A popular name can be cool, classic, novel, even edgy.
Especially for our sons, classics have always played a role in the Top 100 boy names. But that’s changing in recent generations, with evergreen picks like Joseph and John falling while new possibilities catch on.
And while some of those names start out surprising, many mellow into enduring favorites. After all, today’s dad and grandpa names – think Eric, Brandon, Bryan, or Scott – were once the white hot favorites of an earlier generation.
Of course, names only make it to the top of the popularity charts if they’re truly great names, with broad appeal and plenty of positive associations.
It’s also worth noting that in our age of more and more diversity, the odds that any child will share a name – even the very most popular choices – continue to shrink. Seeing your top choice on this list doesn’t mean you should avoid it! In fact, the opposite might be true.
A NOTE ON FORMER FAVORITES
When it comes to the most popular names, boys’ favorites tend to cycle in and out of favor more slowly. Trending names often rise and stay awhile. Sometimes that reflects a greater tendency to choose honor names for our sons. It also reflects parents’ tendency to be slightly less open to risk when naming a boy.
A wide range of names feels like it still fits with the US Top 100 – Evan, Kyle, Zachary, Adam, Justin, and Jeremy all spent ages near the top of the charts.
But boys’ names are subject to trends, and even the most popular baby names almost always fall in use – eventually.
TOP 100 BOY NAMES as of MAY 2023
COOLEST POPULAR BABY BOY NAMES
A Scandi take on Absalom, Axel just plain sounds cool. That would’ve been true even before 1987, when the world met Guns N’ Roses frontman Axl Rose. Both spellings – Axl and Axel – jumped in use in the years following the rock star’s rise to fame. But it’s Axel that has accelerated, becoming a go-to choice for our sons, one with plenty of edge. Another contributing factor? Our long-standing love of Alexander and Alex. It makes Axel feel like an update, rather than a completely novel choice.
A newcomer to the US Top 100, Beau leads a pack of similar-sounding names: Bodhi, Bodie, Boden, Bowen, Bowie, and just Bo. Like Axel, Beau has plenty of history. It’s borrowed from French surnames, like Beauregard and Beaumont, and means beautiful. The name’s first introduction in the US probably traces to the 1960s Western Gunsmoke, featuring Roger Moore as Beau Maverick. It’s taken some time for Beau to reach the mainstream, but now it feels like a stylish and unstoppable choice.
Rugged and polished at once, Brooks is at home hiking in the mountains or hitting the books. It’s a versatile choice, a surname name that brings to mind blue blazers and the natural world, all at the same time. And while it’s a thoroughly modern choice, Brooks doesn’t feel novel or invented. It’s a newcomer to the US Top 100, one fueled by all those many images, and yes, a sense of cool, too.
The middle V. The double T. Everett takes all the sounds we love, and wraps them up in a stylish surname-name with deep roots. It evolved from Everard, a Germanic name imported to England by the Normans. Like Everard, it shares the same meaning: brave boar. It’s a strong, stubborn meaning for a smooth, polished choice.
Ezra leans literary, thanks to Ezra Pound. But it’s also contemporary. 90s rock band Better than Ezra put it on this generation of parents’ radar, and now young actor Ezra Miller – of Fantastic Beasts and Justice League fame – is keeping it in the spotlight. With that razor-sharp ‘z’ and unconventional sound, Ezra seems quirky and cool. And even though it’s leapt into the US Top 100 for the first time ever in 2015, Ezra still feels distinctive.
It can seem like nearly every fictional man of action is called Jack. There’s Jack Sparrow and Jack Bauer, Jack Reacher and Jack Ryan. It’s the single-most popular male character name in movies. That’s nothing new, though – Jack has been jumping over candlesticks and climbing beanstalks in nursery rhymes and fairy tales for centuries. It’s a strong and straightforward name, the unbuttoned, tie-loosened cousin to the classic John. JFK makes the name feel cool; so does Jack Nicholson. No matter how popular this name becomes, Jack remains handsome, capable, and yes, cool.
A Hawaiian name meaning ocean, Kai feels effortlessly cool in just three letters. It sounds at home on a surfboard, but still complete enough for a formal name along the lines of Jack or Cole. Pop culture gave Kai a serious boost – it was one of the Lego Ninjago heroes, among other uses. But long before that, real-life athletes and other figures wore the name, including National Public Radio’s Kai Ryssdal. And, of course, it’s the boy from the Snow Queen fairytale, but Kai in the same category as Alice.
A cool take on classic Lucas and Luke, Luca’s a-ending takes this classic in a cool direction. It’s spelled with a k – Luka – in some languages. You might remember indie rock hit “Luka” from Suzanne Vega in 1987. But Luca succeeds for its effortlessly international vibe, a choice that feels at home in English, but travels well, too. Summer 2021’s Pixar adventure Luca boosted the name dramatically.
