He’s a saintly Irish appellation and a sci fi warrior.
Thanks to Violet for suggesting Conan as our Baby Name of the Day.
It is tempting to add “the Barbarian” to this name auotmatically, but Conan has oodles of history before he was re-invented by a 1930s writer.
In Old Irish, cú referred to a dog or maybe a wolf. The -an is that ever familiar diminutive form, so Conan is a pup or a little wolf. Animal names have a long history of use, making Conan pretty ordinary.
Except the first Conan was extraordinary – a semi-legendary figure who gets credit for founding Brittany. Geoffrey of Monmouth references him, but he’s not the only source. Several Breton families trace their roots to Conan, including the powerful Rohan family. He also features in medieval politics, as a claim to such an ancient ruler would’ve helped with machinations as leaders tried to claim rights to various thrones.
There’s also a warrior in Irish myth called Conan mac Morna, a friend and ally of Finn McCool.
Then along came:
- Saint Conan, an Irish missionary and early Bishop of the Isle of Man from the sixth century or so. At least two other minor saints share the name.
- In the tenth century, Conan became Count of Rennes and later Duke of Brittany. At least three of his descendants wore name into the 12th century.
This takes us into the modern era. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is remembered as the author of the Sherlock Holmes stories, another enduring character. Conan is sometimes mistaken as part of his surname – Conan Doyle – but it appears to be one of his three given names, Arthur Ignatius Conan, and a nod to his godfather’s surname.
Then in the 1930s everything changed. Robert E. Howard invented the character Conan the Cimmerian, a hero from a fictional world not unlike ours, but rich with magic. Conan had strength aplenty, brains, and a serious way with the sword. He started out in pulp fiction. After Howard’s death others wrote Conan tales, and over the years the character appeared in books, comics, video games, television series, and, of course, movies.
The big moment for Conan was 1982, when the future governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, starred in the title role. Conan the Barbarian was a hit, combining elements from different Conan tales. A 1984 sequel followed, and a trilogy planned, but the third movie was never made. In 2011, Jason Momoa hefted the sword as a new Conan, but the reboot was not successful.
The very Irish Conan O’Brien emerged in the same time, helping return the name to its roots. The Harvard alum worked as a writer for Saturday Night Light and The Simpsons before getting his first late night talk show in 1993. He’s been on television ever since, with the exception of a contract dispute with NBC for a few months. Unlike many a high-profile controversy, the comedian came away with his integrity intact, and proof of a devoted fan base. O’Brien can now be seen on TBS.
Overall, this makes Conan a weirdly perfect name. He’s never been in the US Top 1000, even as Irish names from Ryan to Aidan have caught fire. Conan is familiar to all and easy to spell. He’ll fit with aggressive boy names like Slade and Cannon, but he also blends in with literary, legendary picks like Arthur. If you can live with the occasional question about whether you’re big fans of the Governator, this might be one to short list for a son.