Poetic Dylan brings to mind an American musical icon, but it took a 90s heartthrob to push this name to the top.
Thanks to Urban Angel for suggesting we cover the baby name Dylan.
LEGEND AND MYTH
In Celtic myth, the name Dylan belongs to a god of the sea. It translates to “great tide.” (Though some argue that he’s derived from dylanwad – influence.)
The traditional stories were collected and written down, beginning in the 1300s. A few English translations followed in the 1700s. But Lady Charlotte Guest translated the entirety of the work beginning in 1838.
It’s known as the Mabinogion, and Guest’s translation had lasting influence.
Thanks to the legendary hero, the baby name Dylan has been traditional in Wales for years.
The first famous Dylan is, appropriately, a son of Wales.
Dylan Thomas was born in Swansea, but grew up speaking English, thanks to his English teacher dad. The name is a nod to the legendary figure.
Thomas gets credit for familiarizing the world with his once-unusual name. He’s also responsible for adopting the Anglicized pronunciation. In Welsh, this sounds more like dull un.
The poet’s heyday was from the 1930s into the 1950s. We remember lines of his most enduring works, like “do not go gentle into that good-night.” But in the mid-twentieth century, he was equally well known for his lilting Welsh accent. Thomas read many of his works on BBC radio in the late 1940s.
In the 1950s, he toured the US, back when the concept of a poet touring to read his work didn’t really exist.
Thomas died young, his health issues exacerbated by heavy drinking, in 1953.
1953 also marks the first year the baby name Dylan appears in the US Social Security Administration data, with six boys receiving the name.
Then along came another poet.
American singer-songwriter Bob Dylan was born Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941.
He considered several names before landing on the one that he made famous. While still a student at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, he used the stage name Elston Gunn. Gunsmoke, a Western that moved from radio to television, made Marshal Matt Dillon famous, and the singer considered that spelling of the surname, too.
But it’s said Bob came across the poetry of Dylan Thomas around that time, and the rest is history. By 1962, he had moved to New York and legally changed his name.
When asked about the name change, he once explained: “You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.”
THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’
Dylan scored his first hits in the mid-1960s. He was an unconventional rock star, with his gravelly voice. It would become the sound of a generation, with his politically informed songs speaking to the concerns that defined the 1960s. It wasn’t just his music; Dylan himself performed in support of the Civil Rights movement, and to protest the war in Vietnam.
By 1966, Dylan’s adopted surname debuted on the US popularity charts, at #928. By 1970, it reached #458.
BEVERLY HILLS BAD BOY
By 1988, Bob Dylan had achieved living icon status. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And the surname hovered in the 100s, fitting in with 80s favorites like Kevin and Justin.
Then came Beverly Hills, 90210.
It debuted in 1990, and that same year, Dylan cracked the US Top 100.
By 1992, the name reached #28.
Twenty-something actor Luke Perry played sixteen year-old bad boy Dylan McKay, a love interest for new-in-town Brenda Walsh, played by Shannen Doherty. The pop culture sensation ran until the year 2000.
Perry’s character was two-parts James Dean, with a motorcycle and a dangerous reputation. But he was at least one-part intellectual, too, known for quoting poetry and – gasp!- reading books.
By the time the show ended its run, baby name Dylan was well established as a boys’ favorite for the early twenty-first century.
Perry and 90210 share credit for the name’s rise with a few other uses. Dylan McDermott, born Mark McDermott, was landing acting roles by the late 1980s and became a star on legal drama The Practice by 1997.
BABY NAME DYLAN … FOR A GIRL
From early days, a handful of parents gave the baby name Dylan to their daughters. There were nine in 1969; 16 in 1980. It first ranked in the US Top 1000 for girls in 1993.
Drew Barrymore played a female Dylan in the re-boot of Charlie’s Angels in 2000. And designer Ralph Lauren gave the name to daughter Dylan Lauren in 1974. That might be forgettable, except Lauren went on to open Dylan’s Candy Bar in 2001. The New York-based candy company is now world-famous.
The name remains in occasional use for girls, but has never reached the same heights of popularity as for boys. In 2018, Dylan ranked #398 for girls.
All of this makes the baby name Dylan a Welsh heritage choice with an Americana vibe. It’s become a modern traditional – the kind of name you wouldn’t have heard in 1950, but won’t be at all surprised to still hear in 2050.
What do you think of the baby name Dylan?
First published on May 11, 2010, this post was revised and updated on May 14, 2020.
