Baby Name of the Day: Harry

British parents are mad about him. Will American moms and dads follow suit?

Thanks to Charlotte for suggesting her father’s appellation as our Baby Name of the Day: Harry.

Before the most famous boy wizard of all time wore the name, Princess Diana announced that her second son, heir apparent William’s little brother, christened Henry Charles Albert David, would answer to the nickname Harry.

Between the real and fictional headline grabbers, little wonder Harry has caught on like wildfire in the UK., where he is solidly in the English Top 10, leading a pack of nickname-names, like Alfie and Freddie.

Harry was a Top 100 staple in the US well into the 1950s, but he’s yet to show signs of returning to his former glory. In fact, his 2009 ranking – #649 – marks an all-time low. You might hear Harry as a nickname for Henry (currently #71) or the fashionable surname Harrison (falling slightly to #242 in 2009, but still current). Harold, despite the purple-crayon-wielding storybook kid and friend of Kumar, remains in fashion limbo.

While Harry is usually listed as a diminutive form of Henry, that’s not the whole story. The Normans imported the regal Henri to England. The French ehn REE became something more like HAYR ee in medieval English – think of Rubeus Hagrid addressing the young Mr. Potter. The spelling Herry can be found in the historical record. (The Welsh surname Perry evolved from “son of Henry” – ap Herry.) Strictly speaking, Harry is a variant of Henry, not necessarily a pet form.

There have been tons of notable Harrys over the years; many, like the wizard, with Harry on their birth certificate:

  • 33rd US President Harry S. Truman;
  • Escape artist Harry Houdini;
  • Music gives us Harry Chapin, plus Bing Crosby was born Harry;
  • Speaking of aliases, one incarnation of Spider-man’s nemesis Green Goblin answered to Harry;
  • Clint Eastwood is forever remembered as San Francisco detective Dirty Harry Callahan;
  • Then there’s Billy Crystal’s fictional Harry, the one who met Sally in the 1989 romantic movie classic.

Name your son Harry and he’ll have a built-in theme song, too. The jazzy “I’m Just Wild About Harry” was originally written for the Broadway musical Shuffle Along. Much-revised – and almost jettisoned more than once – the song was hit in 1921, and again when future president Harry Truman chose it for his campaign’s song in 1948. The lyrics, however, a more suited to a sweetheart than a candidate: He’s sweet just like sugar candy and just like honey from a bee.

Harry is still out of favor in the US, but that could change. There’s a Harry on Mad Men, and, of course, it’s hard to underestimate the impact of Harry Potter. Plus, Harry could be a brother for Charlie or Gus, those informal grandpa names that sound surprisingly fresh once more.

And, of course, if you worry that Harry isn’t enough for the birth certificate – or your mom bursts into tears that you’re giving her grandson such a fusty appellation – take your pick from any of more formal options listed above, and have the best of both worlds. Odds are that Harry will catch on.

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53 Comments

When I was a kid, I went to camp with a group of brothers with the names Max, Sam, Harry, and Jack. These were very old fashioned names in the 1980s. Add to it that they had a very Jewish last name, and they sounded like old Jewish men, if you didn’t know them. However, three of those names are very popular these days. Poor Harry is so left out. I like the name, even if only because it reminds me of my first crush. 😉 We have a Max in our family, Sam is our son, and we toyed with John/Jack when I was pregnant with Sammy. IMO, Harry fits right in.

and I forgot to say, I’m in the same boat with Aaron as you. It’s a lovely name, but it’s subject to major accent drama lol

Really interesting post and I love JNE’s link too. Alas it looks like poor Harry and Harriet for that matter will always be Hairy in many parts of the US – on that basis, I don’t think Harry will ever reach the dizzy heights of popularity that it has in the UK.

OK, this is taking things slightly beyond general name discussion – but there lives a greater nerd in me than name-nerd… it is linguistics-nerd and dialects are one of my areas of specific nerderificness. Soooo, in case anyone is interested, I found an isogloss map (very difficult to read because it’s small) with specific reference to the distinction of Mary, marry, and merry in the US. Oddly enough, it appears some data was gathered from my neck of the woods and they did NOT have any distinction between these three words! But, just across the state line in Jersey, apparently there is a difference. Holy heck! I talk like a Jersey girl?!?!? This is (shocking) news to me!

