Reinventing Grandpa Names: 1960s edition

by appellationmountain on May 31, 2013

Reinventing GrandpaEarlier this year, I wrote a post about rebooting 1960s names for girls.  This week – at last! – we turn our attention to the boys’ list.

Why did it take me so long?

  • While it is tough to pin down numbers, anecdotal evidence suggests that boys are more likely to receive a family name than girls.  Boys named after their dads and grandfathers are pretty common.
  • The boys’ list has been pretty stable over the years – both because of the tendency to hand down names, and because we’ve traditionally taken fewer risks with names for our sons.

Add it up, and there’s less interest in rebooting masculine names.

Or so it was.

But now there’s less pressure than ever to pass on family names.  If anything, parents probably fret that their child’s name will be too plain.

So let’s say that you want to honor your dad, or your partner’s dad, or maybe a favorite uncle.  But he was born in 1960s, and today his name feels a little bit ordinary.  Can his name be reinvented?  Here are some possibilities.

Reinventing Grandpa Names: The Top Ten

Michael - How can you not like Mike?  He’s friendly, enduring, worn by all sorts of accomplished figures, from saints to hoop stars.  There are two easy updates available.  Micaiah shares the same roots as Michael, and has the same feel as elaborate Old Testament appellations like Hezekiah and ZachariahMicah is a short form of Micaiah.  Micah is catching on – he’s currently just outside the US Top 100.  But depending on how you define unusual, he can be just different enough to honor a Michael and appeal to parents in 2013.

David – David shares the bright, bold ay sound of Aiden and company, plus he’s got that vibrant v.  Then again, so does Davis, a surname form with an even more current sound.

John - Long the #1 name for a boy in the US, John continues to fade from use.  Happily, he’s also easily updated.  There’s Jack, Jackson, and JaxonJonathan splits the difference between fading John and trendy Jaxon.  International variations are limitless.  There’s Ivo, Ivan, Sean, Shane, Gianni, Giovanni, Ian, Evan and many, many more.

James – One of the few names to never leave the Boys’ Top 20, James continues to be a favorite for boys.  But like John, there are oodles of possible updates.  Surname form Jameson or Jamison is one possibility.  So are imports like Seamus and Giacomo.

Robert – While he’s a classic, nickname Bob feels dated on a baby boy in 2013.  You could still use Robert and go nickname-free, or choose the less common Rob or Robbie as a short form instead.  If you’d rather change it up, there’s Robin – gone girl, but being revived for boys once more.  Rupert comes from the same roots, if you’re going for a quirky English vibe.  Then there are the surnames Hobson and Hopkins, derived from Hob and Hop, medieval nicknames for Robert.  There’s also Robinson or even Robertson.

Mark – A saintly choice, once very popular for boys.  Today he’s easily updated as Marco or Marcus.

William - The obvious way to spice up William is to use stylish short form Liam instead of the full name.  The only problem?  Liam is incredibly popular, and you won’t be the first to think of honoring a William with a baby Liam.  Other possibilities?  Surnames Willis, Wilson, and the imported form Willem.  That last one is a favorite of mine.

Richard – I love the idea of Hardy from Richard.  There’s also Dixon, in the key of the popular Jaxon and boosted by 90210.

Thomas – Thomas is one of those names in style limbo.  Despite his classic status, he’s slightly out of favor in 2013.  You might use just Tom, a choice that fits with Max and Gus.  Or maybe Thompson, Thomson, or Thomason.  There’s also Tomas and my favorite, the Scottish Tavish.

Jeffrey – He’s the toughest of the Top Ten to reboot!  One possibility is Godfrey, though strictly speaking he’s a separate name that’s become tangled up with Jeffrey over the years.  Or possibly Jefferson.  The -frey in Jeffrey means peace, so other options might be Pax, Paxton, Pace, Casimir, or Miro.

More Grandpa Names and their 21st Century Descendants

Steven and Stephen - Now that Steve is squarely in dad name territory, is it time to take a fresh look at Stefan?  Other imports that could stand-in for the original include Esteban and Estevan, along with Etienne.  I’m partial to Stefan, though, and think he picks up the same vibe as mega-popular Sebastian.  Another option?  The original Saint Stephen’s life could provide some inspiration: Deacon, or maybe Wren.  The bird is associated with St. Stephen in Ireland, though Wren is now more of a girls’ name.

Joseph – There are tons of Jo- names: Jody, Jordan, Joaquin, Joel.  But none of them are related to Joseph.  Foreign imports are less wearable in English, though I love the Dutch Joop, the Polish Jozef, and the Spanish Jose.  One possibility?  Name your son Joseph, but take a page from Joss Whedon, and use Joss as a nickname.

Timothy – Yet another tough one to reinvent!  Like Joseph, Timothy’s translations don’t offer much opportunity.  And Tim makes me think of timid and Tiny Tim.  Hmmm … would Ty work?  It’s a stretch, but a tempting one.

