Thanks to Taylor for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Wolf comes directly from the Old English word wulf. In Latin, the animal is lupus.
Wolves have long been feared by villagers and chased off by farmers. They’re the villains of fairy tales and folk stories, from The Three Little Pigs to Peter and the Wolf to The Boy Who Cried … well, you get the idea.
They figure prominently in legend and myth. Romulus and Remus, the future founders of Rome, were raised by a she-wolf. The Norse god Odin kept two as pets, and Loki’s son Fenrir was a monstrous one. In some cultures, they’re destruction on four legs. In others, their fearlessness is admired.
Christianity sometimes equates wolves with the devil, but Saint Francis tamed one in an Italian village.
And then there are the werewolves, a concept dating to the 1400s and continuing right through Twilight and True Blood.
Fierce creatures often influence personal names, because we appreciate their strength and courage.
Just like there are plenty of Leo names inspired by lions, we can find names like Wolfgang, Cynewulf, Ranulf, and Beowulf over the centuries.
Surnames like Lowell and Lovett also refer to the animal, too.
The Hebrew name Ze’ev or Zev is yet another wolf name, and has seen some use in modern Israel.
It appears that Wolf started out as a nickname at least some of the time. This twelfth-century family tree includes men answering to Lupellus – little wolf – and Lupus as well as the surname de Lovel.
MOZART and GOETHE
Wolfgang is probably the most familiar form of the name, thanks to notables like legendary composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and influential writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.
The first element refers to the animal; gang means path or way.
Long before Mozart and Goethe lived, Wolfgang of Regensburg was a tenth century saint. He served as a bishop; evangelized the Hungarians; and eventually ended his life as a hermit. His influence spread throughout the region, with many places named in his honor, and the name remaining in use across the generations.
No surprise, then, that Wolfgang is used in small numbers in the US as far back as 1929. Doubtless German immigrants sometimes brought the name with them.
The baby name Wolf, though, was seldom used in the US. It debuts in the popularity data in 1912, with five births. But it’s not seen again until the year 1950, with another five births.
TWENTIETH CENTURY WOLF
What changed during the 1900s?
A few high-profile uses of the name might’ve helped.
First came author Jack London. It was his nickname, but more importantly, in his 1904 novel The Sea-Wolf, it’s the first name of Captain Larsen. (Though Larsen is no hero.)
London also bought land in California’s Sonoma Valley, and spent years building his dream home, Wolf House, only to see it burn to the ground before his family could move in. The ruins are part of Jack London State Historic Park.
CNN journalist Wolf Blitzer was born in Germany to Jewish Holocaust survivors. It’s a family name, shared with his grandfather. He’s been prominent since the 1990s, making the name feel more and more familiar.
The late guitarist Eddie Van Halen and his actress Valerie Bertinelli named their son after Amadeus. Wolfgang played bass for the band his dad co-founded for a dozen years.
The design-savvy Novogratz family of 9 used the name for their eldest and put it squarely on the style map, along with Tallulah, Bellamy, Breaker, Five, Holleder, and Major. Wolfgang Novogratz is now an up-and-coming actor.
Model turned designer and entrepreneur Kimora Lee named her youngest Wolfe in 2015.
LAST NAME FIRST
Wolf – along with variations like Wolfe, Woulfe, and Volk – are common surnames.
In many cases, they’re related to Wolfgang or other Wolf- names.
Sometimes they’re borrowed from the map, possibly from some of the places named in honor of Saint Wolfgang.
In any case, nearly any accessible surname sometimes inspires a given name, doubtless explain some of those babies named Wolf.
BY the NUMBERS
Animal names are having a moment, just like so many other nature names. Leo and Bear, Colt and Wren.
Wolf, too, is increasing in use. As of 2022:
- 97 new boys were named Wolf.
- Another 129 were named Wolfgang.
- The Wolfe spelling was given to 53 boys, an all-time high.
- Wulfric and Beowulf were also in use, with 11 Wulfrics and 7 Beowulfs born in 2022.
The baby name Wolf is a study in contrasts.
It’s fierce and aggressive. But famous figures, from the saint to the composer to the writer, all make it feel traditional, serious, intellectual, even.
Combined with our love of nature names and other animal-related choices, the baby name Wolf reads more like an undiscovered gem than a wild whim.
What do you think of the baby name Wolf?
Originally published on November 11, 2010, this post was substantially revised and re-posted on May 11, 2015 and again on January 21, 2024.