Name of the Day: Arlo

by appellationmountain on January 31, 2009

Oh boy! On the heels of Philo, here’s another interesting ends-in-o choice.

Thanks to JNE and Christina for suggesting the surprisingly down-to-earth Arlo for Name of the Day.

Even if you’re more into Britney than bluegrass, you’ve probably heard of Arlo Guthrie, the American folk singer. Tune into many a radio station on Thanksgiving Day, and you’ll hear Guthrie’s famous “Alice’s Restaurant.” The song lasts for 18 minutes, 34 seconds. And yes, his Alice is a real person – but she runs an art gallery.

He’s not the first Arlo, either. The novelist, poet and newspaper editor Arlo Bates was born in Maine in 1850. South Dakotan Arlo Olson won the Medal of Honor for his service during World War II. A handful of other Arlos appear throughout the 20th century.

It seems likely that the writer’s reputation encouraged the use of the name – it first charted in the US Top 1000 in 1900, and peaked at #667 in 1915. But the inspiration for that early Arlo remains elusive.

The name has several possible origins:

  • Some suggest that Arlo comes from an Italian version of Charles. Carlo is, of course, the better known variant.
  • Others trace Arlo to the English surname Harlow. This tracks with Arlo Bates’ background, but his mother’s maiden name was Thaxter. If Arlo comes from Harlow, the meaning is debated still – rocky hill or fortified hill are among the options.
  • There are numerous references to barberry trees, with the suggestion that arlo is the Spanish. Maybe so, but bérbero seems like the more obvious translation.

But the most intriguing possibility is that Arlo comes from Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen. Arlo Hill is “the best and fairest hill” and is surrounded by “faire forrests.” While experts believe Spenser was inspired by a real location, you won’t find Arlo on the map. In fact, it isn’t clear what inspired Spenser to use the term.

This brings us back to Arlo Bates again. Accounts suggest that his father, Niran, was impressively well read. It’s all guesswork, but there’s reason to believe that Niran would’ve read The Faerie Queen. After all, the poem inspired plenty of parents looking for high-minded baby names – see Clarinda and Gloriana.

Arlo was in limited but steady use right through 1944. While he’s virtually unknown in recent years, the singer keeps him familiar. And he’s undeniably easy to spell and pronounce.

With Milo coming in at #548 and plenty of baby Theodores answering to Theo, Arlo starts to sound positively mainstream.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Annaluisa February 12, 2013 at 8:14 AM

When our son was born we picked Aurelio Robert from our list of names also because it can be spelled the same in most cultures (i’m Italian, my husband’s American), although for the US side of the family we immediately directed them to Arlo as a nickname. Its easier for them, its still melodic and every-other-letter of the longer name (I am not a fan of diminutives as ‘official’ names) and this way I did not have to renounce to the meaning of a name I loved (meaning aside I am not a huge fan of Carlo). We did not pick Aurelio just because of the Arlo nickname but it seemed a natural and plausible connection between the names. Any thoughts?

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appellationmountain February 12, 2013 at 9:25 PM

I think that’s quite lovely. Aurelio and Arlo are both great names, and Arlo follows logically from Aurelio – even if they’re not technically related. Crossing language and cultural barriers can be challenging – it sounds like you’ve found a very graceful way to do so!

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annaluisa February 13, 2013 at 6:04 PM

Thanks, we’re very happy with it, selecting a name was not an easy process for us. Other than Arlo the name Aurelio is proving to have several other good nickname options so we’re really just spoiled for choice, Arlo’s still my favourite, but we’ll see what he and/or his friends think as he grows.

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Charlee t May 3, 2011 at 4:14 AM

Do you think that you could use Arlo as a nickname for a kid called Carlsen? That’s a family name which I would love to use but I don’t like the nn Carl. Seeing that Arlo is also a variant of Charles then I’m thinking in a way it kinda does relate. What does everyone else think – too far fetched?

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appellationmountain May 3, 2011 at 5:37 AM

I think it would work. There’s no doubt in my mind that Carlo would work, so why not Arlo? I’ll say this about unusual nicknames: it helps to get them out there early, like birth announcement early, and reinforce them consistently.

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Charlee May 3, 2011 at 3:23 PM

thanks…. good advice!

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Nessa February 3, 2009 at 11:35 PM

i’ve been thinking about this name soo much! i like it more and more all the time. At first, I didn’t think it had the same feel as Milo, but it does. It’s a little more rugged to me though, I think it would age better. Milo sounds like a little boy to me. Arlo still has that happy, fun sound, but would make a much better adult. I’m really loving it… It’s one of my favorites now.

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Kayt February 2, 2009 at 5:39 AM

I really like Arlo! I adore it as a given name, but it’ll always seem a bit feminine to me because I knew a little girl named Charlotte who went by Arlo. You know, chARLOtte? Either way, I would love to meet a child named Arlo.

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SophieGray February 2, 2009 at 2:10 AM

I was thinking exactly what Nessa stated: Arlo could either be really cool, or incredibly dorky :) … either way, I do like him.

I’ve never considered him before, but he has an awesome – almost 1920’s Jazz Age – feel to him, IMO. VERY smooth. Plus, it kinda reminds me of Marlon Brando in a round-a-bout way, and that’s never a problem ;)

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Nessa February 1, 2009 at 11:13 PM

my husband saw this page open and said “ooh, Arlo, I like that”. Shocked me. I had never considered it, but it’s cool. I imagine an Arlo would be either really cool, or a big nerd. I’m putting him on my list. Since we’ve decided on Dashiell, I’m constantly looking for a boys name that could be a brother for him (not that that’ll be an issue anytime soon!), Dash and Arlo works pretty nicely together, i think.

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JNE January 31, 2009 at 10:24 PM

Thanks Verity! I adore Arlo. For me the “-ar-” sound in a boy name is extremely appealing – not sure why, but it is (I also like Harvey, Barnaby, Charles, but not Arnold – I think that the ending there ruins Arnold for me). We have family friends who used the name (their second, Jake, was a bit of a naming let-down for me after that). It seems like a thoroughly wearable name – not too childish for an adult or to adult for a child. For me, Arlo is both British and salt-of-the-earth sounding… kind of like another -ar- favorite already covered wonderfully by Verity – Jarvis. Guthrie isn’t enough of a feature in my life to put me off of the name as it is for Lola… but it would likely lose out to Jarvis (partly because of our friend’s use of the name). But I would LOVE to meet more little Arlos!

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Lola January 31, 2009 at 4:12 PM

I love Arlo! He’s on heavy rotation ’round these parts. Especially around Thanksgiving * Christmas (the Motorcycle song is a Christmas favorite of the boys’) One of the few artists I liked before he did. He’s not in play for us because of Guthrie. Too famous for us and very “one man” name right now. And he’s only 62, so it’s likely to be awhile before I’m allowed to consider it for a child of ours but oh, how I love Arlo! Happy, cheerful feeling and definitely creative sounding. Very awesome indeed. Laid back, serene and sweet. Arlo’s got all the hallmarks of a winner for me. I’d love to see someone else use him!

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