name help: traditional boy namesName 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!

Maggie writes:

My husband and I are expecting our first child in March and finding a name is proving more difficult than I’d anticipated.

We agree that we’d like a traditional name.

But my husband’s list is only the most popular classic names: John, David, John David(!!), James, Michael, Matthew, Robert, Joseph.

I’d like something in this style, but not so overused.

Names that I like but that are already used by family/close friends include Arthur, Charles/Charlie, Henry, Sam/Samuel, Theo/Theodore, and Will/William. My husband’s name is Nicholas, and we agree that we will not have a junior.

I’m not sure that any of those are really different enough, but I also know that my husband will not agree to something like Ambrose or Cedric.

Our last name sounds like Hiding-er and all of our children will have my last name, which sounds like Will-don, as their middle name.

We’d love any ideas that you might have.

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

Abby replies:

Congratulations on your new son!

I think I know exactly what you mean. There are classic names … and then there are classic names that we hear again and again and again. If you have a bigger family, or even just lots of friends with little ones, it can feel like every name that threads the needle between “traditional” and “uncommon” is spoken for already.

But let’s see if we can’t find some fresh ideas.

One note of caution: many of these are a little out of favor right now. Henry and Theo and Charlie might be classic, but they’re also white hot trending names. Sounds like a contradiction, right? But it happens all the time.

So the challenge might be to sit with these names, or others you’re considering, long enough to get past your initial reaction until you can consider them on their own merits.

Because really, that’s what will happen in the real world, too – people will hear you named your son Vincent or Peter or George and say, “Oh! You never hear that any more!”

Let’s get into the names!



Tony feels like a dad name. But Anthony, used in full? It’s dashing. A little bit surprising, too. My only hesitation is that it’s a longer first with a longer surname, which might encourage others to shorten it. Which is fine, expect that I think Anthony is most appealing when used in full. (The same is true for Gregory and Timothy.)

GEORGE (#142)

As classic as they come, a name that’s equally storied and regal and refreshingly down to earth. George slayed a dragon; he played guitar in the Beatles; he’s been president of the United States – twice. And yet it’s not a name heard often on boys now.

LOUIS (#246)

Louis carries the legacy of saints and kings, as well as all the jazz of Louis Armstrong. It’s clearly traditional, but nicely uncommon. A bonus? Like Charlie, it can easily be Louie. But at just two syllables, if you prefer it in full, that’s an option, too. And if you’d like to ensure the latter pronunciation, Lewis is another spelling to consider.

MALCOLM (#285)

A Scottish name with plenty of backstory, Malcolm travels from the pages of Shakespeare to twentieth century American history without missing a beat. It’s a surprisingly versatile name, rich with nickname options, but requiring no shortening.

PAUL (#262)

Like George, Paul is another brief and complete name that is seldom heard for boys born today. Notable Pauls are many, from the New Testament apostle to Paul Revere to Paul McCartney. As a bonus, Dune has brought Paul Atreides – played by Timothee Chalamet – back into the spotlight, making it familiar to a new generation.

PETER (#214)

A staple in children’s literature, Peter is never forgotten. But it left the US Top 100 after 1996 and hasn’t returned since. But it’s clearly an enduring classic, one that fits with so many R-ending favorites, like Carter and Parker.

SIMON (#242)

A smart, serious choice with an almost British sensibility, Simon feels like the kind of name we ought to hear often. And yet, despite the name’s pan-European appeal, Simon remains uncommon in the US. It’s a good substitute for popular staples like Ethan and Mason.

VINCENT (#123)

It’s the name of so many figures across time, from artist Vincent van Gogh to actors and athletes. Vince makes a terribly appealing nickname, one that feels at home with s-ending favorites like Brooks.

I can imagine any of these names working well, but I’ll pick Louis, Vincent, and Paul as my top three. Louis and Vincent hinge on their nickname/formal name status, I think, so if that’s an issue, then Paul would be my top pick.

Readers, over to you! What traditional but uncommon names would you suggest to Maggie and her husband for their first son?

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. I think it could be worth reconsidering your husband’s suggestion of John. Yes, it’s been widely used throughout history – but it’s currently at just about its lowest point – still popular, but at the stage where it feels surprising for a boy born today. It’s a faultless classic but feels a little different to Henry, James, Theodore etc which are more on trend right now.

    And I know you are surprised at the idea of John David! But I think it could actually work really nicely.

    Some other suggestions: Abraham, Adrian, Angus, Benedict, Bernard, Cameron, Colin*, Drew, Eric, Gideon, Gordon, Hugh, Joel, Lachlan, Leon, Percy, Rafael or Raphael, Terrence, Victor, Xavier

    *Colin is actually tradtionally a short form of Nicholas – you might like that as a more obscure connection to dad’s name, rather than having a junior.

  2. My favorites from the post above are: PAUL, ANTHONY and MALCOLM – surprisingly in that order.

    Other names that struck me as traditional yet not in excessive use and potentially “so-out-they-could-be-in-again-soon” are:

    + EDWARD — In full, it sounds serious but has the approachable nickname: “Eddie”.
    + GRAHAM — Straightforward, cozy and tailored.
    + DOUGLAS — Maybe this sounds like a stretch but I think this is underrated.

    All of these flow well with your future full surname (both yours and husband’s) for your child.

    Hopefully you find these comments helpful and congrats to you both!

  3. The first name that came to mind was Reuben. It means, “behold, a son.” It goes way back to biblical times, but not one I hear too much these days

  4. George is my favorite from your list. (Side note: he’s been president three times!) I’d also throw out Edmund (Teddy) and Philip (Pip!). I do think Robert is less common than Dad’s other suggestions and wears well.

    1. This!! Except Edward instead of Edmund… The nn of Ward makes it feel more current too, if your son prefers later.

      Robert is a great name. I like the nn Bo but feel Rob works too.

      Phillip/Pip – love it!

      Abby’s list struck me as a Downtown Abbey character list! Maybe that is the style you are looking for? Regency!