given name at birth was actually Pearl Zane Gray, if you can believe that.)

I’ve heard the John/Zane link via Giovanni/Gianni/Zanni, but it isn’t the only one. There’s also the argument that Zane is a respelling of the Germanic Zahn – teeth.

As for whether it is used as a nickname for Alexander, it certainly isn’t common. (The one Zane/Alexander I know is 30-something.) But then, the rise of Xander/Zander as a nickname argues that we’ll hear more Alexanders called Zane – but also probably more boys named just plain Zane, too!

Anyhow, I just realized that I had a duplicate on my Names of the Day list, so I’m slotting Zane in for October 12. Next time you search, you may just find him. :)

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John February 28, 2010 at 12:13 AM

Hi,
Same John from a year ago (what is it about February 27th that makes me click that link? creepy)
To back up the connection you’re making here, yes, the Zander link is actually how we went about getting to Zane. Alexander is an old family name and we really liked both Alexander and Zane, but felt that they sounded too similar with the ‘z’ sound and the ‘n’ sound to give him both names as a first/middle combo.

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appellationmountain February 28, 2009 at 9:30 PM

You’re welcome, John! I think Zane works well as a nickname and I’m glad to hear it wears well on your son.

I don’t quite know how Zane came about. In every language I can think of, the “xan” bit rhymes with “can” rather than “cane” – and yet, if we can get Betsy from Elizabeth and Peggy from Margaret, Zane isn’t such a stretch! :)

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John February 27, 2009 at 3:10 AM

Well I know I’m a little late to get in my two cents, but we named our son ‘Alexander’ and we have always used ‘Zane’ as a nickname. We were never sure why we went with that and I always wondered if it’s a bit of a stretch. This is one of the other few sources we’ve found to support the use so thanks for mentioning it.

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SophieGray December 21, 2008 at 3:18 PM

HAPPY BIRTHDAY :)

My elder DD turns 4 in January and I’m rather excited – it’s the best age.. they’ve grown out of that terrible 2s stage but are still young enough to be crazy and curious – my niece Lucille is 4 and it’s prefect!!

Anyway, I adore Alexander. He’s one of my favorite classic ‘staple’ names as well – along with Benjamin. He just has a huge amount of strength and grace, whilst his array of nn – my favorite being Alexei – lossen him up a bit!

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Bek December 18, 2008 at 5:52 PM

Happy 4th birthday, Alexei! How exciting!

I like Alexander, but it is just super popular for my taste. It’s definitely strong, masculine and has an air of regal about him, though, which I can’t say is always found in boy names. It seems to be one of the perfect names for a family looking for definitely masculine, but not chest-thumping mcmanly pants.

My favorite historical Alexander is Alekxander Solzhenitsyn.

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Nessa December 18, 2008 at 5:29 AM

Happy Birthday Alexei!

Alexander is a really nice, strong name. And such a good history! I like the nickname Xander because I’m a BIG fan of Buffy, and that’s the first place I ever heard it, and he was a really great character. I really like Zane, I never heard that as a nickname for Alexander before, it’s cool. All the Alex- names are great, it’s easy to see why they’re so popular. In French class in high school my name was Alexi, and I just loved it.

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appellationmountain December 20, 2008 at 8:04 PM

Thanks to everyone for the birthday greetings!

Zane was my husband’s first assistant’s nickname for Alexander. I don’t know if he chose it or his parents chose it for him as a child. It wears well, though.

Funny thing about Xander – friends of ours were living in Japan when their son was born. They didn’t have an English language baby naming book, but they did have TV. After watching Buffy re-runs, they decided that Alexander, nn Xander, would be a great choice. But somehow it hasn’t stuck since they returned to the US. He’s Alex. It is very, very difficult to push a nontraditional nickname for common name. Every Trish who has been called Patty would probably agree. :)

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Laney McDonald December 18, 2008 at 12:10 AM

Happy 4th Birthday Alexei!

