Name of the Day: James

by appellationmountain on January 7, 2009

It doesn’t get much more classic. This choice has been worn by saints, kings and a world famous fictional spy.

He’s also reader Kayt’s beautiful new baby boy, the inspiration for the Name of the Day: James.

James is truly never out of style. Since the US started collecting data on baby names, he is one of four choices to consistently rank in the Top Twenty. Of course, the rankings trace back to 1880, and James’ history is far more ancient.

Two of Jesus’ apostles were called James. More precisely, they were probably called Ya’aquov, a name that has spawned dozens of seemingly unrelated monikers. Today, the best known are James and Jacob.

The Hebrew name is usually said to mean supplanter – one who takes the place of someone else. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob is born holding his twin Esau’s heel, so you’ll sometimes find a definition related to the story. (As it happens, Jacob went on to supplant Esau in the Bible, too.)

Ya’aquov morphed into James and Jacob, but also Iago, Jago, Seamus, Hamish, Diego and Giacomo. In Latin, Ya’aquov became Iacobus. Pronunciation changed the name to Iacombus, and eventually the b was dropped entirely – Iacomus. The French took Jacobus and Jacomus and gave the English Jacques and James.

James is no longer heard in French, but he’s gained steadily in English ever since his introduction by the Normans. Popular saints inspired some parents. But it was King James’ ascension to the English throne in 1603 that cemented his use. The monarch’s moniker has remained popular ever since.

Jacob was once the preferred form for Jewish families. Today, Jacob and James are just as likely to attend the same house of worship – or even live in the same house. Brothers called Jake and Jamie are not uncommon.

Besides saints – I counted more than two dozen! – the name has been worn by kings of Scotland, England and Aragon and six presidents of the United States. (Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield and Carter – more than any other given name, though the last is almost always known as Jimmy.)

Artists, authors, actors, aristocrats and athletes have all been called James. The name has was once downwardly mobile – James became a generic term for a driver in the late nineteenth century – but is so widely used that he escapes definition. For every Jimbo or Jim Bob, there’s an Ivy League James or a titled Jamie.

While plenty of girls have been called Jamie in recent years, fictional spy James Bond keeps the name undeniably masculine.

Some bearers of the name answer to Jim or Jimmy or Jamie. But James is increasingly used sans diminutive, a choice that feels surprisingly fresh and vibrant.

Jameson and Jamison put a surname spin on the appellation, and both also rank in the US Top 1000. But it is James that is unstoppable. He’s in the UK’s Top Ten and ranked #15 in the US last year.

There’s nothing unusual about James, but that’s his strength. He’s classic and enduring, and still completely current.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Shannon January 11, 2009 at 2:23 PM

A solid name that you can’t go wrong with. I used it in the middle for my son, after my dad (it’s his middle name also). Don’t really like nicknames Jim or Jimmy, and I know Jamie was originally completely masculine but it has a girly sound to me. I really like the name Jacob and especially Jake.. my dad is always shocked when I tell him how popular Jacob has become.

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AthGirl January 8, 2009 at 2:28 PM

That smiley face was supposed to be an 8, I didn’t realize that 8 followed by ) would turn into an emoticon.

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AthGirl January 8, 2009 at 2:26 PM

The last book (#8) of the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery (some of my favorite books from my childhood!) had 3 characters named James. One had gone by Jem since birth, the other main one was a baby nicknamed Jims so as not to be confused with his father James or with Jem. These days, Jem probably leans towards the girls due to the singer and as a possible nn for Jemima (the books were early 20th century), but I always thought Jem and Jims were both interesting James nicknames! I like James, though – if I have a James he’ll go by James.

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Kayt January 8, 2009 at 3:51 AM

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention, I strongly dislike Jim and Jimmy as nicknames, but I have a soft spot for Jamie. One of the only spelling variants I like is Jamey for a boy. We’ll probably call our son Jamey a bit, but overall, he’ll just be James.

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Kayt January 8, 2009 at 3:49 AM

*Waves* Thank you all! James Kenneth and I are chilling at home, happy and healthy. Thank you so much for all the info, Vee. I hate to say it, but I had no idea how James and Jacob came from the same name. I knew it was a fairly common name, but it was the only name my husband and I could agree on. I have to say, I whole-heartedly approve of this NotD! ;)

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Brenda February 1, 2012 at 6:59 PM

My dad is James Kenneth! Great name! We just named our firstborn James Patrick after his two grandpa’s. I really would like to keep it James as well. Although we affectionly refer to him as Jamesy at home. I love to sing sweet Baby James to him by James Taylor.

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Emmy Jo January 8, 2009 at 1:31 AM

Congratulations, Kayt! James and Kenneth are two of my absolute favorites (as you know). I don’t think you could have made a better choice. :)

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Christina Fonseca January 8, 2009 at 12:28 AM

Congratulations, Kayt on the birth of little James. Awesome name…. In my neck of the woods it seems that a lot of physicians are named James. I love that it is a timeless name that works well for a young child as well as for an adult.

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Nessa January 7, 2009 at 11:25 PM

Wow, James is very interesting, isn’t he! I adore James, when I taught preschool that was my favorite student’s name, and so made me love it even more than I already did. It’s just soo handsome and smooth and debonair. It’s classic and simple, but not at all plain. And considering it’s only one sylablle, it has a lot of nicknames! It’s easy to see why it’s one of the most popular names ever! It’s probably tied with William for me for favorite classic boys name.

Sadly, I can never use it because it’s the name of one of my uncles, and I love him, but he’s not high on my list of family member’s to honor, and I think he would be WAY too honored and think the kid was named exclusively for him. I think Jameson is great too, not as great as James, but nice nonetheless. (I know of someone planning to name their future son Jameson Danger, no joke).

Congratulations Kayt! And great name choice!

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Paige January 7, 2009 at 11:21 PM

Also, congrats to Kayt of course!

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Kate January 7, 2009 at 11:14 PM

Congratulations to Kayt, James is a sterling name choice – the ultimate timeless classic. It’s a family name for me too as every man in my family has a James somewhere in his name so it has added personal significance because of that.

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JNE January 7, 2009 at 10:33 PM

Congratulations to Kayt! And welcome to baby James!

James is a nice, steady name. No issues with it. It’s not surprising or out there, but it is nice, especially in full.

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Lola January 7, 2009 at 9:28 PM

James has been my favorite classic boys name since I was 8. I am a bit offput by his insane popularity (top 20.. forever!) And as it’s the other half’s middle name, I keep suggesting it for soemwhere but he consistently says “no”. Seems the popularity bothers him too.

My favorite entertainment James? James Tiberius Kirk. What an awesome name he had! I actually said the other week ” How about James Tiberius ____ ” and got “Done already” as a shoot down. *sigh* . One combnation I could happily live with, too! There’s also my favorite literary James of all: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser! Oh well. He’s decided, if any of his names are going to be used, it’s John. Which is okay with me too. I don’t mind John at all. I just prefer sweet James!

Congratulations, Kayt! I love your boy’s name! :D

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Paige January 7, 2009 at 9:00 PM

I love the name James! It is #2 on my boys’ list. Its classic appeal, royal ties, and saint connections all combine to make it one of the best boys names. And that’s not even mentioning James Bond!

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