Nederlands: Nico Buwalda
Nico Buwalda; Image via Wikipedia

Today’s pick is a fascinating gender neutral name with a certain sparky, international vibe.

Thanks to Findley for suggesting Nico as our Baby Name of the Day.

Originally, Nico is a Dutch version of Nicholas. Or maybe he’s related to Nicodemus, a separate name with the same meaning, or Dominic, a saintly appellation. Regardless, Nico is a logical short form of any name containing the nic sound – as is Nick or Nicky – and he’s also heard in German, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and other European languages.

Nicholas was a wildly popular fourth century saint whose name has seen steady use over the years. Royals and popes have answered to the name.

There are bunches of early 20th century Nicos, guys like Nico Buwalda, the Dutch footballer pictured above, or Italian crooner Nico Fidenco. Over the course of the twentieth century, we find more and more Nicos.

Some of it may simply be better recording of personal biographies. That’s how we know, for example, that youngest Llewelyn-Davies brother Nicholas answered to Nico. (Along with George, John, Peter, and Michael, the brothers and their family were friends of J.M. Barrie, and the inspiration for Peter Pan.)

Llewelyn-Davis is the first English Nico I find. But then, despite Nicholas’ steady use, he wasn’t wildly popular in English until recent decades. In 1900, Nicholas ranked #200. Feminine form Nicole is even more of a new arrival. She first appears in the US Top 1000 in 1942, and stayed at the fringes until the 1960s.

All of the Nick names were on top of the world in the 1980s. In the midst of this, in 1988, Nico debuted as a boys’ name. He reached #591 in 2010.

Nico in La Dolce Vita; Image via Wikipedia

Nico has never charted as a girls’ name, and was given to just 39 girls last year. But she has had some use for girls, thanks to a German singer. Born Christa Päffgen, the lingering rumor is that her stage name was borrowed from Greek director Nikos Papatakis, also nicknamed Nico.

In recent years, Nico has been catching on :

  • Actress Thandie Newton has daughters called Ripley and Nico, and Nico is said to be named after singer.
  • Coldplay’s Guy Berryman has a daughter called Nico, as does the lead singer of Blind Melon, the late Shannon Hoon.
  • Short-lived television series Lipstick Jungle included a character named Nico, a high-powered magazine editor.
  • Then there’s singer-songwriter Neko Case. It appears to be her given name.

In Germany and Austria, Nico is big for boys, and it is also the name of a male character in the Percy Jackson series.

Call it one of the true gender neutral choices for this generation. If you want to play it safe, put a more conventional Nic- name on your child’s birth certificate. But this stylish diminutive can stand on its own, for a son or a daughter.

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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  1. The name NICO was introduced in 1979 THROUGH 1989 by a Internationally Famous Child Singer, who was the first Elvis Presley Imitator. His name is Nico Princely. He had a record on Bill Board called Love as Good as Gold. STORIES EMERGED INTERNATIONALLY magazines, Enquirer and show biz Variety etc. As a child, he did not want to continue in show biz, so his parents did not encourage it. NICO PRINCELY was the first public introduction of the name NICO, which is derived from NICOLAS, A GREEK, ITALIAN FAMILY NAME.

    1. Hi, Informer – that’s interesting, and Nico may have helped boost the name. But it was already in use in the US as a formal given name as early as 1960. So there’s an awful lot to the story of Nico. Thanks for adding another piece!

  2. I’m a big fan of the musician nico, so only ever known it as a female name. I love it as a female name!

  3. Im a guy and i have a unisex name. My middle name
    Is nichole. Has anyone else met a guy named nichole?

  4. Nico’s great — I prefer it to any of the longer forms. I’m also torn on the “C” vs. “K” debate — it just depends on the name it’s paired with. It helps that every Nico/Niko I’ve ever met has been totally adorable.

  5. I’m just inferring this from conversations with older Germans about ambiguous names, so take this with a grain of salt. Germany requires gender-specific names, so I’m guessing the singer started using the gender bending name because of her nihilist/avant-garde persona. It’s a bit like Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, a name meant to be shocking.

    I really like Nicolai, nicknamed Nico. It’s very charming.

  6. I’m so excited that you featured Nico today! We will be bringing our adopted son Nikolai, whom we are calling Niko, home from Bulgaria in about two weeks. Reading all about his name today brought a smile to my face 🙂 I have never been a huge fan of the Nic- names to be honest, but I first came across Nico on a baby name message board about six years ago, and it has really grown on my since then. When we learned our son’s name, we wanted both to keep it as is (since he is nearly six and his name is already such a part of him), and also to give him a spunky nickname that would fit with the style of our girls’ names. Niko fit the bill perfectly. I wrestled (lengthily!) with the c vs. k issue, but ultimately we landed on the side of preserving the integrity of the name as it is spelled in cyrrilic (now to teach him that his name no longer starts with “H”…)

    1. Oh Jodi – congratulations! How wonderful for you and your family. And oh my goodness, a boy with five sisters! That sounds just fabulous.

    2. Congratulations Jodi!! And I love Niko for Nikolai, it really does fit with your daughters names 🙂