Actually, while taking a Linguistics course at UPenn, I participated in one of the largest dialectical research projects as a subject precisely because I’m from the Lehigh Valley in PA – it’s a meeting point/crossover of several isoglosses. And they indicated at the time that the data they collected from me was “anomalous” despite the fact that I’d lived my entire life in one place (which was within 3 miles of where both my parents lived their entire lives) and, at the time, had traveled little. Strange.

Regardless, the map shows that the vast majority of Americans would not distinguish the three words… only a few pockets along the eastern seaboard make distinctions. Poor hairy Harry!

The map which appears on pg 56 (I apologize for the ridiculous length of the URL – link would not embed): http://books.google.com/books?id=qa4-dFqi6iMC&pg=PA54&lpg=PA54&dq=mary+marry+merry+isogloss&source=bl&ots=MogoVrGfKC&sig=kXaPRakhBSfH6TUONEc7TA5H1Pg&hl=en&ei=c8waTMufLoSclgeC_Ij6Cg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=4&ved=0CCgQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=mary%20marry%20merry%20isogloss&f=false

Very interesting! Too bad the map’s so small. I wonder what one from Canada would look like. I rather think our accent tends to be somewhat more uniform over here, although there are some variances.

I generally pronounce Mary, merry, and marry so that they rhyme/sound the same, but pronounce bag and beg differently.

I like Harry alright, but I’d probably stick with Henry, since they are both two syllables. Wouldn’t want my kid to be just another Tom, Dick or Harry. 😀

Thanks for doing this! Where my dad grew up Harry is pronounced to rhyme with hairy, et all. However, where I grew up the pronunciation was more akin to the way it’s pronounced in the UK than in much of North America. I remember when I was quite young (long before Harry Potter made waves) that my dad told me his name was not at all common. I replied by saying that I came across Harrys quite often in books, so perhaps it wasn’t quite as uncommon as he thought.

A question for those of you who pronounce Mary and marry differently: how do you pronounce merry?

Hopefully this makes some sense. I say:

Mary = Mair-ree
Marry = Mah-ree
Merry = Meh-ree

The M sound at the beginning of each word sounds like “muh”, but blends with that first syllable.

I’m from Indiana and I say those all the same way. But I can *hear* the differences when people say them your way — I know a lot of Americans can’t tell the difference.

LOVE the boy wizard, but not a fan of the name. It’s not a horrible name or one that would garner a reaction of ‘Oh, why” or ”poor kid” etc, but it’s not one that I personally find appealing. No offense meant to any who like it or who wear the name!I’m not really a fan of any of the similar names mentioned, excluding the French Henri .At the risk of sounding mean,I’ve always found Harry as a nickname for Henry as rather silly. I’m on the team of all the husbands who vetoed Hank. It’s a cultural/personality thing for me & stylistically opposite to my taste – no offense meant anyone! If I were to use an -arry name, it would be Parry which is actually a family name.

Harry as a nickname for Henry has never really made sense to me either. I guess along the lines of Daisy as a nickname for Margaret. Though Harry and Henry do at least look similar.

I say Marry/Mar/Merry exactly the same as you
Daisy confused me for ages. Apparently – and I could & am probably am wrong, but I know it’s related to the French version of it or something like that . Sorry, that wasn’t very helpful 🙁 Personally, I’d just name my kid Daisy lol

I believe Daisy is used for Margaret because in most European languages the flower and the name are the same word (Marguerite, Margherita, Margarida, Margriet, etc.)

Harry for Henry is one of those nicknames that comes from Ancient English and thus makes little sense nowadays. Same as Jack for John, Dick for Richard, Polly for Mary, Nancy for Agnes, etc.

I remember a friend of mine in high school told a story about a Harry and kept saying Hairy. I was totally confused. I thought she was making fun, but she didn’t seem to be… for me, an American, who never left eastern PA for more than a week prior to then, the name is nothing like “hairy”… that rhymes with airy and Harry rhymes with marry and carry and… well, those names rhyme with hairy for some people, but for me the a in Harry is like the one in past.

My husband is a Brit and says Harry like me. (Do the people who say it hairy also say Gary like Gerry with a hard G and Larry like layer-y? I’m genuinely curious!)

I like Harold nn Harry, but the a in both is like the a in last (for me) and Hair-old and Hairy are NOT cool in my ear! The thought that tons of people would call him Hairy is off-putting! So those never made it past the long list.

Too bad for the hairy thing because Harry is downright adorable!

