Prosper, Sage, Merit: Virtue Names for Boys

by appellationmountain on June 21, 2013

The (Little) Boys of Summer

We picture Pilgrim girls called Mercy, standing next to a brother named John.

We embrace Grace and Faith and Felicity as mainstream choices for our daughters in 2013.

Virtue names for girls are timeless and stylish, too, and there are lists galore of possible choices.

Yes, they can be a lot to live up to.  But that’s the point, isn’t it?  A virtue is a good quality, one that we hope our child will demonstrate.

But what if you’re naming a boy?

The list of options is rich, even though the names themselves may be less familiar.  A handful of these might sound like you’re naming a battleship, but most of them are surprisingly wearable.

Virtue Names for Boys in the Top 1000

Plenty of virtue names are already is rotation for our sons.

Abel – Alright, Abel isn’t a virtue name.  Able would be, implying a child who is capable and fit.  But the Biblical boy name Abel shares the sound.  He currently ranks #192.  Could you go even farther and use Capable?  It seems outlandish, but famed English landscape architect Capability Brown makes me say maybe.  (Then again, Brown was born with a slightly less unusual given name – Lancelot.)

Chance – Chance implies risk, which isn’t necessarily a virtue.  But it also implies luck.  If fortune favors the brave, then Chance has a certain virtue vibe, too.  He charted at #240 in 2013.

Sincere – In use for boys and girls, Sincere is an undeniably appealing quality.  He charted at #703 for boys in 2012.

Sage – It’s an herb, but it’s also another name for a man of great wisdom.  Think of the phrase sage advice.  Sage ranked #725 for boys in 2012.  Sage and Saige are also used for girls.

Virtue Names for Boys Ending with R

Ending with ‘r’ names are a stylish category for our sons, and many of the options are rich with meaning.

Anchor - It weighs you down, which can be a negative.  But it’s also a nautical term that implies stability.

Harbor - Another possibility with ties to water, a harbor is a shelter for ships.  The term safe harbor is a legal and regulatory concept.

Prosper – There’s something gently old-fashioned about Prosper.  He could be Mercy’s brother, found many generations back on a family tree.  But he also brings to mind the Vulcan salute from Star Trek.  Either way, Prosper belongs with virtue names for boys.

Remember – Remember is one of the few names on this list actually used by the Mayflower families.  They considered it a feminine name, but today it strikes me as wearable for both genders.  Natural nickname Remy is traditionally masculine.

Shelter – A word that means protection, and could wear as a given name, too.

Valor – Choices like Shelter and Prosper are gentle.  Valor is a much more dramatic name, related to the word valiant.  A boy called Valor is courageous and bold.

Virtue Names for Boys Ending with Vowels

Names ending with ‘o’ are very much in fashion, and plenty of virtue names have bright, interesting vowel endings of one kind or another.

Arrow – An arrow is a weapon, but it’s picked up a different sense thanks to the idea of an arrow flying straight and true.  And superheroes.  Did I mention superheroes?  The Green Arrow since 1941.  He hasn’t been well known in recent years, but the CW rebooted the character with new television show Arrow in 2012.

Bright - Bright can mean shining, bright can mean smart.  Either way, it’s an appealing concept for a child’s name.  It’s also a common surname.  Sound-wise, Bright isn’t any more outlandish than Mike.

Brio - I’ve seen a boy called Brio.  He’s a garden statue in Alexandria, Virginia.  I’ve always thought it would wear well on a real boy, too.  Brio comes from the Italian meaning life.  But life doesn’t quite capture it – in music, to play con brio is to play with vigor.

Free – It’s a stereotypical hippy pick, but Free is scarcely used.

True – True has been on the rise since the 1990s.  We’re also hearing Truly and Truely, but those are almost always reserved for girls.  Truth is another possibility.

Other Virtue Names for Boys

Some of these are borrowed straight from the Pilgrims themselves, but most are novel.  Either way, if you’re after an uncommon name rich with meaning, these are possibilities.

Apex - A Latin word meaning to reach the top, Apex has no history of use as a given name.  But he does have that alluring letter x.  Alex, Axel … Apex?  It seems a little awkward, but maybe in the middle spot.