I am the opposite- I love the name “Dylan” for a girl, not a boy. It’s a cute, sporty name for a girl- but for a boy, it sounds too. I don’t know. Trashy. My daughter is named Dylin Grace, and both she and I love her name, it goes well with her siblings; Daniel James, Addison Claire, and Mollie Isobel. I never liked those common names; I like classic, or cute but not common names. “Dylan” works for a girl, my little girl is a great Dylin and the name fits her well. For a boy…. I can’t say the same.
I Love The name Dylan, possibly because it’s my name. I’m a girl so my parents added an extra N to make it a little more feminine. I loved growing up with an interesting name that wasn’t found all around me. It felt like it really belonged to me.
I love the idea of a stronger name for a girl, my name always gave me a since of power that I don’t think the girls named ashley or daisy really understood.
I love my name and hope to one day give my children and strong, powerful and all around awesome names as my parents did with me and my siblings
I adore Dylan but can’t stand it when used as a girls’ name. It sounds like a strong boy’s name, not feminine at all.
I have gone through liking this name to disliking this name on and off throughout my life. Its starting to feel dated and rather soft. Kind of boring.
Charlotte Vera says
I seem to remember knowing quite a few Dylans when I was younger, but I’ve only come across a few in the past few years. I did go to college with a Dylan. Interestingly, he pronounced his name “DYE-lan”. I’m not sure if that’s the pronunciation his parents chose for him or something he decided for himself.
I know a 41-year-old Dylan (male) and a six-year-old Dylann Marie.
British American says
I like Dylan, though now my first thought is “Boys name that is now being used on girls too” – so that would be very off-putting for me.
I know a 10 year old Dylan and the name does strike me as one I would have liked more 10 years ago.
jne, fyi dillon’s was taken over by waterstones about ten years ago. i’m english and had to rack my brains to remember it!
Really?! I left in 2001, but maybe I missed/forgot about the takeover. Funny how things just stay fossilized in my brain – England is forever in the late 90s for me! 🙂
British American says
Same here. I left in 2001 too!
If my husband had chosen our son’s name without my input, I’m reasonably certain he’d have chosen Dylan. I do love the name – Bob Dylan, Welsh like our surname, sounds cool/friendly – but it is so darned popular…. too popular. I vetoed it based on popularity. DH was not happy with that. He wanted it in the middle and I just didn’t love the combo. Also, it makes me think of Dillon’s – a major bookstore chain in England. Books aren’t a bad association, but retail chains, be they bookstores or otherwise, don’t really inspire me. But hey, plenty of girls are called Macy, so it’s not that off-putting I guess. I like Dylan, but might lean toward the Irish Declan at this point, just to avoid it being too popular (plus with that you get a nn: Dec). Or maybe I’d choose another icon of the times (Bob Dylan times, because he’s who I think of first and foremost): Lennon. Still, I would delight at hearing a mom or dad calling for their little Dylan at the playground.
British American says
I know a 10 month old Macy and a 2 year old Lennon. 🙂
Declan / Dec gives me a British ‘Ant and Dec’ vibe. 🙂
Yeah, I always think Ant and Dec too… they were on American tv doing some weird show a couple years back… it was surreal.
I think that’s really ironic, as I’m in-love with Irish names, but I’ve never gone for Declan, even though it’s similar. The major drawback of Dylan is the popularity 🙁 🙁 🙁
i like dylan, it’s friendly and just sounds nice to my ears. being a bob dylan fan myself doesn’t hurt either. also there was a character in the british children’s show the magic roundabout named dylan after bob dylan too. i’m not so sure of it as a girls name though, but on a little boy it’s lovely although out of the running for me as one of my dogs is named dylan!
Dylan is my all time favourite male name. I’ve loved it since I was around 10.
I do get why others might not like him, because of what to some is a harsh ‘d’ sound combined with the ‘dill’ pickle connotations. I just LOVE the sound of the name, it’s associations & the way I feel when I say it or think of it. I’d love to use it on a boy if I ever have one. It’s my first choice. The Welsh/Celtic vibes are perfect as I have pretty much the entire UK in my veins as well as a huge love of all things Celtic.The meaning reminds me of the sea & I love the water & swimming.Plus, I love poetry & music of Bob Dylan’s generation
The only thing I don’t like is it’s popularity, which is HUGE globally.It’s in the top 100 of 7 countries that I know of.The upside, is that hopefully it decreases in popularity, so that I can ‘hopefully’ use it when I have kids in a couple of years. I’m hoping that most of the Dylan’s are in their late 20s or in their 30s & 40s when I have kids, so that it won’t be as popular on kids. Most of them seem to be between 10 & 25 currently, that I know of.
Thank you for doing this as NOTD !