It’s the Swedish name of one the world’s most famous Finns.
Thanks to Annelise for suggesting Alvar as Name of the Day.
Surely there is some good reason why several Old Norse and Germanic names include references to elves. I can’t say I have a guess. What I do know is that, like Oliver and Alfred, Alvar’s first syllable comes from elf. The arr means warrior.
But forget about jingle bells and pointy shoes, most of us hear Alvar and think Scandinavian style. Born in 1898, Alvar Aalto is known for designing everything from office buildings and libraries to some truly unusual chairs and an iconic vase, better known as the Savoy. (You can still buy the furniture and the glassware.)
We tend to lump Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark together. But Finnish is a quirky language, unrelated to most European tongues. (Nameberry did a great list of Finnish names.) If you know your Scandinavian history, you might recall that Finland was a territory of Sweden for six hundred years, and then spent another century or so being ruled by Russia.
Both Finnish and Swedish remain official languages, and Alvar’s ancestry included both heritages – he grew up speaking both. Alvar was actually born Hugo Alvar, named in honor of his maternal grandfather.
He’s undeniably a national hero in Helsinki. In fact, later this year, three colleges – the Helsinki schools of technology, economics and art – will combine to form Aalto University.
The name remains common, if not trendy, in Sweden, but has never ranked in the US Top 1000.
There’s an interesting cross-cultural note here. In Tamil, the Alvars were twelve Hindu poet-saints who lived between the seventh and ninth centuries. While I can’t find anyone named Alvar in India, the etymology is appealing – from the Tamil, Alvar means “immersed in god.”
Alvar is a rarity, and he might feel a little too unusual for an American parent. But I suspect that this choice would wear well. Two-syllable, ends-in-r names for boys are nearly as popular as two-syllable, ends-in-n names. 2007’s Top 100 includes Tyler (#21), Connor (#55), Carter (#80) and Cooper (#95). Parker, Tanner, Trevor, Javier, Spencer, Peter, Asher, Sawyer, Tucker, Taylor, Ryker and Walker are all also heard. Many of those have a last-names-first feel, but not all. Alvar could slip into the list and make himself at home. As for nicknames, other than Al, Alfie might just work as a short form.
This choice won’t be for every parent, but if you have a Scandinavian background or a passion for 20th century design, Alvar emerges as a distinctive choice.