Deutsch: Das Wappen des Landes und der Stadt B...

Boys answer to Boston and Kingston. How ’bout this German capital?

Thanks to Gillian for suggesting Berlin as our Baby Name of the Day.

Berlin is the capital of Germany, and has been ever since shortly after the Cold War-era wall came tumbling down in 1989. It’s also the biggest city in Germany, and it is relatively young.

While some capital cities are also business, there’s a certain romance to Berlin. Part of that is the Wall, but that’s not all:

  • 1932 Best Picture winner Grand Hotel was set in Berlin.
  • Cabaret is also set in Berlin, with the rise of the Nazis creating an undercurrent of tension throughout the story. It’s based on Goodbye to Berlin, a novella by Christopher Isherwood based on his experiences living in 1930s Berlin.
  • The epic David Bowie single “Heroes” was recorded in West Berlin in 1977, with its image of lovers in the shadow of the Berlin Wall.

There’s also Irving Berlin, born Israel Baline in Russia in the 1880s. He came to the US as a child, and while he had no access to education, he quickly realized that his voice was his best shot at earning a living. First he sang for his supper, then he took to songwriting. “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” was a smash in 1911, and the rest is history.

All of this makes for an international city with quite a bit of flair for a child’s name, but what does Berlin mean? The bear is a symbol of the city, and it is tempting to link bär – bear – to Berlin. But that’s folk etymology, compounded by a twelfth-century ruler known as Albrecht der Bär. The truth is murkier, but chances are that Berlin comes from an extinct West Slavic language and their word berl – swamp. Plenty of other places names were also derived from the now-defunct tongue, better known as Polabian.

Bear names for boys have quite a history, so it is easy to understand why baby name books would favor the ursine association. And regardless of how it started, the bear is certainly a symbol of the city.

But before you embrace Berlin as a boy’s name with the right blend of German heritage, animal magnetism, and unexpected style, there is one caution. We have spotted a handful of girls wearing the name, often respelled to Berlyn.

The numbers from 2010 are as follows:

  • 90 girls named Berlin, plus 47 Berlyns and 31 more namedBerlynn.
  • Just six boys received the name in 2010 – though he did chart in the US Top 1000 once, back in 1916. The likely explanation? That’s the year the Olympics would have been held in Berlin, but were cancelled due to the outbreak of World War I. Or maybe it had to do with the continuing popularity of Irving B, or both. Either way, 42 boys received the name that year.

This is a city with story to spare, and a very appealing sound, too. As parents continue to search for the next Brooklyn or London, mark Berlin as one to watch.

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. When I hear the name Judy, I think of a girl who was mean to me in 1st grade. When I hear the name Andy I think of the first boy I broke up with. When I hear the name Maria I think of a meal my host mother served me in Latin America that gave me indigestion. See where I’m going with this? Yes, the city of Berlin has a bit of a dark history. But so do many, many other names that aren’t necessarily place names (OMG–how could you dare name your child Charlie after what Manson did??? How rude!!). Today Berlin is one of the most amazing, progressive cities on earth. Depending on what middle and last names it is paired with I think it could make a breathtakingly beautiful combination that would stand out and sound super cool. I love it!

  2. I have a great aunt named berlyn, never thought much about it. We accent the first syllable (vs the second in the city name), so the association was never there for me.

  3. Wow, I am surprised at all the negative associations with Berlin! I spent a few weeks in this city and I found it fascinating, culturally rich, hip, creative and cool. AND with a very efficient public transportation system I might add! I have nothing but positive associations with this city. One thing I think is worth noting is that the younger generation of Berlin-ites (or whatever) really wish to shrug the negative WWII associations, crimes committed in a completely different time….maybe this is the reason there is so much exciting creativity going on there now. I think Berlin is a cool name!

    1. Yeah, probably if I didn’t know so many people and had family members still alive whose lives were personally impacted by the holocaust, Berlin would be a more useable name for us.
      Maybe once we get a little farther away in time from the horrible years of WWII and the older generations that suffered through it are no longer around, there will be less negative associations with Berlin and Germany in general.
      For me, yes, Berlin is a beautiful city and a wonderful cultural and artistic mecca for us younger generations, but it’s seeing the tattoos on my husband’s grandparents’ arms and hearing about their parents and relatives’ deaths that just does it in for me. Granted, naming a child Berlin would be less of a painful reminder than naming a child Adolf, but still it’s kind of like me naming a child Custer…I’m 1/4 Native American and my grandmother would disown me.