Once, Maverick was a lot to live up to. Inspired by Tom Cruise’s call sign in the blockbuster Top Gun and the long-awaited sequel, Maverick became a modern virtue name of sorts. In fact, it inspired an entire class of epic names for our sons – think Ace, Legend, and Blaze. Along the way, Maverick went from edgy and out-there to mainstream. But no question, a name with this much spirit is mainstream, Top 100 cool.
Miles Davis makes this name immediately, eternally cool. The jazz legend released The Birth of Cool in 1957, leaving no question that this name is forever tied to a certain kind of style. But like so many favorites that reach the US Top 100, Miles offers tons of history, too. It’s never the left the US Top 1000, and figures like Captain Myles Standish of the Plymouth Colony have appeared in history across the centuries.
Country music legend Waylon Jennings was born Wayland. But he made Waylon a household name in the 1970s and 80s. Considered a leader of Outlaw Country – a group of musicians whose sound broke away from traditional Nashville standards – Jennings was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001. The name owes some of its rise to our love of rock star names – think Hendrix and Lennon. But it also helps that we’re wild for that long A sound, shared with all of those Aiden names, plus Jaylen and Braylen.
CLASSIC POPULAR NAMES FOR BOYS
A Hebrew name with a long history of use, Benjamin is more popular than ever in the 2010s. Some of it might be about strong, straightforward nickname Ben, shared with names like Bennett, Bentley, and Benedict. Or maybe it’s just our love of longer, traditional favorites, like Sebastian and Alexander.
Regal and accomplished, Charles is the kind of name at home in any moment, in any field. Accessible nicknames like Charlie make this name endlessly versatile, too. (And if Charlie doesn’t suit, it’s easy to find something that will.)
Some names are classic. Some names are fashionable. Henry is both, and more. It offers as much as history as many names on this list, and was a Top Ten favorite back in the late nineteenth century. But by the 1980s and 90s, parents had cooled on Henry. It was all septuagenarian actor Henry Fonda, who won an Oscar in 1981 for On Golden Pond at the age of 76. But the name slowly crept back into use, embraced by a new generation of parents – celebrity and otherwise – eager to find something traditional, but less popular than 1980s chart-toppers Michael and Daniel. And thus the cycle began again.
One of the few boy names that has never really been out of favor – at least not since the US begin tracking popularity data in 1880, and probably not before that, either. James Madison was the fourth president of the United States; five presidents in total have answered to the name, which puts it ahead of John. And from the Bible to James Dean, James Earl Jones to LeBron James, it’s hard to even guess the most famous bearer of the name. One thing that has changed: an earlier generation of James often answered to Jim. Now they tend to use the name in full.
Like Beau and Ben, there’s an entire cluster of longer Leo names. But Leo, at just three letters, is the true classic. Worn by a fifth century pope, also known as Leo the Great, and countless other notables since, Leo has history galore. It comes from the Latin word for lion, making Leo a name both ancient and at home in the modern world with Bear and Fox. More boy names ending with O, like Hugo and Enzo, are also rising on the strength of Leo and company.
Matthew’s best days might be in the past, at least in terms of popularity. It ranked in the US Top Ten from 1972 all the way through 2007. And yet, this name is as classic as they come. There’s Matthew the Apostle from New Testament, and the doomed Matthew Crawley from Downton Abbey. Matt is a brisk, brief boy name in the key of Kai or Beau. But it’s also a buttoned-up choice, worn by men of accomplishment across the ages.
The archangel Michael is a figure everyone recognizes, religious or not. Likewise, you don’t have to be a basketball fan to know the name Michael Jordan. And while it dominated US popularity charts for generations, Michael was something of a newcomer in the 1920s and 30s – always in the rankings, but not in the Top Ten until the middle of the twentieth century. Call it the Theodore of the 1940s.
Like Benjamin, Oliver has never been more popular than it is today – though it previously appeared in the US Top 100 back in the 1880s and 1890s. At the turn of the twenty-first century, Oliver felt like a quirky classic – sure, there was Oliver Cromwell and Oliver Stone, but there wasn’t an Oliver in every kindergarten. Instead, this name started to rise as we embraced a new generation of longer, traditional, but somewhat unexpected favorites. It followed sister Olivia straight up the rankings.
The newest member of the US Top Ten, Theodore is evergreen. It’s a classic name worn by men of distinction across the ages – Roosevelt and Dresier, Roethke and Huxtable. Okay, that last one is fictional. But many future parents first heard Theo as the name of The Cosby Show’s only son, back in the day when the television family was our gold standard. The show couldn’t revive the fading classic, but decades later, a new generation of parents embraced Theodore and Theo as a fresh, unexpected classic.
We all know that the name belongs to a future king of England. (And one in the past, too.) Bill is your great-uncle, but Will has become a modern staple. Irish nickname Liam sits in the top spot in the US. But while Liam is very much a twenty-first century phenomenon, William is the quiet, solid favorite, a name at home in any age.