Kevin – Maybe the best approach with Kevin is to change the first letter.  Drop the K entirely, and you’ll have Evan.  Or consider Devin or even Devon.

Scott – I love the idea of replacing Scott with the similar-sounding Scout.  Scott refers to someone originally from Scotland, so the place name could be a contender, a la the Kardashians.

Charles – If some names are difficult to reboot, others don’t seem to need it much.  Charles is arguably more stylish now than he was in the 1960s, and the nickname Charlie is quite current.  But possibilities abound: Carlo, Arlo, Charleston.  Carrie mentioned Huck as an option, too.  I didn’t get it at first, but if Charles can answer to Chuck, why not Huck?

Paul – I love the imported versions of Paul, especially Pablo and Pavel.

Daniel –  I’m tempted to suggest names that contain dan, even if they’re not related to Daniel.  The list is long: Jordan, Brendan, and Aidan, Dante and Dane.

Christopher – The easiest update is Christian, which also leads to Carsten.  Kit and Topher might appeal, too.

Kenneth – There’s something about Kenneth that still appeals, even though he’d undeniably seen better days.  Like Daniel, it is easy to find names that share the -ken sound: Kenelm, Kendrick, Brecken, and Kendall.

Anthony – Here’s another one that doesn’t need much updating – Anthony is handsome as is.  Foreign versions Anton and Antonio do have some appeal.

Gregory – Drop the y and Gregory becomes Gregor, a name that could fit right in with Connor and Archer.  There’s also the possibility of contracting Gregory to get Grey – and all of the Grey names are quite stylish: Greyson, Greydon, Greyer.

RonaldRon- names like Ronan and Ronin could work.  There are also older forms Reynold and Reginald.

Donald – Like Ronald’s Ron, the Don in Donald offers up a bunch of possibilities: Donovan, Donnelly, or maybe even Landon and Brandon.

Gary – He’s quite dated, but he’s among the easiest to update.  There’s surname form Garrison and then Gar- names like Garrett and Gareth.

Eric – Eric truly needs no reboot, though you might consider the classic Frederic, as well as Derek, though Derek is in dad name territory himself.  As the daughter of an Eric myself, I’m fond of a round-about honor name: Leif, as in Leif Erickson.

Can you add to this list?  I feel like the boys’ were much more challenging than the girls’ reboots!

Photo credit: Original from Neeta Lind via Flickr

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela August 21, 2013 at 11:09 PM

Jonah, Jonas & Johan would be great reboots/varients of Jonathan and John too. :)

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appellationmountain August 22, 2013 at 9:51 AM

A good thought, Angela – I love that idea!

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Sarah June 20, 2013 at 11:20 AM

Any ideas for updating Rodney?

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Elizabeth June 21, 2013 at 11:35 AM

Roderick?

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KatieB June 3, 2013 at 4:08 PM

My dad is Richard and I’ve always liked the idea of using Dicken as a way to honor him. I’ve loved the name ever since I saw the movie The Secret Garden when I was very little. Dixon has a similar sound but with less likelihood of him getting teased for it.

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Olivia May 31, 2013 at 11:06 PM

This post created twp questions in my mind. Is it appropriate to ask a family member to name a child after you? I personally would be offended if someone asked me to do so because it seems narcissistic, but I am curious to know what others think. The other question is should you name a child after someone with an unfortunate name? I suppose my personal philosophy is I do not care how great someone was, if the name is bad why would I then burden the child with it? That view is undoubtedly informed by my mother who was named after her aunt who was given the lovely name of Willie Thelma. My mom was born Thelma, but always went by the name Ginger which is derived from her middle name. In pre 9/11 days, many people were not too concerned with having the legal name on everything, and she was no exception. When she first got her social security number, her name was listed as Ginger. Eventually, she got so tired of the trouble that having things as different names caused, she legally changed it, and her mother who had named her encouraged her to do so. So if her mother was not even crazy about the name, it just baffles me that she would have used it. I would love to hear others’ thoughts on this.

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appellationmountain June 1, 2013 at 10:22 AM

I think it is fine for a family member to suggest it, as in your sister saying something like: “It’s a boy! I’m so happy for you? Have you ever thought about naming him after dad?” Or your dad mentioning that he always loved his aunt Lorna’s name.

But ultimately the decision to use family names belongs to you and your partner – as does the choice of the name itself.

Where it gets tricky is the part about liking and disliking names. My parents have names we’d be happy to pass on; so does my father-in-law. But my mother-in-law has a foreign name that is difficult to wear in English. The only English name that is remotely close is one that she actively dislikes. (I think others tried to force her to adopt it when she first came to the US. I always imagine it went over like me being introduced to Prince Charles and saying “pleased to meet ya, Chuck!”) Anyhow, if you decide to use family names, but there’s one you want to exclude for style reasons, well … that’s going to be difficult.