August – He’s a seasonal name, associated with summer.  But augustus means venerable in Latin, making him a weighty appellation for a boy.  Unlike many names on this list, August has a rich history of use in English and other languages.

Bonaventura – This name was worn by a thirteenth century Italian saint.  It literally means good fortune.  Bonaventure is sometimes heard, too.  It’s the name of one of the female characters in The Virgin Suicides, though she goes by the more wearable Bonnie.  The lack of an easy nickname might give parents pause, but a boy could answer to Van or maybe just Bo.

Bravery – If Avery is a favorite name for girls, can Bravery be wearable for boys?  It is a lot to live up to.  But I’m delighted by the name Benjamin Bratt and Talisa Soto chose for their son: Mateo Bravery.

Ever - A name meaning always can take on a virtuous vibe.

Everest – Some train their entire lives to peak Everest.  The world’s tallest mountain isn’t exactly a virtue, but it does send the same message as Apex and Summit – the very highest of the heights.

Freedom – If Free wasn’t much used as a given name, Freedom did start to see some use in the 1970s.

Hale - He’s a colonial surname, as in patriot Nathan Hale.  But it is also a word meaning healthy or whole.  There’s also the phrase hail fellow well met, used to refer to someone in good spirits, a friendly and sociable – maybe even too sociable type.  Both uses of the word are obscure and fading from use.  All the better to position Hale as a given name in 2013.

Hardy - Just like Hale, Hardy is a surname.  Unlike Hale, even as a surname Hardy has a virtuous meaning – courageous.  It’s possible to be too hardy – foolhardy – but the word retains that same meaning.  One who is hardy is brave and bold – positive traits for a child.  There’s also the word hearty, with different origins but a very similar meaning.

Harvest - It’s an autumnal appellation, one that brings to mind abundance.

Justice – We might argue about the merits of many a virtue, but the idea of being fair and just is likely to appeal to all.  It’s also a title for a judge, and sometimes a surname for those whose ancestors served as judges.  Spelled Justus, it is a Latin name with the same meaning, worn by a number of saints and a seventh century Archbishop of Canterbury.

Loyal – Like Justice, this is a quality that most parents would embrace.  Unlike Justice, he’s pretty rare – just 42 boys received the name Loyal in 2012, compared to almost 500 baby Justices.

Meridian – This rarity seems to lean feminine, but it is so seldom used that it really doesn’t matter.  It’s a cartography term, ultimately from Latin, referring to noon – mid-day.  It has become associated with the idea of the highest point – just as the sun is at the highest point in the sky at noon.  This might be a poetic stretch to get to a virtue name, but I think it arrives.

Merit – We talk of succeeding on our merits – our abilities.  Like loyalty and justice, there’s something universal about the idea of merit, of worthiness.  It also sounds like a given name, more than some on this list.

Noble – It literally means distinguished, but depending your background, it might make you think of the nobility – those born into a specific class, typically titled European families.  But Noble saw some use as a given name, especially in the 1910s and 20s.  If the hundred year rule applies, maybe he’s due for a comeback.

North – Yes, he’s really a directional name, and maybe a seasonal one, too.  But the phrase “true north” has several meanings – for one, it is a poetic name for Canada.  But when you find true north – which is different from magnetic north on a compass, and can be tricky to find – it also means that you are navigating capably, headed in the right direction.  And so while North isn’t as obvious a virtue choice as Freedom, it works.

Pax, Peace – With his x ending and his starbaby status, Pax – the Latin word for peace – has gone from obscurity to rising boy name in just a few short years.  Peace is even more direct – and even less common.

Ransom – In its modern sense, Ransom seems like a bizarre word to use for a child’s name.  It brings to mind hostages, prisoners, and small bills in unmarked bags.  But the original sense is not about an exchange of money for freedom.  It’s about redemption.  A Christian doctrine explains that the death of Jesus served to ransom humanity from evil.  It’s not universally accepted, but the language is there – ransom as redemption, and thus, as a virtue name.  That said, Ransom is also a surname, unrelated to the word.  Like Noble, Ransom had a spike in the 1910s and 20s, and notables like Ransom Olds – founder of Oldsmobile – have answered to the name.

Reason – It sounds like a boys’ name, doesn’t it?

