The baby name Liam has held the top spot in the US for six years and counting. Not bad for a name nearly unknown on these shores before the 1970s.

Thanks to Melissa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


William conquered England in 1066 with the Norman Conquest. His name came along, and then traveled to Ireland. Spellings included William and Uilleam and plenty of others, too.

The meaning is clear, if rather strongly Germanic. It comes from will – literally will or desire, combined with helm. That second part means helmet, but implies protection. That’s why you’ll see meanings like “strong-willed warrior.” They’re not exactly wrong, but maybe a little poetic.

The name William has been a classic for generations, worn by everyone from Shakespeare to the current Prince of Wales, rapper and actor William Shatner. Dozens more answer to Billy or Bill.

It is also possible that the last two syllables were lopped off early and used as a nickname for centuries, but it’s hard to trace.

An oft-repeated claim: William of Gellone, Duke of Toulouse at the turn of the ninth century, was known as Liam. Possibly. But the nobleman’s life was the basis for the romantic poem, the Chanson de Guillaume, which dates to the 1100s. Separating fact from fiction isn’t always easy.

What we know is that Liam rarely appears as an independent name until far more recently.

The first year it debuts in US Social Security Administration data is 1947. Compared to William’s long record of use, that’s almost yesterday.

A handful of notable men by the name are found in the history books and pop culture, including a prime minister of Ireland in the 1970s and one of the internationally successful folk group, the Clancy Brothers.

But Liam’s story is really far more recent.


By the 1960s, the first wave of Irish import names had raced up the charts. Kevin and Brian led the way, with Ryan close behind. While Patrick has always appeared in the boy’s popularity chart in the US, Sean first ranked in the year 1943.

Like many a name of Irish origin, they all became standard, even traditional choices for a boy born in the US, and many ranked among the. most popular baby names.

Liam entered the US Top 1000 in 1974, but it took some time for the name to catch on.

Much of the credit goes to Irish actor Liam Neeson, known for action roles as well as serious, Oscar-worthy performances. He became a household name in 1993, playing the title role in Schindler’s List, and his given name jumped nearly 200 places in the US rankings.

By the time Neeson played a Jedi Knight in the first installment of the Star Wars prequel trilogy in 1999, the name ranked in the Top 150. As the star turned in more and more blockbuster performances, the name continued to gain.

Another headline-making Liam from the 1990s? English singer Liam Gallagher, frontman of Oasis.


By 2006, the name Liam finally reached the US Top 100. 

One year later, actor-turned-reality TV personality Tori Spelling chose the baby name Liam for her firstborn. She chronicled much of his early life on her reality shows with husband Dean McDermott.

In 2008, the rebooted version of 90210 – the show that made Tori a star – included a character by the name. Lost did, too. And then came 2011’s Teen Wolf, which introduced a werewolf by the name in a later season.

Australian actor Liam Hemsworth – born in 1990 – raised the name’s profile, too. Among other favorites, he starred as Gale in the Hunger Games franchise.

And it’s tough to overstate the impact of boy band One Direction, who became international sensations in 2011 – while still in their teens. One Direction member Liam Payne, has since embarked on a successful solo career, just like Zayn, Louis, Niall, and, of course, Harry.

baby name Liam
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All of this puts the baby name Liam at the intersection. It’s part-classic William, part-Irish charmer, and part-pop culture sensation.

No surprise it climbed into the US Top Ten in 2012.

But there’s one more factor that helped take it to #1.

The name appeals – in serious numbers – to Spanish-speaking parents, too.

BabyCenter en Español’s reports that the baby name Liam sits at #3, right behind more conventionally Spanish choices Mateo and Santiago. Given how many families speak Spanish in the US, it’s tough to imagine a #1 name that doesn’t appeal across both languages.

Also noteworthy: Liam is a popular baby boy name in Belgium and France, Sweden and Germany, as well as other parts of Europe, as well as the English and Spanish-speaking parts of the world.  Argentina, Switzerland, Spain, Scotland, Canada – Liam is a popular across languages and borders.

While some expectant parents in every case likely chose Liam as an Irish version of William, the name is clearly bigger than that now. Another factor: unlike Irish export Aiden, it’s difficult to re-spell Liam. Lyam doesn’t seem phoentically correct, and doubling the letters or adding more – Lliam? Liamm? Bliam? – is either confusing or not terribly appealing, not in the way that Aydin and Jayden and Braden have proven. 

That organic limit on creativity makes Liam’s popularity more obvious, as the name hasn’t splintered into a half-a-dozen rival variations.


The baby name Liam offers an upbeat, charming sound. It’s modern but with roots, and feels like an Irish heritage pick and an international traveler.

The name’s only drawback is that plenty of parents have discovered this name’s considerable appeal. But with potential as an English-Spanish crossover and an internationally-known name, this updated classic might be good enough to share.

What do you think of the baby name Liam? 

The original version of this post was published on September 24, 2010. It was substantially revised and reposted on October 10, 2016; November 22, 2020; and April 29, 2024.


upbeat favorite

A name that’s both very Irish and effortlessly international, Liam has held the top spot in the US for six years running.


#1 as of 2022


holding steady


An Irish short form of Germanic William, which means “desire” and “protection.” Only caught on outside of Ireland in the twentieth century.

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. Yes, I do think that being named Liam will suggest a 2010s birthdate. And yet, not SO strongly that I’d worry about it.

      After all, Ryan peaked in the 1980s, but stayed near the top for twenty more years, and remains in the current Top 100. (I know a little Ryan. It feels like a modern classic today.)

      With boys’ names, they tend to stick around – even those that might feel a little more subject to trends. Some of that is because we tend to pass down names father to son, but some of that is because boys’ names are slightly less volatile. (Though that’s changing – slowly.) So I would guess that Aiden will still be in the US Top 100 ten, maybe even twenty years from now, when the first wave of Aidens are having children of their only – and, of course, some of those Aidens will be the sons of the first wave.

      Liam has history well before it became a go-to name for a generation. That will help it wear better over a lifetime.

  1. I’m sitting here next to my three day old Liam! I’m so glad I chose it, although on his baby bed the nurse did write “Lian” and gave us a pink blanket. Oh my.

  2. I’m planning to name my son Liam. I like that it is an Irish name like mine (Shannon) and it just sounds sweet without remaining a juvenile name- the kid could grow into a man with this name. Its also the only boy name my husband has liked. I want to pair it with a Latin sounding middle name, but cannot think of one that fits. Any suggestions?

    1. The Liam + Latin names that came to mind:
      Liam Lucien
      Liam Leonidas
      Liam Augustus
      Liam Atticus
      Liam Apollo

      I’m pretty sure some of those are actually Greek, but they do go with Liam really well, don’t they 🙂

  3. I fell in love with the name Liam 15 or more years ago, and so when my son was born 2 years ago, Liam it was. And it fits him, trendy or not. However, I was shocked and pretty disappointed to learn that after all that time my favorite name had become so popular all of a sudden. Funny enough though, in the tiny southern town where we live, Liam is still completely uncommon. People call him “Lem” a lot, and we get comments like “oh, that’s an interesting name.” I even had a nurse call him “Lie-am” once, and someone else “Lion” which I’m sure he thought was pretty cool. Still I find myself thinking sometimes, “Really, as popular as this name is, and you’ve never heard of it?!!” I guess that’s something good about living in such a small town!

    1. It does happen like that – and then in another tiny town there will be three boys, close in age, with a name that isn’t in the Top 200. There’s something strange and random about it … but I’m glad your choice wears well, and here’s hoping it stays a secret. 🙂