Baby Name of the Day: Galen


galen place

Galen Place by Harlequeen via Flickr

Smoosh the Biblical Gabriel with the nouveau Jalen, add a certain retro vibe and what do you get?

Thanks to Emily for suggesting Galen as our Baby Name of the Day.

Galen is from the era perhaps most out of favor today: the 1940s. Larry and Gary were in the US Top 25; so were Ronald and Donald. Girls’ names in vogue included Shirley, Carol, Brenda, and Nancy.

Galen keeps company with Virgil and Homer, names that can read hayseed in 2011, but were once attached to the sharpest minds of antiquity.

The original Galen, Galenos, or Galenus lived in the second century, a Roman citizen of Greek ancestry. He received an extensive education and became a noted physician. But he was no mere bone-setter; instead, he served as personal physician to gladiators and emperors, made significant advances in anatomy, and penned a treatise entitled “The Best Physician is also a Philosopher.”

Not all of Galen’s observations were correct. Dissecting a human corpse was unthinkable in the era, so Galen’s observations were based on dissections of monkeys. But his work formed the basis of medicine for centuries.

His name comes from the Greek galene – calm. There are other possible origins:

  • Places named Gahlen in Germany and similar names in other Germanic languages gave rise to the surnames van Galen and von Galen. The von Galen family of Westphalia was especially distinguished. Several branches of the family held titles or distinguished themselves on the battlefield or in the church. Clemens von Galen, a bishop and later cardinal, was one of the most vocal opponents of the Nazi regime;
  • A handful of English surnames resemble Galen – there’s Galun, Galyen, Galyan, Gaylon, and Gallyon, too. They first surface in the 1200s, and might derive from gaile – jovial.

There have been men named Gale over the years, and one fictional figure could help spark a revival of boys called Gale: the valiant Gale Hawthorne, a love interest for Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games trilogy.

For the most part, Gale has read feminine in recent years, and you can find a few female Galens, too. But a surprising number of men have answered to the name, including:

  • Born in 1940, Galen Hall played football for Penn State and now coaches at his alma mater;
  • Galen Cisco was a Major League Baseball pitcher for in the 60s;
  • Galen Adams was a character on television’s Gunsmoke for twenty years, but he was better known as Doc;
  • The name appears more than once in the Planet of the Apes franchise;
  • Galen Tyrol was a character in the rebooted television series Battlestar Galactica;
  • Galen Clark was a major force in creating Yosemite National Park;
  • Galen Gering has had a long career on daytime television, transitioning from Passions to Days of our Lives.

Galen peaked in 1949 for boys, and has been out of the US Top 1000 since 1996. Today he’s either exactly right for our times, or hopelessly out of style. Maybe he’s a little bit of both. If one parent is all about Julius and the other digs Jayden, Galen could be the best possible compromise. The Gunsmoke character gives him a certain cowboy cool, and he fits in with Braeden and Cale.

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27 Comments

In last week’s People Magazine there is a picture of Vanessa Hudgens with her supposed new boyfriend…actor Gaelan Connell. I haven’t heard the prn and I don’t know how I feel about that spelling, but should his star ever rise….

As far as Gabriel goes, I think that since he’s biblical and associated with angels it’s easy to overlook the ‘gay’ sound. Yet, it is something I’ve thought of; with the last name Butler, Gabriel is firmly off our list as I refuse to subject any future son of mine to being called gay butt.

Sarah, that’s interesting. He has brothers named Brendan and Shawn, so I wonder if there is a Gaelic root for Gaelan? The -an ending fits, but I can’t find any thing on Gaelen that doesn’t link back to the Galen of antiquity. Still, men have been named Gale for generations …

I’m thinking his name is more a play on Gael/Gaelic [I love Gael as a name for a boy myself]. The word ‘goal’ can be traced to an Old English word ‘g

That’s interesting, Panya – it wouldn’t appeal to modern parents, but it wouldn’t be the strangest origin I’ve heard. Gael was originally used to describe Scottish Highlanders, and then broadened to apply to the region, right? And that was pretty late in the game. I’ve heard it used poetically, or at least romantically – in 1849, Thoreau wrote: “The poet has come within doors, and exchanged the forest and crag for the fireside, the hut of the Gael, and Stonehenge, with its circles of stones, for the house of the Englishman.” I can’t find any evidence of Gael being used as a given name until pretty recently – but I haven’t done much digging. Gael or Gaelan definitely could appeal for that reason …

I adore Galen. It’s in our very top for a future boy. I’m always surprised when people say the Gay sound is so pronounced. I’m saying it like GALE-en, and the gay sound is much more pronounced in Gabriel.