Revere – It’s a virtue verb name!  Revere connotes respect.  Thanks to Paul Revere, it also has a founding fathers undercurrent, and brings to mind silversmiths and midnight rides.  The surname has totally separate roots – it is most commonly a surname for someone who lived near a river, though other origins are possible.

Summit - If Apex and Everest make the list, why not Summit?

Sterling – Pound sterling is the official currency of the United Kingdom.  Sterling silver is silver of a specific quality.  Sterling itself has come to mean quality over the years, making it something of a virtuous choice for a son.

Wisdom – While many of these names can be a lot to live up to, is Wisdom the most challenging?  While I love the sound, even the nickname – Wise - feels like a lot for a child.  But it is undeniably a quality we all wish for our children, so maybe it isn’t unwearable after all.

Worth - There’s something about this name that scream prep school to me.  I expect a kid called Worth to actually be William Worth Cabot, or some other equally patrician name.  But we everyday folks could consider Worth, too.  Besides the financial term net worth, there’s an older and more subtle sense to the word – value or merit.  That makes Worth rather intriguing.

Wrestling – It’s a crazy name, sure to raise as many eyebrows as a baby named Soccer.  But Wrestling has a history of use among those outrageous Puritan parents, likely inspired by the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel.

Zen – Strictly speaking, Zen is a school of Buddhism.  But in everyday English, zen is a state of calm.  It’s the second meaning – relaxed, together – that makes Zen a contender for a virtuous boys’ name.

Zenith – He’s a brother for Apex and Summit.  It’s another borrowed term – this time from astronomy – that can mean the highest point or peak.

What do you think of virtue names for boys?  Do any of these meaning-rich names appeal to you?  Are there others that should be on the list?

Photo credit: r.a. paterson via Flickr

 

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

liz August 8, 2014 at 11:43 AM

Learned, like Learned Hand? Happy, like Happy Traum?

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Jessica April 13, 2014 at 12:38 AM

Here are a few similar names you might like to add, though some of them seem more feminine to me. Quest, Journey, Hero, Honor, Haven, Solace, Judge, August

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Hope September 18, 2013 at 11:25 PM

Our little guy is Alexander Trust, named after someone whose first name was Trust.

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Danielle June 26, 2013 at 3:33 AM

Sterling Archer is the main character on the F/X show “Archer”. His virtue name is pretty much the opposite of his personality on the show, though. His overbearing and equally un-PC mother is named Mallory(voiced by the hilarious Jessica Walter), so of course Sterling’s full name is Sterling Mallory Archer. Two virtue names AND a girl’s name!

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Panya June 26, 2013 at 10:49 AM

Mallory was originally a male byname, then a surname.

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K June 24, 2013 at 2:53 AM

What about Boone? Would it be considered a virtue name?

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appellationmountain June 24, 2013 at 10:10 AM

Oh, I think it could – good addition!

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Lucky June 23, 2013 at 10:36 PM

I was just ruminating over what to name a sibling for Arrow. We have some interesting overlap: http://luckypluckyclucky.wordpress.com/2013/05/28/baby-for-brother-arrow/

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Saranel June 22, 2013 at 12:07 PM

Okay. I admit it. So many of these are favorites of mine. I secretly adore Ransom. It could work: Elijah, Felicity, and Ransom… DH would never go for it.

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Kaeli June 23, 2013 at 5:11 AM

A friend of mine is having a boy this summer, and they are actually naming him Ransom! The name nerd in me is thrilled! They have 4 other children with interesting names. . . Not at all coordinated, but quite eclectic. One of the other children is named Samarai.

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appellationmountain June 24, 2013 at 10:14 AM

I love an eclectically named sibset! Samarai is daring! Is is from samurai, or something else?

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Vicki June 22, 2013 at 10:05 AM

There are two significant ancient Egyptian women called Merit…

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Merit-Ptah

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Elizabeth June 22, 2013 at 2:29 AM

Resolve should be on the list. I have a ancestor named Resolve White. He came over on the Mayflower.

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Dayton June 22, 2013 at 1:00 AM

Oh this post is perfect! So many amazing virtue names that I love or have on my list!