We did use family names, though there wasn’t any pressure to do so. My mother-in-law has great middle names, so if we’d had a second girl, we would’ve likely drawn inspiration from those.

But it is worth thinking about that upfront, before you’ve created an expectation that grandpa Seymour is next to be honored.

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Olivia June 1, 2013 at 5:06 PM

You made some good points, and I think my mother handed family names pretty well. When she changed her name, she waited till after the aunt had a stroke as to not offend her. When naming her own kids, she wanted to name my brother after her father, who was named Leonard, but she did not like the name, and as a result never used it. Fortunately, she was careful to never mention it to him. She ended up naming him after my father Walter, but who goes by his middle name Douglas. His side of the family is really into family names. Nearly all the women have the name Deborah or Anne, and my father and his sister, who was an Anne and went on to name her daughters Anne and Deborah, even share the same middle name of Douglas. For my oldest sister they named her Eleanor Virginia after my maternal grandmother Eleanor Etoyle and our great grandmother Alice Virginia. She is also technically named after my mother who was born of course Thelma Virginia, but is now simply Virginia. For my next sister, they went with Caroline Elizabeth, which is a favorite among southerners of a more upper middle class standing. There is no family name there. And I got the most popular name of Olivia Grace, which at the time was not a top ten name. My father wanted to name me Charlotte, and my mother wanted to name me Alice, and somehow they compromised on the name Olivia. I would definitely consider Eleanor and Alice for my hypothetical daughter, and I would not be unlikely to use Walter as a middle name for a son, but I think I will skip the Anne or Deborah tradition like my mother did. I have a smaller pool of family names that are actually in use because of the slow birthing rates in my family. I have missed out on a lot of things like really knowing my grandparents, but no one would question why I chose to not reuse the name Clester Winton or Wilma Rae, which are the names of some of my great aunts and uncles, because some of them were born before the Titanic sunk. One of my great grandfathers even died in 1936.

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Declare May 31, 2013 at 7:03 PM

Teague is an adaptation of Timothy which sounds appealing. It comes from the Irish “Taig”, which is still an ethnic slur in Northern Ireland. Apparently Timothy/Taig was so common a name that it became an insult, just as “Paddy” was in other parts of the world.

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British American May 31, 2013 at 5:21 PM

My Dad is Keven – I never would have thought of Evan as a ‘reboot’. There’s actually a kid named Kevin locally. I hear his grandma yelling his name a lot on the playground – it always seems so weird to me, since it’s a “Dad name” for me.

Huck seems like a good reboot of Chuck too – my FIL’s name.

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Vicki May 31, 2013 at 1:12 PM

Kenneth might be due a revival. Very much of the ‘previous generation name we don’t want to revisit’ (ditto Susan, Barbara, Gary) but has some good associations (and I think means handsome?). Would Kent be cool or equally dated as a variation or nickname?

Also Colin. I LOVE the name Colin (said the usual way, Collin), but everyone I mention it to hates it and says it’s too old-fashioned. Col? Collin with a double L to update it?

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Elizabeth May 31, 2013 at 11:30 AM

Hamish for James. I think for Timothy there are Timon, Timo, Timaeus, Thymian, and maybe Theo.

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Josie May 31, 2013 at 11:27 AM

I know boy Micahs. I only like it on boys. I also have a friend who just had a very cute (boy) Malachi. Malachi is not directly related to Michael but it’s reminiscent to me.

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C in DC May 31, 2013 at 11:01 AM

All the little Micahs I know are girls, although the spellings vary. The Portuguese have Jofre for the Jeff names. There’s also Chase and Chaz for Charles.

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appellationmountain June 20, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Chase and Chaz for Charles are brilliant! And you’re right – I know a Micah in his late 30s, but the only kid Micah I know is a girl.

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Vanessa May 31, 2013 at 9:41 AM

My husband suggested Don one night after a beloved great-uncle I never met. Donald is not my cup of tea so I suggested Donovan, which we used as a middle name for our second son.

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Kathryn May 31, 2013 at 9:08 AM

I’ve been mulling over Howard, my own grandfather’s name. Any thoughts from the peanut gallery? I think “Ward” would be the likely nickname, though I have to admit that “Howie” has a certain retro appeal…

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C in DC May 31, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Howard works fine if you like the name. Other nns could be Hardy, Rowdy or Rod. I like to rearrange letters to see different possibilities, and Darwin jumped out as a Howard reboot. You could also use other -ward names like Edward or other How- names like Howell.

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appellationmountain June 20, 2013 at 5:58 AM

Love the idea of Howell for Howard!

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Vicki May 31, 2013 at 1:05 PM

Funnily enough I was thinking Howard is due a revival, too, and I also like Howie! (Although as pregnant with third and final daughter, probably not an option for us).

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appellationmountain May 31, 2013 at 8:04 PM

I once met a Howard who answered to Hoby. Not sure if it is an old school nickname out of favor, or something specific to that one guy. But I love it!

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