NEW TRADITIONAL BOY NAMES
We love all of those -r ending surnames, like Carter and Hunter. Asher fits that pattern, but it’s actually a Biblical boy. The Old Testament name means happy or blessed – a powerful, positive association. Despite all that history, it was seldom heard as a given name in the US until quite recently. Now that Ashley is a mom-name and Ashton is fading in use, too, Asher feels like the freshest, and yes, coolest of the options. Another bonus? Even though the name doesn’t come from the ash tree, the shared sound makes Asher feel like a brother or Rowan or Willow.
Ever since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off introduced the world to Cameron Frye in 1986, this Scottish surname has steadily climbed. A Top 100 favorite since 1987, Cameron has been a steady favorite for well over a generation. In that time, it’s transitioned from stylish newcomer to rock solid choice for a son. Friendly and accessible nickname Cam is a bonus.
Carter’s rise owes something to E.R.’s John Carter, who was always referred to by his surname. But since those days in the 1990s when a young Noah Wyle starred on the hit series, Carter has become the big brother to an entire generation of names. Wilder, Thatcher, Parker, Cooper, Colter, and more all owe quite a bit to early -er surname favorite Carter.
Bob Dylan borrowed his stage surname from poet Dylan Thomas; a generation of future mothers first associated in with 1990s heartthrob Dylan McKay on the original 90210. Since then, the name’s deep roots and appealing sound have cemented it in the US Top 100. Dylan remains cool – Bob ensures it – but also edges towards the classic lately. After all, with ties to Celtic legend and the sea, Dylan has roots as deep as many longer-used names.
Elijah and Elias are both more popular. But it’s Eli that feels like the modern classic. Brief and complete, it shares some of Leo’s appeal, as well as the sound and style of all those Eli- names.
First there was Jason. Then Mason. And now there’s Grayson. It’s a traditional surname choice, with multiple origins and meanings. But today it sounds distinguished and fresh – a combination that sets Grayson up to join names like Cameron in the US Top 100 for years.
Like many popular names, Julian has always appeared in the US Top 1000, but wasn’t especially popular. Not, in Julian’s case, until the twenty-first century when it entered the Top 100. Credit years of women named Julia and Julie, along with our interest in longer names for our sons. Julian is right at home with Sebastian and Oliver. And, of course, all of those J names help, too. Surely more than one Julian is younger brother to a Joshua, Jacob, or James.
We picture President Abraham Lincoln with a stern face and a stovepipe hat – not a whole lot of swagger. And yet, Lincoln feels cool. Some credit goes to short form Link, which takes this name to the video game empire of Zelda. Indie darlings They Might Be Giants released Lincoln way back in 1988. It’s named for both Lincoln, Nebraska and the duo’s Massachusetts hometown. We do love a place name. But maybe Lincoln’s cool factor goes back to Honest Abe and his leadership in tough times.
Owen isn’t new. In fact, this Welsh name has appeared in the US Top 1000 every year since the rankings were established in 1880. And yet, it’s never been more popular than it is today. Why? The bold letter O appeals to modern parents. Characters from Star Wars, Party of Five, and Grey’s Anatomy helped. But actor Owen Wilson probably deserves credit for the name’s spike in use. From comedies like Zoolander to Academy Award-nominated movies like The Royal Tenenbaums, Wilson has become a household name.
There’s something slightly Western about Wyatt, as in Earp. But it’s also a cool, unexpected sound. It owes something to Ty and more to -tt enders like Beckett and Everett. But the overall effect is distinctive. Few names sound anything like Wyatt. After many years of sparing use, Wyatt entered the US Top 100 in 2004 and has made itself comfortable.
BEST CHOICES JUST OUTSIDE THE TOP 100
A sharp and edgy name, Archer can suggest a military background, or simply one who achieves his goals.
A bright, o-ending favorite that just won’t quit.
The new Theodore.
There’s something gentle and homespun about Emmett, a surname name likely derived from Emma.
More proof that every classic name trends – long-time staple George bottomed out around 2004, but lately parents are reconsidering this solid citizen of a name.
The Italian take on John is Jack’s opposite – elaborate, flowing, dramatic. But it’s every bit as cool.
A gemstone name with history, Jasper feels both antique and modern.
Biblical Jonah could join favorites like Noah and Elijah near the top of the popularity charts.
A place name with regal ties, Kingston has soared since singer Gwen Stefani chose it for her firstborn in 2006.
Like Maverick, a bold word name. It’s one with a strong movie tie-in, too – Will Smiths’ post-apocalyptic I Am Legend.
Max names have had a good run, but brief and complete Max remains a minimalist name worth a second look. Unlike Jake or Joe, it feels complete as-in; a full, formal name in three letters. But it still has the casual cool of nicknames like Ozzy and Gus.
Miles ranks in the Top 100 boy names. O-ending cousin Milo isn’t far behind, a possible successor to Leo.
Gentle and powerful nature name River has gone from outlandish celebrity name to mainstream favorite.
Richly meaningful to people of faith and with a cool, edgy sound, Zion could easily catch on.