He’s been touted as one of the most stylish names out there, Park Slope-perfect. But while the rise of his literary cousin Harper is undeniable, his climb has been less dramatic.
Thanks to Jasmin for suggesting Atticus as our Baby Name of the Day.
How did a 1960 novel and its accompanying 1962 film adaptation become one of the hottest sources of baby name inspiration in the twenty-first century?
No really – how? Brilliant they may be, but usually there’s a precipitating factor, like a reboot of the book as a film, to push the names up the popularity charts.
Instead, names from To Kill a Mockingbird have been quietly gaining for years. Okay, the novel is Oprah’s favorite, much discussed on her show, and that’s enough to kickstart quite a lot of chatter. And Mockingbird did celebrate its fiftieth anniversary in 2010. Still, I wonder if this is a product of the Library of Congress’ One Book, One Community program. Lee’s novel is almost certainly the most often selected book for community-wide reading programs, which started in 1998 in Portland, but caught fire just about the time we started hearing stylish parents consider Harper and Atticus.
Or maybe it just so happens that Harper Lee’s immortal characters were onomastically ahead of their time. And so it took almost five decades for Scout and Radley and the author’s preferred appellation – she was born Nelle Harper Lee – to catch on.
Lee’s principled attorney would count as a worthy inspiration for many parents. Still, Atticus is no overnight sensation.
- Harper, the darling of celebrity and regular Joe parents alike, entered the US Top 1000 for girls at #887 in 2004, and has nimbly ascended to #119 in 2010. I fully expect her to break the Top 100 when the stats are released in a few weeks.
- Atticus, by comparison, entered the US Top 1000 at #937 in 2004, and was up to a respectable #564 last year. He’d actually charted once previously, back in 1881.
The name comes from the Latin, meaning “from Attica.” Plenty of ancient names refer to a place of birth, but in this case, Attica is the region around Athens, the center of the world in the Classical era. A handful of accomplished ancients wore the name, too, including Herodus Atticus, a wealthy, Greek-born thinker who used his fortune on several capital projects, including the theater pictured above.
And so Atticus has gained not just because of his status as a literary hero, but his style. There’s Marcus, Julius and Maximus, all in favor for sons these days.
Casey Affleck and Daniel Baldwin are among the famous fathers with sons called Atticus. No Doubt’s Tom Dumont has a Rio Atticus, and Mary-Louise Parker has a William Atticus. And while it is tempting to dismiss him as a trendy name, there have always been men called Atticus. US Census records turn up plenty that pre-date the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird.
One of his shortcomings is the lack of an easy nickname. A novel used the spelling Addicus a few years ago, but Addie is so thoroughly a girls’ name these days that it doesn’t seem a likely option for a boy.
Still, if you know that you’ll use all three syllables, then Atticus is a distinguished appellation – and less common than you might think!