Sage, Everest, Valor, & Sincere being some of my favorites but honestly if I were to list them I’d basically be repeating every name haha.
Freedom nn Free is a huge guilty pleasure so cool and on the right boy it would be amazing. I’m definitely tempted to move it over to my usable (or even top favorites) list even if just as a middle. Wrestling though is interesting, I actually could see it being used…

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cynthiajane June 21, 2013 at 3:44 PM

If I had my way, meaning no vetoes from my OH, our 5 boys would be named:

Noble
Justus
Loyal
Prosper
Sage

I absolutely love those names! My OH said they would be great, if we lived in Colonial times! So, 5 vetoes!

I also like Remember, Revere, Stirling ( the original Scottish spelling), and Zen. Awesome names!

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cynthiajane June 21, 2013 at 4:43 PM

Oh, and if I had twin boys, I would love to name them Everest and Zenith, with the nicknames of Rhett and Zen!

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Emily June 21, 2013 at 2:15 PM

I like Prosper and Remember, although I’d likely never use them. Prosper appeals to me because of the Star Trek connection more so than the virtue (which is lovely, no doubt). Hardy and Harvest are old family names. I’ve considered Hardy before, but Harvest creeps me out a little…

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Madelyn June 21, 2013 at 11:57 AM

Love this list! I’ve always imagined Bright as a female name for some reason, but now I do see that it is wearable on a boy. There are many others I enjoy: Sage, Prosper, Valor, Loyal, Noble, North, Reason, Worth, Wrestling.

@Bella- I can’t believe you have Reason on your family tree. I’m jealous!

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Megalady June 21, 2013 at 11:34 AM

Love virtue names, especially some of the less common ones. Hale, Hardy, Pax, Revere, Sterling, Worth, and Zen are fairly handsome. I do prefer Truman to True, Freeman to Free, Prospero to Prosper, and Makepeace to Peace. Harvest leans slightly more feminine to me, though Harvey would make it very suitable for a boy.

And like Ashlie, I think Evergreen quite charming. Then there are Exuperius, Knightly, Benevolent, Wit, and Clement.

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Panya June 21, 2013 at 11:17 AM

As I’ve mentioned before, for boys my husband and I both like Amity and Verity, and he likes Mercy and Merit [I lean 'girl' on Mercy because of my female ancestor with the name, and Merritt is the name of a school in our area so that's all I think of when I hear it].

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Panya June 21, 2013 at 12:51 PM

Oh, I also really like True, but I’ve a female cousin named Tru, so we can’t use it ourselves.

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Julie June 21, 2013 at 6:44 PM

Merit is a family name for me, but it has always been a girls name (variant of Maren/Mary.) I like the idea of it on a boy, but my family would probably flip out.

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Kathryn June 21, 2013 at 10:30 AM

Love this post! I’ve always been charmed by “Consider.” There’s a cheese farm in Vermont that produces a cheese called “Consider Bardwell,” named for the 19th century farmer who started the state’s first cheese co-op: Consider Stebbins Bardwell. I’m almost tempted to add it to my list of possible boys’ names…

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Kerry June 21, 2013 at 10:14 AM

Earnest!

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appellationmountain June 21, 2013 at 7:55 PM

*Smacks head with palm*

Of course! How could I forget Earnest?!

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ABCmrs June 21, 2013 at 8:39 AM

Will North start to skew female now that Kimye has used it?

I love Worth & Merit for boys. I know a Sterling (He’s 21-ish). And Summit takes on extra-awesome meeting in Lady Vol (Knoxville, TN) country, thanks to former head coach Pat Summit.

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appellationmountain June 21, 2013 at 7:56 PM

We’ll have to wait and see if Nori/North inspires imitators or ends up in Suri/Apple territory.

Nice point about Pat Summit!

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Ashlie June 21, 2013 at 7:54 AM

Love love love this post! I want to add my favorites, that I’m sure you seen me post several times before :p : Steadfast & Evergreen

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Bella June 21, 2013 at 4:20 AM

I don’t know if I would use any of these in real life but I really like the concept and sound of some of these: Merit, Sterling, Noble, Ransom, Justice. Reason is my mother’s maiden name and I’ve been thinking it would make a good virtue name for a boy.

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