Today’s choice has been worn by a poet and a king, a playboy and a fool. Is this a lost classic poised for revival, or one best left in mothballs?
Thanks to Lyndsay for suggesting our Name of the Day: Alfred.
Alfred is impeccably English – Old English, in fact, from the elements aelf – elf – and raed – counsel. We’re not quite sure what to make of that meaning.
Back in the 800s, Alfred the Great ruled Wessex. He was quite the popular monarch, so his name endured longer than many native grown English monikers.
While Alfred faded from use, he never disappeared entirely. In the early 1800s, a pair of parents with aristocratic roots – and perhaps a poetic streak – chose the name for their son. Alfred Lord Tennyson was a successful writer from his days at Cambridge, and would pen some of the most memorable works in the English language, including “The Charge of the Light Brigade.”
By the late 1800s, it was among the most popular names given to boys born in the US. Alfred remained a Top 50 pick through 1932, and Top 100 through 1951. Given his frequency of use, we find plenty of notable bearers of the name:
- The legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock;
- Alfred Pennypacker, fictional butler to Bruce Wayne – aka Batman;
- Mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead;
- Publisher Alfred A. Knopf;
- Swedish inventor-turned-philanthropist Alfred Nobel.
We could go on. And on. Beyond the talented and capable Alfreds, we also think of Mad magazine’s jug-eared Alfred E. Neuman. Interestingly, the name and face evolved separately in pop culture from so many sources it’s difficult to pin down the origins of either. But it does take some of the shine off this one.
While Alfred might feel like a bit much for a small child, we can’t help love his nicknames: the quirky Alf (yes, he’d share it with a furry television alien), the charming Freddie, the easy-going Al.
And then there’s Alfie. The original big screen adaptation of Bill Naughton’s play was a smash 1966 hit starring Michael Caine. Jude Law played Alfie in the remake in 2004 – it didn’t fare nearly as well. In all three versions, Alfie is a dashing man about town, a loveable but irresponsible cad. While he’s too shallow a figure to inspire a child’s name, there’s a boyish charm to the nickname Alfie that we love. And it’s worth noting that in all three versions, there’s hope for Alfie at story’s end.
As of 2007, he ranked a mere #742, so Alfred may be headed for obscurity, charming nicknames or not. But we think it’s the kind of choice that feels outlandish today, but might feel perfectly reasonable in another few years. Should Alfred be a family name, we can’t think of any reason why you shouldn’t use it right now.