Thanks to Annabel for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Way back in the 800s, a powerful dynasty flourished in Germany. Known as the Conradines, they were Dukes and then eventually, Conrad I of Germany, elected king in 911.
The dynasty fizzled a century later, but the name had filtered into general use amongst German princes, and eventually, throughout much of Europe.
There’s a Saint Conrad in Konstanz in the tenth century, and more followed.
During the Middle Ages, many a king answered to the name. That includes a Duke of Swabia who later became King of Jerusalem and Sicily, as well as more than one Holy Roman Emperor. Many of them were Konrad, with a K.
It comes from either kuoni – brave, daring or kuni – people, along with rad – counsel, giving a strong, positive meaning that adds to its appeal.
It didn’t make it to England – or English – in steady numbers until the nineteenth century. But it occurs regularly after that, as a first and last name.
Polish-born British author Joseph Conrad penned Heart of Darkness in 1899.
There’s another famous figure. Born in 1887, Conrad Nicholson Hilton would go on to build hotels first in Texas, then all over the US and, eventually, the world. The chain still bears his name today. Several of his descendants share his first, but the most famous Hilton is his great-granddaughter, Paris.
Conrad peaked in the 1930s, but never even cracked the Top 200.
Then in 1960, the world met an Elvis Presley-esque singer in Tony Award-winning musical Bye Bye Birdie.
The tale was inspired by real events. In 1957, Elvis really was drafted and served eighteen months in Germany.
The Elvis figure was Conrad Birdie, a swoon-worthy singer who attracted crowds of screaming fans everywhere he went. Birdie promised “one last kiss” to an eager fan before he left for the army. Innocent high jinks ensued after the contest winner, Kim MacAfee of Sweet Apple, Ohio, was selected. (She stays true to her small-town boyfriend, Hugo, in the end.)
The big screen adaptation followed in 1963, starring Ann-Margret as contest-winning Kim. Her rendition of the theme song made her a major star – though the name she sang was Birdie.
Despite the rock star image in the musical and movie, this name tends to belong to a certain kind of privileged character in fiction.
There’s the son in 1976 novel turned 1980 film Ordinary People. Timothy Hutton won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his turn as tortured son of an affluent family, Conrad Jarrett.
1978 is the year we met the Drummonds of Diff’rent Strokes. If you don’t remember the famous 80s sitcom, it’s the story of a wealthy widower who adopts his housekeeper’s sons after she passes away. The patriarch, Phillip Drummond, was played by veteran actor Conrad Bain.
There’s also a character in Revenge, yet another moneyed patriarch, resident at Grayson Manor and one-time Governor of New York.
Later this year, we’ll meet one more: the hero of the third Kingsman movie, a prequel called The King’s Man. Set during the first World War, Harris Dickinson plays Conrad, a young, well-born man eager to serve his country in the conflict by joining up as a top-secret spy.
BY THE NUMBERS
All of this leaves Conrad waiting in the wings. It feels familiar. We’re used to long-time favorite Connor. But this name seems distinctive, too – a little vintage, a tiny bit retro. It’s a solid alternative to Henry or William or maybe Benjamin.
The numbers reflect this. In the year 2000, just 248 boys received the name. By 2018, that number increased to 513. That’s still a long ways from its former heights, but it shows that more and more parents are shortlisting – and choosing – this handsome, traditional name.
What do you think of Conrad? Do you think it’s ready for revival?
First published on November 1, 2010, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on February 12, 2020.