Thanks to Marie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
WAYLAND the SMITH
In German and Old Norse legends, Wayland – or Völundr, in Norse – was a talented smith, held captive by a king.
He appears across European cultures and languages, including Old English – in fact, he’s mentioned in Beowulf, as the one who crafted his chain mail. Some stories give a sword fashioned by Völundr to the wizard Merlin.
His story was oft-told in the early Middle Ages.
And what a story it is! Born a prince, Völundr was captured by a cruel king, and forced to toil as a blacksmith. His belongings were stolen and given to the cruel king’s children instead.
But he had his revenge.
The kings’ sons came to visit him in secret, and Völundr attacked. He turned their bones into goblets and brooches, and sent the gifts to the remaining members of the royal family.
And that was just the beginning.
Many versions of his tale credit the smith with more than creativity and skill, adding supernatural powers, too. He escapes using wings, or possibly a cloak made of feathers, that he fashions himself and uses to fly to freedom.
WAYLAND the SURNAME
Plenty of old school mythological names endure, but how did the mythological Scandinavian Wayland evolve?
Beginning with Völundr, the name became Weland or Wieland or Weiland in German. Sometimes the meaning is given as battle; it’s also possible that the first syllable means “craft” which seems fitting.
It eventually filtered into use as a place-name; there’s a Wayland in Norfolk. And it’s also a surname.
It’s also possible that the name is more literal, meaning “wayside land” – the side of the road.
But none of this explains how it made the leap to the US popularity rankings.
WAYLAND to WAYLON
Just like many surnames, Wayland sometimes was given as a first, likely to pass down a mother’s maiden name or honor a family member or notable figure.
Wayland ranked in the US Top 1000 a handful of times from the 1880s into the early 1950s.
And it continued in use as a surname, too.
One of those Waylands changes everything – but it’s not the one you might guess.
In 1937, on a Texas farm, Lorene and William Jennings welcomed a son. They named him Wayland.
Not long after, a Baptist preacher visited the family and assumed they’d named their son for Wayland Baptist University in nearby Plainview, Texas.
Founded by James Henry Wayland, the school did not influence Lorene in any way. In fact, she disliked the idea so much that she changed her son’s name from Wayland to Waylon.
And that’s where the baby name Waylon’s story begins.
There were boys named Waylon before country singer Waylon Jennings became a household name.
But not many.
Jennings left school while still a teenager to pursue music. Buddy Holly discovered him. (In fact, Jennings gave up his seat on Holly’s ill-fated flight at the last minute.)
By the 1970s, he’d found his sound – and pioneered Outlaw Country.
From the 1960s into the 1990s, the musician recorded nearly 100 singles that charted on the Billboard Hot Country 100, including sixteen number ones. Among his many honors is a place in the Country Music Hall of Fame.
SHOOTER and BLACKJACK
Waylon Jennings named a son Waylon in 1979 – but they decided to call him Shooter. He’s also pursued a career in music.
And in 2020, Shooter and then-girlfriend Drea de Matteo named their son Waylon Jennings. The third generation answers to Blackjack.
BY the NUMBERS
As Jennings scored hit after hit, the popularity of the name Waylon steadily increased.
In fact, the name’s debut in the US Top 1000 took place way back in 1968 – just as he’d started to release Top Ten hits.
Usage grew, from #828 in 1968 to #419 in 1980, near the peak of his career. If you think you haven’t heard a Waylon Jennings song, think again. Among other widely replayed hits, he recorded “Good Ol’ Boys,” better known as the theme song to (now problematic) 1980s television staple The Dukes of Hazzard.
But then the name started to slide, teetering on the edge of the US Top 1000 during the ’90s. Maybe it was just changing styles. Or maybe the popularity of animated juggernaut The Simpsons changed the name’s image. Mr. Burns’ loyal personal assistant is Mr. Smithers – Mr. Waylon Smithers.
TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY FAVORITE
But then something happened.
Country music singer Waylon Jennings experienced a rediscovery. He appeared on episodes of Family Guy. A live performance was held in Chicago in June of 2001.
And then, in 2002, Jennings passed away at the age of 64.
That year, the baby name Waylon returned to the Top 1000 with a popularity rank of #759.
A wave of Southern-style boy names rose in the early twenty-first century. Place names like Austin and Dallas; pop culture figures like Walker and Gage; hunting-inspired choices like Remington and Gatlin.
Even parents who aren’t particularly Southern sometimes embrace the rugged vibe and handsome style.
Waylon seems to fit with this trend neatly, a logical choice for a baby boy in an age of Wyatt, Wilder, and Wells.
It also matches up with our love of rock star names, like Hendrix, Bowie, Lennon, Cash, and Jagger.
As of 2021, the baby name Waylon ranked #69. Variant spellings like Waylan, Waylen, and Weylan are sometimes seen, too.
The baby name Waylon takes all the old world myth and legend, dusts on some Southern charm, and emerges as a twenty-first century favorite.