Wren: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on September 30, 2013

English: Bicolored Wren, shot in Barquisimeto,...Editor’s note: This post was originally published on December 1, 2008.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on September 30, 2013.

Today’s post was written for my sister, better known as Bird, and her namesake niece.

Thanks to Katharine for suggesting our Name of the Day should be the fine feathered Wren.

Not every animal name works.  I’d wince if I met a child named Cheetah.  But Wren moves from the wilds to the nursery with grace and style.

A wren is a songbird. Various wren cousins live all over the world. They’re smallish in size, but their songs can be surprisingly loud and complex.

The bird was known as the wrenne in Middle English and the wrenna or wrænna in Old English.  It can be traced back to the Germanic werna and variations appear in Old Icelandic, too.

While Wren feels like a restrained, even humble name, it also sounds just like reine - the French word for queen.  Fitting, because this creature is sometimes known as King of the Birds.

Aristotle wrote of a contest amongst all the birds to determine their leader.  It was decided that he who could fly the highest would earn the crown.  It looked like the eagle would win handily.  Except that a clever little wren hid in the proud eagle’s plumage.  At the last minute, he soared ahead on his own, and the title went to the wren instead.

The fable survives, but the bird changes over the centuries.

There’s a poem called “The Gold-crested Wren” dating to 1868, and some families probably earned the surname thanks to an ancestor’s small size.  Christopher Wren was a celebrated architect at the turn of the eighteenth century.  St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is among his masterworks.

But Wren doesn’t appear as a given name until very recently.  There are a very small number of them over the years.  In 2000, 18 girls and 10 boys received the name.  But by 2010, the numbers were 185 girls and 32 boys.  Last year, 250 newborn girls were named Wren, along with 29 boys.

Influences include:

  • A 1981 children’s story called Wren featured a character with cerebral palsy.  The author, Marie Killilea, also wrote two books about her real-life daughter, Karen, who was born with the disease.  Marie’s efforts changed the way that we look at cerebral palsy and helped her daughter lead a full life.
  • Comic strip Baby Blues has been around since the 1990s.  The parents are Wanda and Darryl, with kids called Zoe, Hammie, and Wren.
  • Sci fi/fantasy authors Philip Reeve, Sherwood Smith, and Terry Brooks have all used the name for characters.

They’re all pretty minor characters, though.  Today’s parents probably think of Ren from Ren and Stimpy fame before those references, and I doubt any of us are naming our kids after high-strung animated chihuahuas.  Or maybe Kevin Bacon’s character in Footloose, though again, he was Ren, hold the W.

Chances are that Wren just fits with our tendency to borrow bird names for girls: Robin and Raven, of course, as well as Birdie, though she has more history as a nickname.

Overall, Wren makes for a spare, simple name for a girl.  She’s not as delicate as Lily, less surprising than River.  In either the middle or the first spot, Wren has quite a bit of appeal.  She’s also nicely obscure, never having ranked in the US Top 1000 – yet.

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Gemima October 4, 2013 at 8:52 AM

My little girl is Autumn Wren.
I love it. :-)

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Megan M. September 30, 2013 at 7:12 PM

I just read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which features twins Cather and Wren. (Their mother didn’t know she was having twins and couldn’t be bothered to come up with a second name… get it? Catherine…. Cather Wren?)

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appellationmountain October 1, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Oh wow … clever and funny. But not fair! Thank goodness it is fiction …

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Emilie August 12, 2012 at 11:46 AM

My daughter, born in 2007 too(!) is named Wren – 1st name (Wren Josephine). We Love the name and have gotten very positive feedback most of the time. Interesting to me is that my other daughter’s name – Ivy – is technically in the top 1000 baby names, but not only do people seem to like the name Wren better (of course, I think they are Equally lovely names:), we also have now met 4 other Wren’s since her birth, while still not one Ivy since the latter was born in 2005. I am hoping that doesn’t mean we will see it become too popular, though…We all enjoy the not-so-common aspect of their names (along with my son Graham, who started our Old English origin, heard of but not popular naming trend).

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Virginia August 4, 2012 at 5:49 PM

We named my beautiful red-haired baby Vida Wren after my grandmother, but she goes by “Wren.” It fits her so well… she has sweet blue eyes and a sparkling spirit.

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Serenity February 19, 2012 at 11:58 AM

I love Wren. My grandmother was an avid bird watcher and called me her little Wren, my husband also calls me Ren as a short form of Serenity, so I am partial to the sound and love it written as Wren. I could see using it in the middle for sure

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Lemon February 7, 2011 at 10:22 PM

I think Wren is stunning. Absolutely stunning. I love the soft but strong sound. I love the subtle feminine charm and the whimsical modern feel.

As someone who has been called Birdie and Bird by her parents for her entire life, bird names have special significance to me. Ironically, nobody can quite remember why my parents call me Birdie, but they all agree it isn’t for my Great Grandmother Birtie. There was some talk of a kids’ book involving a Lulu Bird, but I can’t seem to figure that one out…

Wren’s extra-special for me because it shares a link to Sir Christopher Wren, architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A double whammy of awesome for me because my twin sister is well on her way to becoming an architect and I grew up in London as a child.

