But then there are the daring boy names starting with I, from Shakespeare’s Iago to Elba’s Idris.
Is there any middle ground?
Maybe. A saintly classic and some vintage options round out the list, too. But I ranks just eighteenth out of the twenty-six letters of the alphabet in terms of popularity. In terms of vowels, it bests only the letter U. So it’s no surprise that we go from familiar favorites to I’ve-never-heard-that-in-real-life pretty quickly.
Let’s look at all of the possibilities, from the Top 100 to the downright rare.
BOY NAMES STARTING WITH I IN THE US TOP 1000
When it comes to I names, Isaac is the leader of the pack. This Old Testament favorite comes with a delightful meaning: he will laugh. Many names mean joy or happiness, but few names are so directly tied to laughter.
Another of several Biblical baby boy names on this list, Isaiah also benefits from the ending -a sound, shared with Elijah and Luca and more. The simplified Isiah is sometimes seen, too, but is far less common.
Brief and complete, this Scottish spin on John entered in the US Top 1000 in the 1930s. It’s been in the Top 100 since the 1980s, making it a modern staple.
The Slavic form of John, Ivan is the name of many a fictional Russian. That great middle V might make Ivan more appealing in our Everett-Levi age.
A deeply significant place name, Israel started out as a personal name. It has ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since data was first collected in 1880.
Ishmael is a Biblical name and the unforgettable narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Drop the ‘h’ and Ismael is the slimmed-down version, used in Spanish. It’s occasionally spelled Ismail, too.
A Basque name, Iker sounds a little like so many r-ending favorites for our sons. Recently retired footballer Iker Casillas put his name in the spotlight.
The Arabic take on Abraham.
Another form of Isaiah, with that stylish -s ending. Simplified spelling Isais is also occasionally used.
A high-Scrabble-value tweak to Isaiah. It makes the nickname Izzy seem just a little more logical, too.
A slightly different spelling of Isaac. You might also see Isac, Izaak, Isak, or Isaak.
Actor Idris Elba makes his distinctive name instantly familiar. It’s the name of a prophet in the Quran, but also a Welsh name with separate roots.
An Old Testament name meaning watchful, Ira enjoyed a a burst of popularity as Protestant families rediscovered Biblical picks. It’s been neglected in recent decades, but could follow Ezra and Asa up the charts.
A Sanskrit name with an on-trend sound.
The Spanish form of fiery – and rarer – Ignatius.
In Arabic tradition, this is the name of Mary’s father. (The New Testament calls him Joachim.)
Ivan with an extra A.
UNCOMMON BOY NAMES BEGINNING WITH I
A Welsh king and a Shakespearean villain. Disney borrowed the name for a bad bird in Aladdin. But Iago is ultimately just another form of the evergreen James.
A mythological name tied to a tragedy. Icarus and his father escaped imprisonment on wings they made themselves. But when Icarus flew too close to the sun, the wax on his wings melted. The sad story likely explains why the name feels rare, but I like Seth Godin’s additions to the tale – and they might make the name more wearable.
A rare Old Testament name, Ichabod brings to mind The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
The Roman family name takes its spelling from ignis – fire, in Latin. Several saints answer to Ignatius, including the founder of the Jesuits religious order. Other forms include Ignace and Ignazio, to name just two.
A Slavic take on a Norse name, ultimately derived fro Yngvi, an ancient Germanic god.
A mini name in the key of Max and Gus. Former president Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower lends it something of a midcentury vibe.
A Hebrew name meaning tree.
It might be a Hebrew name meaning strength – though today, it’s most popular in the Netherlands, so other origins are possible.
The slimmed-down Hungarian take on Germanic Ermenirch or Emmerich.
As in Jones. The movies tell us that the intrepid explorer’s given name is Henry Walton, but the world knows Dr. Jones as Indiana – or Indy. It’s a place name that works as a given name for lots of reasons.
Cool and breezy Indio is the town that hosts Coachella. Robert Downey Jr. gave the name to a son back in 1993.
It sounds like a surname – and today, it probably is. But Ingram’s roots are found with a Germanic given name, brought to England by the Normans.
INNES and INNIS
A Scottish name, often used as a an Anglicized form of Angus.
Jewish families often adopted Irving as an English name, substituting for Isaac or, in the case of songwriter Irving Berlin, Israel. The name peaked in the 1910s and feels rare today. Some of the most famous bearers have it as a surname (hoop star Kyrie Irving) or don’t seem like Irvings at all. Actor Ving Rhames is actually Irving.
Homer’s Iliad gives us a character called Isandros. Isandro is the romantic Spanish-language form.
ISADORE, ISIDOR, ISIDORE
It means “gift of Isis,” as in the Egyptian goddess. A sixth-century Christian saint answered to the name, but in practice, it’s been most common amongst Jewish families. Isidor Straus co-founded the department store Macy’s and famously lost his life aboard the Titanic.
Another Old Testament name, Isaachar is one of Jacob’s twelve sons. The name carries the poetic meaning “there is reward.”
A Biblical name meaning “with me,” Itai has been well-used in modern Israel.
IVAR, IVER, and IVOR
An Old Norse name with multiple spellings, Ivar comes from a word meaning “yew tree” and a second meaning “warrior.”
Cousin to Yves and similar names, Ivo comes from the element iv, referring to the yew tree. Iven is a related name.
What are your favorite boy names starting with I? What would you add to this list?
Originally published on March 8, 2021, this post was updated on November 29, 2021; January 23, 2023; and September 25, 2023.