I love Alexander, but because of its popularity, I would definitely save it for a middle name. Alexei is a great name too. I like how you chose a unique nickname for your son that is classy and not weird.

Xander/Zander is nice also, but it’s getting a little too common for me. I hear it alot, almost as much as Alex.

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JNE December 18, 2008 at 1:25 AM

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEXEI! (For a little Russian flavor: S dnyom rozhdeniya!)

The female versions of Alexander (Alexandria, Alexis, etc.) abound in my circle of friends’ children, but Alexander itself is much less common. I like the female versions, despite their popularity, but Alexander itself is more appealing, probably because it is somewhat less commonly heard (at least in my area – NC). As for the nicknames mentioned, I went to high school with a guy called “Sasha” and no one batted an eyelash at the name, it just was accepted… and he was not Russian. As for Shura, it rings feminine to me – probably because I new a girl who went by Shura in college.

Best wishes to the little birthday boy!

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photoquilty December 18, 2008 at 12:25 AM

I gotta say I really hate Zander/Xander as a nickname, though. I meant to say that before. It totally annoys me. Its almost as annoying as Topher as a nickname for Christopher. Oh, that one really makes me grind my teeth. Xander annoys me slightly less – but only slightly.

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Shannon December 17, 2008 at 11:15 PM

Happy birthday Alexei (great name). Alexander and many of its nicknames, especially Alex, and versions in other languages, and the girls’ versions, are top favorites of mine and one of the names I don’t get tired of even with mass popularity. I think it’s a name you can’t go wrong with.

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Katharine December 17, 2008 at 11:09 PM

I love Alexander too – his history, his European Royal flavour, his timelessness and of course his versatility. I have to say as well, that it surprises me how popular he really is when you add up all of his variations because he doesn’t seem over used at all… Picking up on a name that Photquility has mentioned, could I request that Alessandra be a name of the day at some point as I’m totally loving this name at the moment!

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photoquilty December 17, 2008 at 10:47 PM

I love Alexander, Alex expecially! I always have. My husband loves it too; when he was a boy he wanted to be Alex P. Keaton when he grew up. Yes, that reference does date us, but that was the first Alex experience I had. My aunt is Alexis, named in honor of her father Alex, who died before she was born. She’s 62. My second cousin on the other side is Alexis, goes by Alex. She’s 26. Aunt Alexis’s daughter married an Alex. He’s 30-something. That makes three. So there are enough reasons in my family not to use the name. However, I love it. I wish it were less popular so I could use it, but hubby would never let me get away with Sasha anyway, so it’s a non-starter. Did I mention I also love Alexandra and Alessandra and Alexandria? Because I do. I really, really do.

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Lola December 17, 2008 at 10:25 PM

Happy Birthday Alexi!

4 is fantastic, I’ll agree, Josephine’s halfway through it and I know I’m going to miss it! Alexander has been my favorite classic boys name since, well, forever. I think it’s a great name, despite popularity and if I could get him to go for popular, i would land on Alexander and be happy.
Historically loaded and oh, so strong! it really is a great name and I’m sure your Alexi will be content as he ages.

Awesome.

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youcantcallitit December 17, 2008 at 8:15 PM

Happy Birthday ALEXEI!!!

You’ll enjoy 4. It’s a fun year.

Oh, and Abby, I, too am one of the thundering hordes here– Alexandra’s my middle name. I’ve always liked it.

Cheers,
Elisabeth

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appellationmountain December 17, 2008 at 8:08 PM

Alexei officially turns four today! It’s quite the age – he insisted on “helping” make cupcakes to take to nursery school today. (No more watching Top Chef re-runs until he’s in bed, I think.) When I look at him, well – he’s just not a baby anymore. I can’t say I didn’t know it was going to happen, but it’s still surprising. (I’m sure this gets more and more shocking as they get older and, you know, drive. And vote.)

Since Alexander honors my father-in-law, it was the only name we even considered for a boy. And I can’t say I’m unhappy with it – but I do remain surprised by the absolute thundering hordes of children with some version of this name.

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