He’s a chart topper in Buenos Aires, and he graces the map throughout the Spanish-speaking world.

Thanks to Kristine for suggesting the dashing Santiago as Baby Name of the Day.

It’s almost unbelievable that the elaborate Santiago is just another variant of the evergreen James. But while there’s more to his story, Santiago’s roots are with the saintly, enduring given name.

James may have morphed more than any name in history. Other variants covered at Appellation Mountain include:

  • Diego
  • Giacomo
  • Jago

The last two are rare in the US, but the Spanish variants are on the uptick. Diego appears in the US Top 100. Santiago has fared better than you might guess – he’s charted in the US Top 1000 most years since 1880, every year since 1906, and currently stands at #130. In 2009, he made it into the Top 100 of Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and California.

The Hebrew Yaaqov is the original form. It’s no mystery how we arrived at Jacob and the Latin Iacobus. Iago evolved from the Latin.

Remember Sinjin, a mash-up of St. John sometimes given as a personal name? Saint Iago became Santiago. Split the name in a different place and you get Tiago, Diago, and Diego.

It’s not just a case of an influential saint’s name being translated into other languages, either. St. James was one of the Twelve Apostles, and his remains are said to rest in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. He’s patron saint to the nation, and for more than a thousand years, pilgrims have trekked the Way of St. James. There’s some evidence that the pilgrims were following an even older route. This fall, a new indie flick featuring Emilio Estevez centers on the pilgrimage route.

Despite the addition of the saintly prefix, Santiago was considered the equivalent of the James-names by the eighteenth century, when a French officer in Spanish military service, Jacques de Liniers, became known as Santiago de Liniers. He was a hero in his day, defending Buenos Aires from a British invasion.

Santiago also features in a trio of influential novels:

  • Ernest Hemingway’s final novel, the Pulitzer-prize winning The Old Man and the Sea, was set in Cuba. The fisherman – Hemingway’s determined Old Man – was named Santiago;
  • The immortal cast of Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles includes Santiago;
  • Then came Paulo Coelho’s 1988 international best seller, The Alchemist. Originally written in Portuguese, the new classic follows a shepherd named Santiago as he sets off on a vision quest to Egypt. Several attempts to adapt the book for the big screen have failed, but there’s another effort underway.

Notable Santiagos are many, but most hail from Spain or South America. Along with athletes and actors, there’s architect Santiago Calatrava and the early twentieth-century activist and Congressman Santiago Iglesias, from Puerto Rico.

But just like it might be a smidge off to name a non-Jewish daughter Shoshana, Santiago might be quite daring if you can’t claim Spanish descent. Maybe it’s not unthinkable – it is a place name found on three continents – but it would be unexpected. If boys can be Orlando and Romeo, why not Santiago?

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. I don’t understand why this name is considered Argentinian instead of Chilean. My friend, who married a Chilean, named their 2-year-old Santiago, which made sense to me, since it’s the capital of Chile. But apparently the Argentinians have appropriated it.

    1. I’m not sure I can explain that, Claire – you’re right, of course, about the capital. But I think the saintly connections make Santiago current no matter where you live.

  2. I love this name! I wish I had the heritage to pull it off. I grew up in Michigan and my younger brother had a friend named Santiago who is half Argentinian and half Anglo. Everyone called him Santi but I don’t know if he still goes by that. I do remember his little sister’s name is Carmen. Anyway, great name, great history!

  3. This is my younger brother’s name – so strange seeing it on your website! Anyway, without the obvious bias, I like this name because it is not the “typical Spanish name” you tend to hear, like Juan, Jose, Antonio, Angel, etc. It has a little more flair.
    I never realized it was so exclusively Argentinian, I thought of it more as Spanish (from Spain). But then again, we are Argentinian.
    Anyway, great name of the day! You should do my name (Mercedes) next! 😉

  4. It has become really popular in Portugal over the past few years, but it was almost unheard of here previously. It probably has something to do with all the 30/20-year-old Tiago’s who started having babies!

    That being said, it’s a nice name. It reminds me of Santiago de Compostela, which is a lovely Galician city.

  5. There were two naughty little Santiagos in my daughter’s kindergarten class, one an ice-blond, brown-eyed Argentine boy and his partner in crime, a Mexican boy with flaming red hair, blue eyes and freckles. The other Santiago I know is an adorable Venezuelan toddler. The name is very popular in Argentina but I’m hearing it more and more here in Mexico City. The Venezuelan boy, for instance, was born here to expat parents.

  6. I think Santiago is a great name. If I had the heritage to pull it off I’d definitely use it.

  7. I like Santiago, but don’t love it. I know a few – all are Argentinian, so the name says “Argentina” to me. (This is in contrast to names like Diego and Fernando and the like – I know several and many are Argentinian, but I also know non-Argentinian Diegos and Fernandos – I’m sure it is just random that I have yet to meet a non-Argentinian Santiago, but as it happens, it says Argentina to me almost as loudly as Evita.)

    1. This is just a hypothesis, but there was a consonant shift from b to m at one point within Latinate languages, if memory serves… so Ya’akov (Hebrew) -> Iacobus (Latin) -> Iacomus (Latin/Latinate). From there, it’s not hard to imagine the c being dropped in between the two like vowels (~Iamus) and the English J in place for the Latinate I (acquired via French) leads to (Jamus or James).

      1. It’s so funny Santiago was today, and you left that comment! Behindthename just informed me yesterday that Jacques is the French form of James (via Jacob), not John as I had originally assumed. Who’d’ve thunk it?

        1. M, I thought that for a long time, too – except that Jean is the French John. Still, I think if you were an American kid called Jack and you took French in high school, you’d be called Jacques. (Or would you? Anyone take French with a teacher who translated names faithfully?)

          The James-names really are amazing for how much they changed over the years. I can think of at least one family with sons called Jacob and James, and no one seems troubled by the similarity.

      2. I’m no francophone, but Frere Jacques is traditionally translated to English as “brother John”, and wikipedia claims that a more accurate translation would read “brother Jack”: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fr%C3%A8re_Jacques.

        Since I don’t know anyone named Santiago but have visited Chile, the first thing I think of when I hear this name is the city.

      3. I’m not 100% on this case, but it’s rare to find a song which is actually translated verbatim… more often than not to keep the lyrics feeling musical and to match the original rhyme things get shifted and changed, and generally lost in translation. (The same happens to novels, some translators go for a exact text while others try to maintain the feel of the work.)