All in all, if I have my way whenever I have my first daughter, I’d like to name her Eliza Wren. It’s a little bit me and a little bit my sister, which is entirely perfect. Plus, the male Superb Fairywren is absolutely stunning – my favorite color, blue!

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Dawn February 15, 2010 at 12:35 PM

My daughter’s name is Wren and we love it, we normally get not so nice reactions to her name but have enjoyed reading everyones comments here. It totally suits her and we cant imagine her being called anything else!!
She was born in 2007 as well :-)

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Liz October 3, 2009 at 4:25 AM

there’s a book called Jenny Wren from the turn of the last century, a novel about a young woman.

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G September 16, 2009 at 1:42 AM

our gorgeous baby daughter born in 2007 has the middle name wren and we love it, slightly unusual but not odd, girlish without being too girly … and although many had not heard of it used other than a surname it has received positive reactions across the board; harriet wren – the classic with the modern we like the balance :)

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appellationmountain September 16, 2009 at 12:59 PM

G, that’s great! Ever since we tucked Wren in the middle of our daughter’s name, I find myself drawn to birds. As I start thinking about her big girl room, I’m wondering if it would be so wrong to have an avian theme …

And Harriet is great, too! What a lucky girl. :)

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Bek December 5, 2008 at 8:35 PM

I really love Wren. I think she’s beautiful and spirited. I’ve often wondered if we can pull her off as a NN for Bronwen or if it’s just too far-fetched for most people… (I’m kind of a fan of not-all-together-intuitive NNs, like Whit for William, or Thad for Nathaniel…)

And just read up on Clio’s name, and it’s a great story. How beautiful, too, in full! (I like Clio, btw, darling NN)

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appellationmountain December 3, 2008 at 5:54 PM

Yay for Wren! She’s one of the few modern names to receive a reasonably positive response. (Our experience has been the same – while Clio has been controversial, Wren has been a big hit.) We realized after she was born that her godfather is the son of an ornithologist – really not a planned thing, but a funny coincidence. I suspect she has a few pen and ink sketches of birds in her future.

Emmy Jo, I agree that Wrenna feels like an interesting option. I’m a fan of Brenna, too.

SKS, I know a Ren. He was born Reynolds. (Mother’s maiden name or something like that.) And I suspect that’s the source for many male Rens. That said, I recall a hockey player from the 60s named Wren – possibly he’s wearing a surname, too, as Wren sometimes pops up as a last name. The one problem is, of course, Ren and Stimpy – one of my few hesitations in using the name in the first spot. (In the third, who cares?)

BTW, did you know they’re planning a remake of Footloose with Zac Efron in Kevin Bacon’s role? Nothing is sacred!

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sks December 3, 2008 at 2:36 PM

Kevin Bacon’s character in Footloose was named Ren. I’ve always kind of wondered where that came from (I don’t remember it being a nickname) and whether many boys have had this given name IRL.

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Katharine December 3, 2008 at 12:22 PM

I really like Wren – she’s short but packs a punch in her own spunky yet graceful way. I like her best in the middle or as Lola and Shannon have suggested as an unrelated nickname…

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Lola December 2, 2008 at 10:26 PM

I like Wren, in theory. She’s a bit hard to grow up with (I know one, she’s 35 this year, friend of my kid Brother) but she’s got a lovely sound and is easy to figure out. I like her etymologic loops too!
I could use it, like Shannon, as a completely unrelated nickname but am far more prone to cuppycake and sweetpea myself. :) Wren’s okay with me. Not for me, but I don’t mind her at all.

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Emmy Jo December 2, 2008 at 1:26 AM

Wren is lovely! It’s one of my favorite middle names to suggest, and I like it as a first name, too. Though it’s very sweet and feminine, it still remains fresh and unexpected, and it’s just the thing to liven up a common or classic first name. Elizabeth Wren is currently one of my top 5 combinations.

Not only would this work well for the birdwatching types, but I can imagine it suiting an architect’s daughter (bestowed in honor of Christopher Wren).

I’ve never heard the Old English Wrenna, but I think that would be a beautiful first name.

Thanks for a great Name of the Day!

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Shannon December 1, 2008 at 11:24 PM

it is cute but wouldn’t use as a first name.. too spare for me. I have read 2 books with someone called Wren in them… one a fiction book (not at all famous)for teenagers – and the other was a true story, sometimes they called their duaghter (named Karen) Wren as a nickname..

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Cat December 1, 2008 at 10:23 PM

I think Wren is so cute and a total guilty pleasure of mine. I would love it as a nickname for something else or maybe a middle name. It’s the epitome of dainty and feminine to me.

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Natalie December 1, 2008 at 10:09 PM

I really like Wren but only perhaps as a middle name.
It seems weak to give as a first name.
Another *bird* name I quite like is Lark.

Oh and a family member just had a baby girl, her name Is Naomi Rachel.
Not the right section but I just wanted to let everyone know :)

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