Name Help: Boy names honoring NeilName Help is a series at Appellation Mountain. Every week, one reader’s name questions will be discussed.

We’re relying on thoughtful comments from the community to help expectant parents narrow down their name decisions. Thank you in advance for sharing your insight!

Alex writes:

I’ve been a longtime lurker and now need name help from you and the community.

With Baby #1, we knew exactly which name to choose. Baby #2’s name, on the other hand, has been more difficult to agree on, and we’re considering the name Nile.

Perhaps best known in Iowa for Heisman Trophy winner Nile Kinnick. The name Nile is unusual and recalls the world’s longest river.

Most importantly, though, Nile could help us honor a family member named Neil. That said, are there any other boys names that could help us remember the legacy of the Neil in our lives?

Please read on for my response, and leave your thoughtful suggestions in the comments.

Dear Alex –

Congratulations on your new baby!

First off: I straight up love Nile. It’s unexpected, but not in a wait-what-where-they-thinking kind of way. And you can always shrug off questions by saying, “Oh, it’s a family name.” Even if it’s a clever twist on a family name … which you can explain if you want to. Or not.

And it’s not just related to Neil because it shares the same four letters. Niles – the surname – comes from Neil. So you’re on comfortable ground.

Besides the athlete, there’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Nile Rogers. You’ve heard his songs, either from disco-era legends Chic, or his later work as a Grammy-winning producer supporting artists from David Bowie to Lady Gaga.

So Nile? Works.

You might also consider:

Niles – Add the ‘s’ and it’s a surname name, closer in sound to Miles – perhaps confusingly so.

Niall – The Gaelic form of the name, often pronounced with two syllables in the US, closer to Kyle or Lyle. (Hear Ryan Seacrest say it here.)

Nigel – Through a series of whisper-down-the-alley, Neil became Nigel in medieval English. It’s a little bit out-there for an American boy in 2019, but there’s much to be said for considering such grandpa names.

Nelson – Yet another surname derived from Neil, made famous by world-changing activist Mandela. And The Simpsons.

There’s Cornelius, of course. But Nile feels spare and modern; Cornelius, elaborate and vintage. I’m guessing the latter isn’t your style.

As for choosing names that share Neil’s meaning: champion? There’s Victor, of course, and Nicholas.

And I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest simply using Neil. I’ve met a toddler with the name, and I’m surprised by how fresh it feels on a child today.

Your other options, of course, involve brainstorming things about your loved one – favorite colors or songs, middle names and nicknames and such.

But overall, I find Nile pretty much unbeatable. 58 boys (and 14 girls) received the name in 2017. That makes it rare, but far from unknown.

Readers, what would you suggest to honor a loved one named Neil? Creativity encouraged!

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Nike! I’m an Iowa Hawkeye so I’m admittedly bias by the hero who was Nile Kinnick. Also I think it has a very straightforward pronunciation which is a plus for me personally. If you like it, use it! If you live outside Iowa though, I think people will associate it with the river not Kinnick. If that’s cool with you, go for it!

    1. Thanks, Laura! My husband is from Iowa, so he’s a big fan of the name. Would the spelling “Niall” still work for a Hawkeye? 🙂

  2. I tend to think you should use the person’s real name if you are naming a child in his honor. I would just use Neil.

  3. Nile is a FANTASTIC name! As pointed out, the similar sound to Kyle or Lyle, which gives it foundation that helps people ‘know’ it while still retaining uniqueness. An anagram of Neil, it hits the mark on the honoring of the loved one. What are wonderful association with one of the most famous rivers in the world! But the river connection isn’t something that immediately comes to mind, either. Maybe there is a future sister, Alexandria, as a possibility in the future?

  4. What about Neilson or Neilsen? I agree with Abby that Nile is a cool name that is spare and has a great vibe to it. My only hesitation with Nile is in some areas it’s pronunciation could come close to nail. Depending on whom you are honoring, Neilson maybe a very appropriate alternative.

  5. I’ve heard Niles pronounced with a long e sound (instead of a long i), so that’s another option.

    I’ve also heard of Nils pronounced with a long e or short e sound.