Thanks to Anne-Marie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
AN EXCELLENT NUMBER NAME
The baby name Ace fits in with number names. During the Roman Republic and Roman Empire, the as was a small coin. It comes from the Latin term as – a unit. In French, it specifically came to mean “one at dice” – a single pip on a die, the lowest roll.
So it’s been associated with numbers for ages, but in Middle English, we associated the concept with bad luck, thanks to low roll of the die.
In playing cards, however, the ace came to represent the highest value – good luck. And so the sense reversed, and ace came to mean something of value.
It’s often said that card games promoted the ace following the French Revolution, reminding us that kings and queens were no longer on top.
As early as the nineteenth century, l’ace referred to a serve so powerful it could not be returned, at least in French.
Chances are it’s simply borrowed from the playing card.
By the twentieth century, “ace” clearly carried a positive meaning.
An “ace in the hole” was a hidden advantage, possibly a playing card hidden up the sleeve of a gambler, or maybe something more subtle.
Then came the first World War.
Aviators referred to an outstanding fighter pilot as a “flying ace.”
Originally, a flying ace had to shoot down five enemy planes – and live to tell – in order to earn the title. French pilot Adolphe Pegoud became the first person to earn the distinction.
It’s familiar to many thanks to the Peanuts story line about Snoopy and the Red Baron. Beginning in 1965, Charlie Brown’s pet beagle would imagine himself a “World War I Flying Ace,” with his doghouse serving as his aircraft. There’s even a novelty 1966 Christmas song based on the story.
Long before the baby name Ace, it was an earned title. But it was also a surname.
It likely came from names like Atz and Azzo, derived from the same roots as the given name Adelaide – adal, noble – with various endings. It’s sometimes heard as a given name in Europe.
OLD TESTAMENT ASA
There’s also Asa, an Old Testament king. Asa ruled Judah.
His name is generally said to mean healer in Hebrew.
Given all this, it’s no surprise that Ace became a popular nickname and eventually, a given name, too.
Athletes and musicians answered to Ace, including:
- Toronto Maple Leafs’ Ace Bailey was born in 1903. His given name was Irvine. The hockey star would became the very first professional athlete to ever have his jersey number retired.
- Ace Adams became a pitcher in the 1940s. The baseball player was born in 1910, and Ace was his given name. He was named for a family friend.
- 1920s era band leader Athos “Ace” Brigode recorded hits like “Yes Sir, That’s My Baby.”
- In the 1930s, Clarence “Ace” Parker played professional football and baseball.
- Jazz pianist Asa “Ace” Harris made his name in the 1940s.
- During the 1950s, R&B singer Johnny Ace scored a string of hits.
Then came hard rock band Kiss. Born Paul Frehley, but known as the SpaceMan or Space Ace, the guitarist was a founding member of the band. They were known for their outlandish costumes, including full makeup and giant boots, and stage antics like breathing fire, as well as their music.
1986’s Stand by Me gave the name to Kiefer Sutherland’s gang leader, Ace Merrill.
Also during the 1980s, Doctor Who gave us a female Ace, a time-stranded teenager who became a companion to the Seventh Doctor. We later learn her real name is Dorothy.
In 1994, Jim Carrey played flamboyant, larger-than-life pet detective, Ace Ventura.
Ventura’s back story suggests that outrageous names are the norm on his family tree.
The successful comedy inspired a 1995 sequel – but didn’t move the needle on the baby name Ace.
BY the NUMBERS
It’s tempting to give Ace Frehley credit for the rise of the baby name Ace.
Used in small numbers for years, likely because it was a family surname, the baby name Ace actually debuted in the US Social Security Administration data way back in 1882. In both 1900 and 1903, there were enough newborn Aces to crack the US Top 1000. But back then, it didn’t take much.
In 1978, near the heights of Kiss’ popularity, the baby name Ace reached an all-time high, with 40 births.
The name didn’t budge for years – despite Jim Carrey’s success as the fictional detective.
And then from 2003 to 2004, the baby name Ace doubled in use, from 61 births to 117. It would leap again, to 242 births, in 2006.
The latter increase might be thanks to American Idol contestant Ace Young, from 2006’s fifth season. He was born Brett Asa Young.
It was enough to bring the baby name Ace back to the rankings, debuting at #841 in 2006.
It’s marched straight up the popularity charts since then, ranking an all-time high of #153 in 2022.
ON-TREND MODERN VIRTUE NAME
American parents love virtue names, especially big, bold ones that suggest a certain amount of swagger.
If Maverick ranks in the US Top 100, then the baby name Ace fits right in. It’s only a little more popular, after all, than the equally bold Legend.
The name also succeeds on sound. We love Mason and Grayson, Chase and Jayce. The sound is right there waiting.
With a meaning that suggests success and a stylish sound, the baby name Ace continues to fly high.
What do you think of the baby name Ace?
First published on July 30, 2013, this post was revised on January 20, 2024.