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.

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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  1. Thank you for doing this one, Verity! I love Alvar for sounding airy and modern without being trendy, and Alvar Aalto is one of my husband’s favorite architects. It should be one of my top picks (not that I’m pregnant), but unfortunately, our last name already starts with “Holver.” Alvar Holver-blah doesn’t sound too good, does it? *sigh*

  2. Alvar is definitely appealing… and a name I’d never considered previously. But, is the Spanish Alvaro related to it? I’ve heard that one used before more than once… and I like it too, not for my use, but the name is a nice one. Alvar… hmmm…. I’m going to let that one roll around in my mind for a while, he might stick around. Thanks Verity and Annelise!

    1. Interesting question, JNE – it feels like there *must* be a link, but I can’t find it.

      Alvaro pops up a bunch of places – he’s a saint (though lists him as Alvarez), a Verdi character (in The Force of Destiny) and a fairly common name in Latin America. He’s also been in the US Top 1000 since the 1960s, reaching as high as #511 in 2000. And a quick search of medieval sources turns up lots of Alvaros, including the 15th century Alvaro de Luna, an advisor to King Juan of Castile. Plus in Spain, he’s recently been in the Top Ten!

      While it defies logic to say that Alvar and Alvaro aren’t the same name, everything I’ve read links Alvaro to Adalward/Adelward/Adelwar. In the eleventh century, there was a German-born bishop called Adalward serving in Sweden. But other than that crossover, I can’t link the names. (The “adal/adel” bit is as in Alice – it means noble. I’m not certain when they lost their “d” sound – I’ll have to dig for info on this.)

      My best guess is that Alvar and Alvaro false cognates – despite their similarities, their origins are distinct. And yet it would certainly make sense to Anglicize Alvaro as Alvar, and they may have influenced each other.

      To make a long, rambling answer short … probably not. I should have included him in this post, though, so thank you for bringing him up!

  3. Norse in any form is one group I can’t lay claim to, but I find Alvar intriguing! Interesting sound, nice look and while Al doesn’t bother me (he sounds a bit butchy but is otherwise alright), Alfie doesn’t really do anything for me. Sounds prepetually 4. :meh: I agree the Tamil meaning is very appealing, even if I’ve never met an Indian Alvar myself. Would probably be stunning there too. 🙂

    With the right surname, I’d bet he’d be stunningly simple and thoroughly elegant. I would be positively enchanted to me one (or more)! Alvar gets an enormous :thumbsup: from me.