My three year old daughter is pirate-obsessed and still too young for Jack Sparrow, and so I’ve discovered a curious thing: the boy king of Neverland isn’t called Peter these days.
He’s Jake, leader of a band of kid pirates including a stout pal called Cubby and an adequately brave girl named Izzy, presumably short for Isabella.
I don’t quarrel with the Disney Channel’s reboot of J.M. Barrie’s imaginary world. They haven’t actually banished Peter. He’s just taken a back seat, sending occasional missives to Jake and his crew.
Classic is a slippery word, one that I don’t much trust. Message boards are chock full of comments like “We like classic names like Evelyn and Liam.” Those are great names, names with a long history of use, but I don’t know if classic applies. So often “classic” feels interchangeably used with the word “good.”
But then again, if a name is falling out of use, does it still wear the mantle? Take Lawrence. Long a Top 100 pick, he’s now sliding out of the Top 500. Is he as enduring as James, and destined for a comeback? How about Herman? I find Wallace dashing, but it has been nearly two decades since he was given to more than a few dozen boys.
So which are the names that might qualify as modern classics? Names that may not have been consistently in use throughout the twentieth century, but are clearly bona fide appellations, with history behind them. You almost certainly know a boy by every one of these names, or you will … and you may very well know a few grown men who answer to these names, too.
Here are my nominations for the Ten Late 20th/Early 21st century Boys’ Modern Classics – names that became popular in recent decades, but that we’ll still be hearing when our grandchildren are born.
Aidan – Or should this be Aiden? Much like Kaitlyn eclipsed Caitlin, the -en ending is currently more popular than the more authentically Irish Aidan. While I do think the rhymes with -aiden craze is likely to (please do let it!) fade, I suspect that the original form will stick around for a few generations. If you can get past our modern tendency to invent tortured appellations like Zaidhyn, then Aidan remains a handsome heritage pick, with mythological and saintly roots. Just like 1970s smash Brian remains a common name, I suspect we’ll eventually see Aidan in the same light.
Ryan – If I believe we’ll someday embrace Aidan as a classic, some parents already feel that way about Ryan. I’ve heard him described as a great, solid name for a boy – and since he’s been in the Top 100 since 1971, I think that’s a safe description. We’re already meeting boys called Ryan, Jr. or named after an uncle. We’ll probably meet boys called Ryan after their grandfathers and great-grandfathers, too.
Jacob – The Biblical patriarch contains the friendly, all-boy Jake. He’s dominated the #1 spot since 1999 and in the Top Ten since 1993. Dwight, Lester, Herbert, and Gene were all more popular in the 1960s. Jacob will eventually cede the #1 position, but I suspect we’ll be hearing little boys called Jake well into the 2050s.
Ethan – Another Old Testament appellation at home in the Colonial era, Ethan still manages to feel modern and vibrant. He only appeared in the US Top 1000 beginning in the 1950s, and while he’s slipping today, I suspect he’ll occupy some of the spaces vacated by Barry and Vernon.
Zachary – Parents do like the letter Z, but there’s nothing forced about Zachary. He appeals to parents seeking that elusive normal name, a name that isn’t as obviously Biblical as Isaiah or Elijah, that feels modern without being nouveau. It’s tough to pigeonhole the parents of a Zachary, and he wears incredibly well on an adult, too. Spell the short form Zac, Zack or Zach – it remains a great, masculine name, one that we might even group with William and David in another generation or two.
Cole – He may be derived from the same roots as coal, making him an elemental, color name, or he might relate to the enduring Nicholas. As single syllable boys’ names venture into ever-more adventurous territory – Kael, Crew, or Krish, anyone? – Cole starts to feel as lasting as Mark. He’s an all-guy name that will probably last longer than the soap opera-esque Chance and Chase. Another one that could fit into this category? The Irish Finn.
Max – Two syllable, ends-in-n names have been trending for decades. I suspect single-syllable boys’ names will do the same. Max is different from Cole and Finn – he’s a retro revival, never out of the US rankings. Thanks to an abundance of long forms, he’s tough to pin down, too. How many of those little guys get Maxwell or Maximus on their birth certificates, but are always called just plain Max? A similar name is Jack – though it is Max that I expect to find in the US Top Ten in a few more years.
Jordan – He’s the perfect example of how a once-rare name becomes a pop culture sensation before settling into a nice, comfortable middle place. Jordan’s long history of use relates to the river in the Holy Land. His current status has more to do with basketball’s living legend Michael Jordan. The phenom’s surname met up with popular boy choices like Jason and Justin, and started rising before MJ finished college. Jordan has been in the US Top 100 since 1982, establishing himself as a modern staple, and ushering in a whole generation of surname names for boys.
Liam – Is Liam a classic? William, worn by saints, kings, artists, philosophers, writers, politicians, and athletes, clearly earns the title. But Liam, the Irish short form, is a relative newcomer in the US. Still, there’s something about Irish names for boys. They’re solid – and they dominate this list of new classics, perhaps because we neglected them for too long. Other names that could fit? Colin, a slightly more refined version of Cole, and diminutive form of Nicholas. There’s also Leo, a name that shares Liam’s first syllable before heading in a different direction.
Dylan – One of the tests for a new classic is whether it can endure a pop culture surge. Dylan – a name borrowed from Welsh myth by a poet, and then by a poetic songwriter – has weathered the perfect pop culture storm with grace. Boosted by Beverly Hills, 90210, the name continued to gain after oldest-teenager-ever Luke Perry left the show. Today he’s more likely to evoke Bob Dylan or Dylan Thomas than the former heartthrob. Or maybe none of the above. Dylan has been in the US Top 100 since 1990, establishing himself as a thoroughly normal, reliable name for a boy.
Do you agree that these names will someday sound as ordinary as Bill and Bob do now? Are there others that you’d include on this list? And do you agree that Aiden/Aidan will hold on longer after the trend fades?