Thanks to Melissa for suggesting Liam as our Baby Name of the Day.
William conquered England in 1066 with the Normans. His name came along, and then traveled to Ireland. Spellings included William and Uilleam and plenty of others, too.
It is possible that the last two syllables were lopped off early and used as a nickname for centuries, but it’s hard to trace.
What we know is that Liam rarely appears as an independent name until far more recently. In the US, the first year we find five or more boys given the name is 1947. Compared to William’s long history, that’s 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.
Liam: Brian, Ryan, and Kevin
By the 1960s, of course, the first wave of Irish imports had raced up the charts. Kevin and Brian led the way, with Ryan close behind. They became every guy names over the next few decades, until we all-but forgot their Irish origins.
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.
Liam: 21st Century
By 2006, the name reached the US Top 100. One year later, actor turned reality show star Tori Spelling named her firstborn Liam Aaron and proceeded to chronicle 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 has also become a star in recent years, lending even more visibility to the import.
Liam: Top Ten
Add up all of the influences, and it comes as no surprise that the name has soared to #2 in the US.
While the name still feels Irish, it now appeals to families of many backgrounds. In BabyCenter en Español’s report, the name comes in at #39 with Spanish-speaking families.
The problem now, of course, is that parents often prefer to avoid popular names – or certainly any name this close to the top of the charts. That suggests that the name’s heyday could be ending.
And yet, so far the evidence suggests that parents still see the name as a great choice – tied to tradition, but still fresh and modern.
Do you like Liam? Does the name’s popularity give you pause, or would you still consider it for a son?
The original version of this post was published on September 24, 2010. It was substantially revised and reposted on October 10, 2016.