Thanks to Lee for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Unlike Savannah or even Camden, the baby name London is a relative newcomer.
It debuted in the girls’ US Top 1000 in 1994, disappeared, and then returned in 1999, and started to climb. For boys, London first charted in the year 2000, and also grew in popularity.
As a given name, it fits nicely with surnames like Lennon and Landon, as well as more traditional choices like Lauren. But what explains London’s appearance on baby name lists?
Pop culture, of course. But it’s a little complicated.
First, let’s go back in time to the Roman Empire.
Romans arrived in the area we now call London way back in the first century, and it was established as a town ages before they marched in.
The Roman historian Tacitus told the story of Queen Boudica’s valiant stand against the invaders. He referred to the town by its Latin name, Londinium.
The -ium ending is the norm for Roman cities, but how about that first syllable?
If the meaning of London is obscure, it’s because we can’t determine the first syllable’s origin.
- One possibility is “King Lud’s fortress.” Writing in the eleventh century, Geoffrey of Monmouth penned a work that freely mixes history, legend, and fiction. He claims King Lud ruled the region in the days before the Roman rulers arrived, though he called it Trinovantum.
- Welsh myth gives us Llud Law Eraint – Llud of the Silver Hand. It’s possible Geoffrey borrowed Llud for London, especially since Ludgate and Ludgate HIll – site of St. Paul’s Cathedral today – date back centuries upon centuries. Except Ludgate almost certainly comes from a phrase meaning flood gate, or maybe postern.
- One appealing possibility: it refers to a temple of Diana previously located in the city center: Llan Dian. But that’s just another theory without to consider.
- It might also have pre-Celtic roots, in which case it means something like “unfordable river.”
In any case, by AD 50, the Romans called their settlement Londinium, and we’ve been debating the name’s meaning nearly as long.
JACK LONDON and JULIE LONDON
London sometimes appears as a surname. Two notable examples are writer Jack London and actress/singer Julie London.
Best remembered for novels like The Call of the Wild, Jack London was born John Chaney. He took his stepfather’s last name, London, as a child.
Julie London, on the other hand, a 1960s actress and singer, was born Julie Peck. She borrowed the city for a stage name.
The surname probably comes from the city name, for families who hailed from the area.
It would take something more than the author and the singer to put London on the popular name list.
FROM PARIS HILTON to LONDON TIPTON
In the early 2000s, Paris Whitney Hilton became a household name. She’d appeared in gossip columns as early as 1993. But in 2003, she and fellow celebutante Nicole Richie co-starred in a reality series, The Simple Life. Paris and Nicole took regular Joe jobs … and failed at them, disastrously. It became a sensation.
So what does Paris have to do with London?
The traditionally masculine name Paris rose in use in the 1980s – just as Savannah soared. Paris was an early place name favorite, and Hilton’s fame briefly pushed in into the US Top 200.
While Hilton and Richie weren’t villains, they didn’t necessarily inspire you to name your daughters for them. Popular culture can boost a name, but it can also give parents pause.
But if you’re thinking about the possibility of Paris as a child’s name, and ruling it out because of the reality star, then it’s only a short trip across the English Channel to London.
By 2005, Disney Channel original series The Suite Life of Zack & Cody gave the name London to their resident hotel heiress. London Tipton was directly based on Paris Hilton. It’s the perfect name to serve as an homage – and maybe a parody, too.
BY the NUMBERS
That handful of boys receiving the name London every year, likely because it was a family surname, continued from the 1880s into the 1960s.
In 1963, it debuted in the baby girl names data and climbed slowly for both boys and girls.
By 1990, it was poised to rise. The place name wave was beginning, with names like Savannah and Sydney ranking around the 200s, and others, including Camden and Paris, climbing, too.
London wouldn’t spike in use until the early 2000s – likely with some credit to The Sweet Life of ZacK & Cody.
But the city’s stylish image was well-established by then, and parents had slowly been warming to London as a given name.
THE SWINGING SIXTIES
Could the early 1960s gain in the name’s use be down to a cultural phenomenon?
The Swinging Sixties started early in the decade. The British Invasion in music was part of it; the Beatles arrived in America in 1964. So were designers like Mary Quant, known for her miniskirts; Jaguars and Mini Coopers; models like Twiggy and Jeanne Shrimpton; and too many bands to name.
London must’ve sounded young, stylish, and daring.
Those days are in the past, of course – ancient history to anyone having a baby now.
But London remains romantic. It’s been a destination for centuries. From Shakespeare to The Smiths, from Sherlock Holmes to Queen Elizabeth I, we all know something about the city and can picture it – or our version of it, at leaset.
The 2012 London Olympics probably inspired some families – the name peaked for girls a year later, with over 3,400 births in 2013, plus an additional 450+ boys.
It wasn’t just the Olympics, though. The early 2000s were the age of two-syllable, ends-with-n names, especially for boys. Landon peaked in the early part of the new millennium. Logan, Jackson, Mason, and all of the -aiden names were gaining, too. Place names, like Camden and Hudson, also fared well.
But the name structure worked for girls, too. Brooklyn was rocketing up the charts. And names like Peyton and Madison were every bit as stylish.
With so many girls being named Isabella and Sophia, the baby name London felt just distinctive enough.
VIBRANT PLACE NAME POSSIBILITY
The baby name London benefits from a certain easy cool. It’s tailored and modern, but drenched in history at the same time.
The baby name Londyn – London with a Y – trended, too.
As of 2022, just over 1,000 girls and more than 200 boys received the name. It’s falling for both genders, but remains an appealing place name possibility.
In late 2023, Paris Hilton welcomed her daughter. For years, she’d promised to name a future daughter London. Sure enough, she and husband Carter Reum did just that. London joined brother Phoenix.
Could that signal new life for this city’s name? It’s too soon to say, but London can always surprise.
Would you consider the baby name London? Do you like it better for a boy or a girl?
First published on July 16, 2012, this post was revised on August 3, 2020 and again on November 29, 2023.