Guitars by Tuppus via Flickr

You might find this name on the pages of Rolling Stone or The Village Voice. How would it look on your child’s birth certificate?

Thanks to Janelle for suggesting Greil as our Baby Name of the Day.

There’s only one Greil that springs to mind. It’s not quite like Cher or Madonna, but I’m guessing that rock critic and writer Greil Marcus pretty much never had to sign his schoolwork Greil M.

Marcus has had a long career. He wrote for Rolling Stone in its early days, putting him in the company of notables like Hunter S. Thompson and Cameron Crowe. File him somewhere between scholarly pursuits and pop culture.

He’s also part of an infamous hoaxes. Back in 1969, you could head into a record store and buy an album called The Masked Marauders. There were no credits on the cover, but rumor had it that The Masked Marauders were really Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, John Lennon, and Paul McCartney. It was a collaboration sure to go down in legend, or so said the review in Rolling Stone.

The review, it turned out, was a fake, written by Marcus under a pseudonym, inspired by other late 60s supergroups like Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. The album was recorded by a local group.

So where did Greil’s unusual come from? He was named after his dad. It sounds like a surname promoted to the first spot, and I’ve unearthed three possible origins:

  • It could be derived from a German place name – Greuel. There are plenty of people with the surname Greuel, and the pronunciation they favor appears to be closer to Groyal. I haven’t nailed down the actual location of Greuel, which makes me suspect that there was more than one, and none have survived as official designations;
  • Others suggest that it comes from a Middle High German word meaning horror. In Dutch, gruwel means something like atrocity or abomination, so this is possible;
  • Lastly, our word grill comes from the Old French greil. I can’t find any sources that connect this word to the surname – but it seems plausible.

A very few other Greils appearing in the US Census records suggest that this is a rare family surname occasionally promoted to the first spot. I’d been inclined to pronounced the name greel, but in at least one interview, Marcus says his name more like growl.

There are two other places you might discover Greil:

  • Nintendo GameCube’s role playing game Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance centers on the main character, Ike, the son of Greil. Greil’s Mercenaries include Rhys, Soren, Titania, and a few other names that are surprisingly wearable;
  • In the Black Butler manga, there’s a character called Greil or Grelle. He’s a chainsaw-wielding, shark-toothed figure that seems unlikely to inspire parents.

Obscure manga characters aside, Greil feels current. His indie vibe makes him a brother to Rufus or Jude. If single-syllable names for boys really are the next big thing, then Greil could appeal to parents disappointed that Gage and Cade are epidemic.

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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What do you think?


  1. My Daddy’s name was Greil. My siblings and I always wondered why our grandparents picked that name. But there wasn’t a better man I have ever known! When someone finds out who my Daddy was they always tell me how good and kind he was to them. It may not have always meant that, but in our family it has come to be a good thing if you have the name Greil. My brother and nephew are named Greil.

  2. My last name is Greil. It is pronounced Grile, not greel. It means Horror. We came from Bad Reichenhall Germany. There was also Greils from Scotland that is pronounced differently.

  3. Oh, my fellow mountaineers, I have to say I don’t see one single redeeming quality in Greil. For some reason, I was thinking of this as a girl’s name – kill me now – but it doesn’t even gain my favor as a boy’s name. To me, despite how it should or could be pronounced, I keep thinking of gruel. It feels very Medieval to me, and perhaps it would be befitting of a handsome, strong knight, but as a modern name? Hell to the no! (I’m sorry – I’ve been waiting to write that for weeks…)

    Give me Graeme or Gage or Gene or even Grass before Greil!

    1. I can see how you thought it would be a girl’s name, because as I tried to make sense of this name, I went: Greil>Grey>Grau>Grail>Gruel>Gretel?

      In the long run that doesn’t matter, because I simply don’t like it.

      1. I also thought girl when I first saw this listed, but then decided that it was too ugly!

        Incidentally, my German background had me saying “Grile” in my head (long i sound).

  4. In German, EI is like a long I, so it should be pronounced GRILE. I don’t care how it’s pronounced, though. It looks horrible. No matter how I say it, it sounds terrible. It’s seems like something that a character in a Jean M. Auel novel might be named.

  5. At first glance, my brain said ‘Gray-l’ not ‘growl’ but German, even after 8 years of classes still befuddles me a lot!
    I’ll agree it sounds current, not attractive but current. I’ll stick with Rex as my favorite one syllable (and George as my second). But yeah, I can see Greil appealing to some people: I know 3 who’d like Greil!