Has a Cheeto-chomping cheetah claimed this name, or could he be the next big retro revival for boys?

Thanks to Stephanie for suggesting the jazzy Chester as Baby Name of the Day.

Chester appeared on Nameberry’s Hipper than Hipster list, and why not? Nickname Chet conjures up American jazz icon Chet (born Chesney) Baker. And while he’s been out of favor for decades, Chester once regularly appeared in the US Top 100.

He’s also a place name, found on the map in two dozen US states (and that’s without counting Westchester, Dorchester and company.)

Step into the Wayback Machine to visit the year 79. The Romans established a massive fort on the site of modern day Chester. They called their fort Deva Victrix, but by the fifth century it was Ceastre, from the Latin castrum – fortified place. In the eleventh century, William the Conqueror created the Earl of Chester. Like many an aristocratic styling, it was only a matter of time until it passed into the first name spot. In the Middle Ages, the Earl of Chester was among the most powerful of landholders. The future King Edward I once wore the title. Today, the Prince of Wales is also styled the Earl of Chester.

Chester’s popularity in nineteenth century America is more of a puzzle. It could be the lingering impact of the anthem “Chester,” an American Revolutionary War song written in 1770 and among the most popular songs of its day.

Or perhaps it was in homage to Chester Arthur, the 21st President of the United States, Vice President when James Garfield was assassinated. Arthur proved to be a capable leader; even Mark Twain grudgingly admitted that the former veep had done good work in the Oval Office.

Chet Baker kept the nickname visible – in fact, Chet ranked as an independent given name from 1956 into the 80s, fitting in with Todd and Dean. Chester continued to fall in the 1960s while Chet enjoyed modest suggest. Chet left the US Top 1000 in the 1980s; Chester held on until 1995.

Pop culture hastened his decline. In 1986, the Cheetos Mouse got the boot and Chester Cheetah became the official spokescreature for the crunchy, neon orange snackfood. More than two decades later, he’s still going strong. There’s also the unfortunate tendency to rhyme Chester with molester.

Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson named their son Chester Marlon in 1990, a big brother for Truman Theodore. Let’s call the Hanks family solidly ahead of the curve.

Just as Dexter sounds quite cool in 2010, odds are that Chester is due to leave the senior citizens’ home for the maternity ward any day now – at least in fashionable neighborhoods.

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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  1. I adore Chester. Among Polish-Americans, it was used as an anglicized version Czeslaw.

    1. I didn’t know that! Thanks. And that’s more fuel for my Chester-honors-your-side argument.

      But really, I just handed down our Bugaboo, so I can’t possibly have another baby.

  2. So, I was curious why “Chester the Molester” is such a widespread rhyme and why Esther and Silvester aren’t stricken with quite the same problem…

    Well, Google has informed me that Hustler used to run a cartoon called “Chester the Molester.” While parents and children of this generation probably aren’t aware of the origin of the rhyme, it’s prevalent enough that I’d be hesitant to use Chester as a given name.

    1. I was wondering the same thing – my memory was that he was a Garbage Pail Kid, but that was Chester Drawers … it’s good to know where the reference comes from – or wait, is it? Hmmm …

  3. Thanks for doing this as the NotD, Abby! My great-grandfather wore the impressive moniker of Chester Barkley (he went by Barty), and I have long considered using Chester in the middle spot. I don’t think I could use it in the first place, for all of the above mentioned reasons. I also don’t like the nickname Chet, it seems too preppy for me. I read somewhere that Tom and Rita’s son goes by Chase, so maybe no one had a chance to make fun of him.

    1. In Polish, father sounds something like this: oy CHETZ. When I first met my (Polish) husband, I mentally shortened his dad’s name to Chet, both for the sound-alike, and because my father-in-law is a fan of jazz. So Chester, nn Chet, has always resonated for me – but it would be a stretch.

  4. I like Chester. I can’t believe I never associated it with the place in England before. I used to visit there, when I lived in the UK.

    The problem my husband and I have with the name is that it makes us think of the ‘name’ “Chesty La Rue” from an episode of The Simpsons. It was in the context of “Busty St Clair, Chesty LaRue, Hootie McBoob”. So that has pretty much ruined the name. 🙁 Even more-so than the molester rhyme.

  5. The first thing that I thought of was Chester Williams. I’m not a fan of him, so it isn’t the best association.It’s not really an approachable sound (to my ears), so I’m not really a fan. It’s not bad and I don’t have a problem with anyone using it, but it’s not one for me. Chester seems like one of those names that can be perfect for the right person ; but, not everyone is a Chester.

  6. My daughter is BIG into rhyming these days… the above-mentioned rhyme always pops into my head with this name. I fear it would be all too obvious to the nasty tween crowd, too. And, unless your kid is uber popular or incredibly thick-skinned, it might prove to make life tough for a while. (I wonder if the last name Hanks and such made middle-school life alright for Tom’s Chester?) I’d rather Chet or Chesney, but I don’t love those either. Charles is my favorite CH name, I guess.