Baby Name of the Day: Atticus


Athens - Theater of Herodus Atticus

Athens - Theater of Herodus Atticus, by roger4336 via Flickr

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!

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24 Comments

My four year old’s name is Atticus Michael Ash. We live in the south and I loved the book. It fits him perfectly. We named his younger brother Aleister Masin. I have a love of old-fashioned names

We named our six month old son Atticus and also use the nickname Atti. We have received plenty of positive comments from people who love the name and the book.

We’re 90% sure we’re going to name our baby boy, due in March, Atticus. We’ve been calling him Atters, for a nickname. I guess it’s a family thing – my husband calls me Jessers, my mom’s family nickname is Joycer, and my brother David goes by Dafs. At first glance, I wasn’t super found of Atters, but now I love it! I also liked the first name Anders, so Atticus = Atters works for us.

My son’s name is Atticus. We call him Atti for short. I love the name and have only had nice comments about it.

My three old son is called Atticus. I love the sound of the name, and also must admit I love the book. We call him Atty for short. The only other child i have met called Atticus (at a play centre, his parents came over to say hello as they had never met another Atticus either) also used the nickname Atty. But normally we just use Atticus. Only had positive comments about his name – all tend to be from people who have read the book. Although the vast majority who ask about where we got it have never heard of Atticus Finch.

The 1990s brought Truman Capote’s work some attention, and I wonder if Harper Lee’s connection to Capote is behind some of the current rise in Harper and Atticus, since they’re following closely on the heels of Truman gaining in popularity.

I love Atticus!! Funny though, I really dislike Harper. Atticus has that ancient world charm I love so dearly. The combo I currently have him in is Solomon Atticus Michael, so DH can use the nn Sam 😉 I on the other hand am not too terribly fond of nicknames, so the fact that Atticus lacks an easy nn is just fine for me.

I’ve never seen the film, but as soon as I read Atticus’ meaning, I thought of Al Pacino chanting “Attica! Attica!” in Dog Day Afternoon. I’m guessing the fading of that association (the NY prison’s infamous riot was 41 years ago) are why Atticus is just taking off now…

I loved TKAM, but I think Atticus is a lot to live up too, so I’d keep it in the middle spot. However, just to contradict myself… Atticus + a really common surname (like Brown or Young) would be smashing.

I love literary names, and I like Atticus, but he may be a little too hip for me. I’ve seen Gus (kinda has the whole Caius to Gaius swap going for it), Ace, and Kit (love this!) listed as potential nicknames. I would love to meet a little Mister Atticus, but this won’t be a name I use myself. 😀

I know a 40-year-old Atticus. I remember thinking it had a distinct Southern feel when I first met him in the late 90s.

I met a tot called Atticus in New London, CT in 2011. Until then, I thought it was just a rumor that people were using the name. I see the appeal in the literary connection, but dislike the name’s aesthetics.

I love To Kill a Mockingbird, along with the charachter of Atticus Finch. I find the name somewhat intriguing, but not enough to use it myself. I’d love to see someone else use it, though. As for nicknames, it may be a stretch, but I think Gus could possibly work, a la Disney’s Cinderella using Gus as a nickname for Octavius.

Thanks so much for writing on this name, Abby. We really like the ring that Atticus Arthur has for our second child, but we are definitely struggling with the lack of a solid nickname. That said, our first, Scarlett, also lacks a nickname option, but we call her everything from “Ducky”, to “pickle-pie.” That won’t work quite as well in high school sports though when everyone needs a nickname, and our last name doesn’t lend itself to using it exclusively either. We have a few short months before the little boy gets here to figure something out, thanks for giving us a little more to work with on our Atticus option!

I’ve seen Scout listed a lot as a nickname for Scarlett. You could have a very To Kill a Mockingbird family in the works. 🙂 I’ll also say that I love Kit as a nickname for Atticus, a suggestion I encountered recently. I also love Kit for Christopher; basically I <3 Kit. 😀

My brother’s name is Kenneth. The family has always called him Kenny. In H.S. or college, he picked up the nickname “Frequency” (from the REM song and TV moment). Don’t worry about nicknames. He could always be “Art” if need be, although I love the “Double A” suggestion too. Atticus is a great name.

I love Atticus. It sounds strong and daring but has a nice soft ‘s’ ending. Surprisingly the popularity doesn’t bother me that much.
I have been looking at Atlas lately as well.

Atticus was one of my first name loves back in the day! It wouldn’t work for us but maybe Atticus (an awesome father figure) and Abigail (father’s joy) to honor a great dad?

While Atticus may not have risen as dramatically as Harper, I still consider an almost 400 spot increase in six years dramatic too. I guess it’s somewhat relative.

I agree Harper has a wider appeal right now than Atticus, which could only appeal to a certain demographic at the moment.