I know what you mean! Harry and hairy are two distinctly different sounding words, coming from my mouth. But I also say FLAH-rida and AH-ringe instead of FLOOR-idah and OR-inge. 😉

Also, that’s why I didn’t name my son Aaron, even though I liked the name a lot. Too many people pronounce Erin and Aaron the same: AIR-in, and I pronounce Aaron with the same flat A as in Harry, and Erin is EH-rin for me. If I could guarantee that I’d always be living in the northeast, I’d have done it, but as a military wife who too often gets stuck in the south, it wasn’t happening.

I like Harry. 🙂 Probably more as a nickname than a full name. But I like it better as a full name than some other nickname-names eg. not as keen on Charlie, Alfie or Freddie on the birth certificate.

I don’t at all think “hairy”. Maybe it’s because of my British accent – Harry and hairy sound a lot different.

I like the British-vibe of it as a nickname for Henry (rather than the American-vibe of Hank). That being said, I’ve never tried calling our Henry “Harry”. I guess Harry feels like a different name – rather than a nickname – so it would feel weird to call my son by a different name. It doesn’t really feel like the right nickname for him – plus it’s the same length as his actual name and I think I like nicknames to be shorter or longer or more unique than the given name. I do like that my son has the option to go by Harry, as a nickname, if he wanted to, when he’s older. (Watch him chose Hank instead, which DH & I aren’t so keen on!)

Harrison is a family name on my dad’s side, and my aunts have been looking pointedly at me every time we discuss potential future-baby names at Christmas. I do like Harrison (and the dreamy Harrison Ford connection), and might even consider using it even though it’s a little on the popular side for my taste… but the nickname-ability has got me down.

Much as I adore the boy wizard, I’m just not wild about Harry… I, like Panya, hear only “hairy”, and since we have a one-syllable color of a last name, I just think it would be too descriptive of a name to bestow upon any son of mine. Harrison, however, might just fit the bill if we could be creative enough to come up with a nickname that works better than Harry.

P.S. I LOVE the vintage moniker Henry, but my husband has put his foot down, saying that no child of ours will be nicknamed “Hank”, which he deems a name fit only for an English Bulldog. Ugh.

Aww, my husband almost did the same thing: objecting to Henry because of the Hank nickname. But we do now have a 2 year old Henry, who is not a Hank. His at-home-nickname is Hens.

I do like Harrison, though I also like the nickname Harry. Would Harris work as a nickname? Are you looking for a nickname that other people would also call him or just one for home? If it’s just an at-home one, then it wouldn’t really have to be related to his actual name. One would probably just evolve over time.

You know, you have a good point there… I’m no doormat, and would be the first one to pipe up and say, “His name is Henry, not Hank.” I’ll keep working on my husband, and who knows, by the time I’m actually expecting, he may have softened. 🙂

Also, I like the option of the Harris nickname. I don’t necessarily need a nn that the general public will be allowed to call my child, but I lean toward loving 3-syllable names, and it’s only natural to want to shorten that into something a little easier to yell on the playground. I have the same hangups with Donovan (Donnie is NOT happening), but I’m working through it.

BTW, Hens? Adorable. 🙂 Thanks!

🙂 My husband’s Uncle did send us an e mail saying that our Henry Robert could be known as “Hanky Bob” – but that was back when Henry was born & we never really see the Uncle. That’s the only time it’s ever really come up and I’d expect friends & family to respect you if you tell them “He’s Henry, not Hank.”

Your husband may indeed come around. We haven’t named either of our children until they were born – by which point, my husband was more receptive to my name choices!

I see what you mean about needing a shorter name to call out. We liked Oliver, but weren’t especially keen on Ollie or Ol and figured with a 3 syllable name that we’d need a nickname at times. Though friends have a Matthew whose nickname is Bubba, so random nicknames do evolve.

Van would be a cute nickname for Donovan.

Henry’s nickname was “Henry Spenry” then “Spenry” then “Spens” (which sounded more like a nickname for Spencer) and then Hens – which is only weird when you’re reading a story about a farmyard and you’re like “Look at those hens.”

I think its nice for other people, but this one is not for me. My feelings toward this name are contradictory, I do like its classic and timeless vibe, but I also think of the word “hairy.” Then again, I have met a few Harrys and the name fit them so well and if I met a baby with this name, I would be kind of refreshed. So. Its not my style, but definitely nice on someone else.

Harry is considered quite downmarket in many corners of the world actually – kind of like a male Madison, or getting there.

It’s hard for me to see that in the US, where I think he’d be perceived more like Olive or Atticus – a thoroughly hipster pick.