The baby name Atticus came from the ancient world by way of twentieth century literature to stand as one of the most stylish choices of our moment.
Thanks to Jasmin for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
HARPER, SCOUT, ATTICUS
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?
In 1960, when Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel To Kill a Mockingbird was released, fewer than five boys received the baby name Atticus. That’s true in 1962, too – after Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning performance as brilliant, principled attorney Atticus Finch.
It’s not until 1969 that seven boys receive the name – just enough for it to register in the US Social Security data for the first time since 1881.
Instead, Atticus – along with Harper, the author’s name – started to rise in the 1990s. The numbers are tiny at first.
It seems like the slow rise is thanks to how many people read To Kill a Mockingbird over the years, and how deeply they admired Atticus Finch.
If you don’t know the story, here it is: Jean Louise “Scout” Finch narrates the story. It’s 1936 – the Great Depression – and she and her brother Jeremy “Jem” are growing up in a small Alabama town, raised by their widowed father, Atticus. Atticus is a lawyer, appointed by the local judge to defend Tom Robinson, who is accused of raping Mayella Ewell. Tom is black; Mayella is white. That’s all most of their neighbors need to know. It’s clear that Mayella’s story doesn’t hold up, but Tom is convicted anyway.
The novel is among the most widely-read by high school students. Oprah Winfrey has long talked about how much she loved the book. The Library of Congress’ One Book, One Community program launched in 1998; Lee’s novel is almost certainly the most often selected.
There’s no question that Atticus Finch is principled; beyond what many of us can imagine for his time and circumstances.
And that’s appealing to parents. The 1990s kick-starts the age of purpose names – a mix of nature names, like River and Kai, new virtue choices like Destiny and Journey. Some, like Harmony, would’ve been at home in the 1960s. Others, like Zion, feel very twenty-first century ready.
Atticus fits for two reasons – first and foremost, for the literary associations. But look up the meaning of the baby name Atticus, and a second association emerges.
ATHENS and ATTICA
The name comes from the Latin, meaning “from Attica.”
Attica is the region around Athens, the center of the world in the classical era. A handful of accomplished ancients wore the name, too.
But Athens also serves as shorthand for a Golden Age of philosophy and literature. It’s no mistake that we know Athena as the goddess of wisdom, as well as patron and protector of the city.
The name wasn’t entirely new when Harper Lee chose it for Scout’s father. But it was rare, and spoke to his character in a subtle, but powerful, way.
BY THE NUMBERS
Atticus, Harper, and Scout all rose in the 1990s. By 2004, Atticus debuted in the Top 1000 at #934.
In 2010, the novel celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. The baby name Atticus stood at #560. Harper reached #120 for girls.
It wasn’t just the novel, though. Ancient boy names, ending with -s, were enjoying a moment. Names like Maximus and Julius rose, too, creating space for Atticus to feel like a wearable choice for a son.
Perhaps one of the most interesting facts about To Kill a Mockingbird is that it was Harper Lee’s only novel. (She once told Oprah Winfrey that she “said everything she had to say” in that one book.)
In 2015, a sequel of sorts was released. Go Set a Watchman was discovered by Lee’s attorney the year prior, and subsequently published to much fanfare. It’s again told from the perspective of Scout, returning home to Alabama twenty years later. Atticus isn’t nearly as noble – or perhaps he’s simply seen as human, rather than a heroic figure, now that his daughter is an adult.
Lee passed away in 2016, and controversy swirled over the publication of Go Set a Watchman. Some parents of boys named Atticus worried that it tainted the name.
However, after a tiny slide backwards, the baby name Atticus continued to rise. As of 2019, it reached #309. That represents nearly 1,100 births – an all-time high.
In 2020, Lovecraft Country debuted on HBO. It’s a mix of sci fi horror the real, 1950s kind courtesy of segregated America. The main character’s name? Atticus “Tic” Freeman.
The first season ended with strong ratings and critical applause. No word on a future season. One issue? Lovecraft Country was based on a Matt Ruff novel, and the season’s ten episodes covered everything he wrote.
Whether the story continues or not, this adds a very different – but equally admirable – Atticus to the roster.
HANDSOME, LITERARY, MEANINGFUL
For many families, Atticus hits the trifecta. It’s a stylish name, on trend but with so much history that you’d never call it trendy. The name’s literary roots are immediately obvious to nearly everyone. And it conveys meaning – a mix of courage and principle that we all wish for our children.
The baby name Atticus feels like a strong choice for a son in the twenty-first century.
What do you think of the baby name Atticus? Would you consider it for a son?
First published on April 30, 2012, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on October 7, 2020.
Jem’s full name is Jeremy, not James.
Thank you! Fixing that now …
The publication of Harper Lee’s “Go Set a Watchman” is going to change people’s perceptions of Atticus in a big way. I do feel a sense of commiseration for parents who’ve chosen it.
We are thinking of using Atticus for our next baby boy born in July. I also think Attica sounds really neat.
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.
Anna Manning says
My son’s name is Atticus. We call him Atti for short. I love the name and have only had nice comments about it.
Anna, Taunton,UK says
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.
C in DC says
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.
That’s an interesting theory – and very possible.
Sarah A says
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.
Megan M. says
The boy playing “Brick” on The Middle is named Atticus Shaffer. He was born in 1998.
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 can see the kids calling him Double A or battery. 🙂
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. 😀
C in DC says
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.