I’m surprised you put Galen in the same style category as Donald or Larry! The only two Galens I have known are currently in their 20s, so the name seems reasonably young to me. In fact, sound-wise, it seems to perfectly fit with the boys’ names of today, what with the long A vowel sound shared with Jacob and Aidan, the two syllable pattern, and the N ending of so many boys’ names.

I can’t decide if the “gay” teasing potential would be a problem or not. Does Galen seem more “gay” than Gabriel? They both have the same prominent first syllable.

Oh no – not style category. It just surprised me that they were all at the peak in the same era.

I’m not really sure where to put Galen, style-wise. Sound-wise, he really does fit with Aidan, Jaylon, Braeden. But in terms of his history, he’s closer to Homer.

That’s a VERY good point about Gabriel.

I think Galen is more similar to Jason than it is to Virgil and Homer. Granted, Jason was mythical while Galen was historical, but they both have roots in ancient Greece.

I just realised I’ve not been saying Gay-len, but rather Gale-en. Makes it friendlier to my ears, anyway. Still working on August Galen too!

Lola, I am too … but as others have said, “gallon” might actually be closer to the correct pronunciation.

Though I don’t think there’s much hope of avoiding the long a sound … it’s just SO common in given names right now.

Galen is intriguing, but I have to agree with many of the comments on here that the ‘gay’ beginning is just too much, even for enlightened parents.

Something else I’ve just realised Galen is an anagram of angel. And maybe it is prettier for a girl. Perhaps a substitute or sibling for anyone who likes Nevaeh

I’d never heard this name until a woman in my MFA writing workshop used it for main (female) character, and it intrigued me immediately. For boys, it may never make a resurgence, but I can really see Galen catching on for girls in the future as a tailored, feminine choice. Not to mention that for a girl the potential for teasing isn’t so great.

I agree that the “gay” part would keep me from using it, even if going with the gal-lyn pronunciation [which I think sounds odd because of the word gallon], I think “gay” would come up at some point. It’s not a bad name aside from that, but definitely a different style from what I typically like.

I agree… all I saw was the poor boy being teased until his 19th birthday about being “Gay – Lynn” .

I wish it wasnt so =(. My husband is Richard is a third, and everyone asks if he wants a fourth, but he always says that he will never name his son any variation of Richard because he got teased endlessly in jr high and high school about being “Dick” even though he never went by this name. I would see the same exact thing with Galen, even though it is a wonderful name =(

Yeah, unfortunately, I think today even the most enlightened of parents would be wary of giving their sons a name that has the sound “gay” in it. It’s sadly still one of the most popular schoolyard pejoratives, and few people want to gamble that their kid will be the one that’s going to change perceptions and let insults roll off him.

Another semi-famous Galen is Galen Weston, one of the wealthiest people in Canada. His son Galen Jr. appears in TV commercials promoting Loblaws’ President’s Choice products. The name certainly hasn’t seemed to hold them back from having successful careers!

I adore Galen and would use him in a heartbeat if my other half didn’t hate it. He says it’s asking for trouble; whatever *that* means.
*sigh* Galen’s so handsome and suave.
I did see an H. Galen Surname in the credits of whatever it was we watched the other day (we watch so many, I forget!), and he wondered aloud “Wonder what horrific H name he has, that he goes by Galen”?
At least he assumed male! 🙂
I’m going to go try putting him in the middle somewhere: August Galen ___ perhaps. Hmm. Yeah. Galen’s Fabulous!

I really like Gale for a boy it sounds to stormy but of course everyone would hear Gail.
I did meet a man recently named Rowes…. it looks masculine but again you just hear Rose.

Well, you’ve just dated my coworkers: Shirley, Gary, Carol, Brenda. And there is a Galen! I really like the name and I’d never heard it before this gentleman of 50-something. It’s soft and simple. I just don’t think I could use it on a son because of the “gay” at the beginning. Until gay is no longer used as an insult, it seems like fodder for middle school bullies (stupid kids).

Sorry big Battlestar galactica fan here and Tyrol was a recurring character from the very first episode of the reboot, I just think until the 4th season he was simply know as Chief. Can’t actually remember when his real name was first mentioned.

I think actually the name will always just scream sci fi to me and my friends and family would never let me get away with that!

Thanks, Fran. I’ve only seen a few episodes of the reboot, and I couldn’t quite figure it out – that explains it! I’ll correct the post.

I adore Galen, always have. I love the look, the sound, the feel of it, and I like the way it flows with other names in combos. It’s on our short list as a middle name. My mother-in-law’s middle name is Gail, and while I’m not too keen on honoring her, using Galen could be seen as doing just that.