Artis Gilmore
Artis Gilmore; Image by Vedia via Flickr

He was a regular in the US Top 1000 in the first half of the twentieth century, but today he’s all but unknown.

Thanks to Sara for suggesting the antique Artis as our Baby Name of the Day.

Artis sounds an awful lot like artist, hold the t. Or maybe Arliss, another obscurity boosted by the HBO sports-centric sitcom. And then there’s Ardith and Ardis. I could go on, but let’s face it – none of these are well enough known to explain Artis’ steady use from shortly after the year 1900, right through the 1960s.

The most common explanation for Artis is that he’s simply a variant of the regal Arthur. This tracks – Arthur ranked in the US Top Twenty from the late nineteenth century, into the early twentieth, and his decline mirrors the decline in use of Artis.

The two most common arguments for Arthur’s origins link him to the Brythonic art – bear – or the Irish Gaelic art – stone. Either is a compelling inspiration for the legendary ruler of Camelot. But they’re difficult to verify.

Regardless, Artos and Artus appear as medieval variants of Arthur, and his name was commonly Latinized as Arturus, or sometimes Artorius. The latter potentially links the name to an obscure Roman family – but their family name is no easier to decipher than Arthur.

Let’s say this: Arthur was in the ether throughout the area we now know as Great Britain, and it is no surprise to find variants, be they directly related or simply associated over time.

Artis is also sometimes listed as a feminine form of Arthur. I’ll give you that she’d be less clumsy to wear than Arthuretta or Arthurine. Only a handful of women have answered to the name, and given the popularity of Arthur, doubtless many families cast about for a plausible feminine form.

A few other options include:

  • A contracted form of Artemis, but that’s not supported;
  • A borrowing from the Latin, where the word for art is ars; artis is the genitive case. A zoo in Amsterdam is known as Artis, derived from Latin phrase “Natura artis magistra” – Nature is the teacher of art. Poetic, but feels less likely;
  • Artis also appears as a surname. This grabbed me, because my first thought on hearing Artis was Artois. Indeed, Artis can be a surname for someone from the region, ultimately derived from the name of a local tribe.
The highest profile Artis in recent years wasn’t known by his first name at all; instead, he scored hits as rapper Coolio. A few decades earlier, NCAA-turned-ABA star Artis Gilmore – known as the A-Train – was one of the league’s most successful players.

Artis also appears to have history in Latvia. -s endings are very common in Latvian with names like Ralfs and Daniels, and Arturs is among the most common names.

Overall, Artis feels like an intriguing option. In the first spot, the name is probably slightly more at home on a girl, like classic ends-in-s choices Frances and Alice. But plural boys – think Wells, Yates, and Ames – are gaining ground, too.

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. It could just be a regional thing, but I’ve known a lot of older women named Ardyce, Ardys and Ardis (a distant cousin, an old neighbor, a lady at church,…) Since in my accent Artis and Ardis are essentially the same name, I really have trouble imaging it on a boy.

    Considering it’s been used for centuries, I think it’s really interesting Arthur doesn’t have an accepted feminine form.

  2. If I were looking for a name to use in honor of grandpa Arthur, I might use this, especially for a girl. Since his name was Arthur Leroy, I could also use “Kinga”.

  3. I like it either way, boy or girl. I prefer Ardis on a girl, but Arthur variants (Arturs, Arturo, Artur, Arturius and now Artis) are some of my favorites!

  4. I wonder if the rise of this name is inevitable on the heels of Arthur, or if parents who like Arthur just like Arthur? And if I were a girl named Artis, I’d be thankful, I think, to wear it instead of Arthurine. That’s too heavy.

  5. I see only “artist, hold the t”. For me that gives Artis kind of a hippy-ish, artist feel.

    Having no frame of reference for the name, I wouldn’t assume gender if I came across an Artis IRL. Sounds like Frances/Alice makes me think girl but then sounds like Arthur makes me think boy.

  6. It automatically made me think if Artemis. I think it is kind of cool. Not my style, but cool none the less.