Alexander is about as popular as it gets, but this cousin from across the pond still sounds distinctive.
Thanks to Emmy Jo for suggesting our Name of the Day: <strong>Alasdair</strong>.
First, a confession: we’ve probably backed the wrong variant of this name.
While many of us would prefer all given names to have one standard English spelling, it simply isn’t the case. We’ve said it before: until very recently, names were far more fluid they’ve become in our database-driven society. And until literacy was widespread, it was difficult – and pointless – to reach consensus on spellings. The same <em>person</em> might use more than one version of a name over a lifetime.
We’ve opted for Alasdair because he appears to be closest to the original Scottish adaptation of Alexander, a name that is undeniably ancient. It’s tough to trace to evolution from the Greek Alexandros to modern day, but the Medieval Gaelic would’ve probably been Alaxandar or Alaxandair. He eventually dropped a syllable to become Alasdair. Three Kings of Scotland wore the name from the 1100s to the 1200s, and this appears to be the preferred spelling into the 1800s.
Variants, however, abound. We’ve also found:
The most common version in the 20th century is Alistair. This one caught on as an attempt to Anglicize Alasdair, and has eclipsed the original. He’s ranked in the Top 100 male given names in Scotland as recently as the late 1990s, and remains quite popular.
None of the variants have ever cracked the Top 1000 in the US. This means you’re free to adopt the spelling that seems most sensible to you – but be aware that regardless of your choice, this one may present spelling challenges throughout your son’s life.
Like his source name, Alasdair means defender of men, from the Greek <em>alexein</em> – to protect or defend – and <em>andros</em> – man. To the American ear, it sounds vaguely familiar, though undeniably imported.
He also sounds terribly smart, thanks to notable bearer Alistair Cooke, the legendary journalist and longtime host of PBS’ <em>Masterpiece Theater</em>. Perhaps this is also why the name feels surprisingly kid-friendly – fellow PBS mainstay <em>Sesame Street</em> parodied the accomplished presenter with a character called Alistair Cookie played by the furry blue Cookie Monster, of course. Alistair Cookie introduced <em>Monsterpiece Theater</em>.
There’s also Alistair MacLean, the author of adventure novels including <em>The Guns of Navarone;</em> British royal and grandson of Queen Victoria, Alastair Windsor, Duke of Connaught and philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre. On the notorious side, we can’t ignore the early 20th century occult leader Aleister Crowley – though perhaps he’s less likely to attract your child’s attention than Alistair Cookie.
Other than the question of spelling, we also suspect that Alasdair and company are limited by the lack of an easy nickname. We suppose you could use Alec – but that seems a bit forced. Ali or Aly works, but probably strikes many parents as too feminine to consider.
Still, if you have a simple surname, Scottish roots, and a preference for a longer name without a diminutive, this one offers an appealing combination. Everyone will recognize it, but almost no one will share it. We’d love to meet a little Alasdair. Or Alistair. Or Alisdair. Or … you get the idea.