Statue of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, fr...
Statue of Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, from the exterior of Canterbury Cathedral (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s a nickname-proof possibility never in the US Top 1000.

Thanks to Shannon for suggesting Anselm as our Baby Name of the Day.

There are oodles of not-in-the-Top-1ooo names for girls that feel wearable.  Cordelia, Petra, Coraline are all wearable, recognizable choices that haven’t been in the rankings for decades, if at all.

Boys’ choices feel harder to find, but Anselm might just be one.

Most sources say that he’s Germanic.  Helm means helmet and implies protection.  Ans means god.  Anselm was a protector of god, or maybe protected by god.

Add an -o and he’s Anselmo, heard in Italian and other romance languages, with the quirky short form Zelmo.

The name seems to have emerged amongst the Lombards, a Germanic tribe settled in Italy.  From the sixth through eighth centuries, their kingdom was quite powerful, with a capital at Pavia.  They likely came from Scandinavia originally.  The element ans appears in other Lombard names and refers not to the Christian god, but to Odin or another pagan deity.

Nearly every distinguished bearer built his reputation in the Christian church, making Anselm feel like a saintly, scholarly appellation.
  • Saint Anselm was the Duke of Friuli in the 700s, but walked away from it all to live the life monastic.
  • A ninth century abbot of Farfa wore the name.
  • Several others with careers in the church can be found in the same era.
  • In the eleventh century, Anselm of Lucca was a bishop and politician.
  • In the early 1100s, an archbishop of Milan wore the name.  He led the Lombards on Crusade, and died of battle wounds.

Then there’s Saint Anselm of Canterbury.  Despite his association with England, he was also a Lombard by birth – at least on his father’s side.  Born into a noble, land-owning family, it’s said that he wanted to enter a monastery at an early age.  His father refused, and Anselm didn’t begin his religious career until his late 20s, in Normandy.  He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093, and held the office until his death in 1109.  While he was much involved in temporal affairs, Anselm is remembered for his philosophical writings.

He’s considered a founder of scholasticism, a medieval approach to thinking and reasoning that held sway for centuries.  It is almost certainly impossible to study philosophy without reading his work.

The name remained in use after the medieval era drew to a close, but he was increasingly rare.  Cervantes’ Don Quixote used Anselmo for a Florentine nobleman in one of his stories-within-a-story.  You probably don’t remember Anselmo, but you’ll likely recognize the name of his best friend: Lothario.

Add it all up, and Anselm is somewhere between wearable and not.  He’s a tw0-syllable A name with a friendly sound.  If Austin, Aaron, and Adam can rank in the US Top 100, why can’t Anselm work?  He’s been in steady, sparing – given to just a handful of boys, never more than a dozen in any one year.
Put him on the same list as the Nevilles.  If you’re after a smart, scholarly name, and appreciate his spiritual associations, Anselm could have real potential for a boy in 2013.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Oh, I just love Anselm! He’s so merry & bright! 😀 St. Anselm’s our family saint. Such a pragmatic guy. I don’t think he’s overly tongue-trippy, an-SELM. Might be that overly particular tongue & ear I inherited from Pop. *shrug*
    I think Anselm’s aces and would just about keel over with joy if I ever met one. 😀

  2. Yes! Poor Anselm just doesn’t roll off the tongue like his brothers Ansel and Anselmo. In print it’s fine, but for me it’s not usable on a real-life kid.

  3. Just a suggestion but could you provide the pronunciation in the write up? Sometimes I fear that I may not be getting it right and instead of searching on my own it would be great to be saying it correctly in my head while reading your article.

    1. Jackie, sure – thanks for the suggestion. I tend to include for those where I’m aware there’s going to be a question. I think I overlook it for names that strike me as familiar. But in this case, I live down the street from a boys’ prep school called St. Anselm’s Abbey. It’s so familiar to me that I forget that it really is a rare name …

  4. Anselmo is so cute, and yet stately! I never thought of Zelmo for a nn – I only focused on the “elmo” ending as a point against using this name.