Name of the Day: Arthur

Today’s Name of the Day is especially near and dear to our hearts. Thanks to Another and Katharine for suggesting Arthur.

Few names are as clearly connected to a legendary figure and yet so comfortable to wear. We all know about King Arthur and his domain, the most enchanting Camelot, earned by pulling a sword from a stone. Arthur may have been a real 5th or 6th century ruler, or not – the debate rages on.

In the 1130s Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain captured much of the folklore surrounding Arthur. In the late 15th century Thomas Malory’s Le Mort d’Arthur replaced it, only to be supplanted by Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, published in installments from the 1850s to 1880s. More recently, the Tony-award winning musical Camelot debuted on Broadway in 1960 and hit the silver screen in 1967. This list represents only a fraction of the beloved stories’ re-tellings.

The name’s meaning is a matter of debate. Some link it to the Roman family name, Artorius, which was worn from southern Italy to Africa. More common is the link to the Welsh arth, or bear. Others point to old Germanic names like Arnthor, which means eagle, or Gaelic names that mean stone. It’s also possible that Arthur is related to a historical king: cases have been made for both Artognou of Tintangel in Cornwall and Athrwys ap Meurig of Wales. This further muddies questions of the name’s derivation. And, of course, variant spellings abound: Artur, Arter, Arther, Artos and Arzur are among them.

However famous the legendary king, the name was never wildly popular – not until another leader took to the battlefield. Field Marshall Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington, defeated Napoleon at Waterloo in 1815 and suddenly, Arthur was hot.

In the US, Arthur remained a Top 20 choice until 1926. Other distinguished Arthurs from the 19th century and beyond include:

  • Prime minister and later foreign secretary of England, Arthur Balfour;
  • Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle;
  • Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini;
  • Groundbreaking science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke;
  • German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer;
  • Playwright Arthur Miller;
  • Noted father and son historians Arthur Schlesinger Senior and Junior;
  • Cuban-born jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval;
  • Tennis great Arthur Ashe.

There are plenty of fictional Arthurs, too:

  • Aardvark Arthur Read of children’s books and PBS cartoon fame;
  • Arthur Dent, the hero of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy;
  • Aquaman’s real name was Arthur Curry;
  • Dudley Moore’s character in the 1981 movie Arthur, who abandons his family fortune for true love;
  • Arthur Weasley, patriarch of the red-headed Weasley clan in the Harry Potter series.

You may have eaten at an Arthur Treacher’s Fish and Chips. Treacher was an English actor, best known for his appearances in Shirley Temple films, and an early spokesperson for the chain. Today, of course, Long John Silver’s is the big fish in the fast seafood category and Treacher’s has dwindled to a handful of shops.

There’s no shortage of famous Arthurs – and that’s without considering all those with the surname, much less the McArthurs and MacArthurs. While the given name is out of vogue these days, he hasn’t fallen very far – to a respectable #374.

With other classic appellations for boys like Henry, Oscar, George and Oliver flirting with Top 100, Arthur is attracting some interest, and may be coming soon to a playground near you.

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36 Comments

My son Arthur Isaac was born in June of 2012. My husband and I had other names we were throwing around but none seemed to fit as well as Arthur did. We started referring to my bump as Arthur, and only told our immediate family in case we changed our minds once we met him.

He was born, and he was Arthur! What an exciting feeling!

I worried what people would say at first, but you can’t imagine the amount of people that just gush over his name. Everyone loves it! I can’t believe it sometimes, I imagined a lot of polite responses (maybe hiding actual distaste) but I’m not kidding. People go crazy over it!

All of our family has noticed it as well, just the overwhelmingly positive responses. Maybe it’s our area? We live in Indiana, so it’s not heard very often I suppose.

Anyway, he goes by Arthur 95% of the time. He’s also called “Arfur” by my 3 year old niece Esther. 😉 Also sometimes Art or Artie.

Great name!

My very beautiful son is named Arthur. He’s now 4 months old and it suits him brilliantly! It’s a strong but soft sounding name. We call him mostly Arthur but also Arth.
I agree that although it’s a traditional and familiar name, we haven’t come across another one yet. People often say “oh that was on our list” or “it’s a middle name” but that’s all. I feel proud every time I say it and so pleased.
Really interestingly (for me) is that I call him “Arthur bear” occasionally when I’m being soft. And above, you mention that bear might be a meaning.
Anyway, we love it and it has completely distinguished him from all the other dusty old names that EVERYONE chooses for their sons.

We named our son Arthur in 2008 and have been loving it ever since. It was a combo of a family name (which my husband loves) and something historical (for me:). My son and I also lived in France for a year, where everyone fell in love with it too – international bonus! It was also more popular over there – he even shared the name with another baby in his cr

I love Arthur, but I don’t like Art or Artie, the inevitable nicknames, at all. If it weren’t for those, he’d be up at the top of my list.

I just visited Kindergarten where my daughter will be starting in the fall. I read all the names on the lockers and the one that stood out to me as my favourite was Arthur. The child is either currently in Kindergarten or First Grade and I totally had name-envy over his name. 🙂 It’s not one I’ve really thought about before, but now I like it!

Funny, Lee … it *is* my husband’s name! (And my grandfather’s name, and my cousin’s name and so on and so on.) While I’ll admit that biases me in his favor, I still find Arthur charming. A bit brainy, maybe, but I’ve yet to know anyone to suffer for wearing it.

And really, I don’t mind hearing it – or saying it – and hope I’ll get to do so every day for the rest of my life. 😉

I think Lee is being really harsh. I like Arthur. Its a quirky, sophisticated name. Lee is a boring, dull, nondistinctive name.

This name is harsh on the ear. You might think it’s cute, dignified, or whatever. But would you really want to hear it every day for the rest of your life. Believe me, if you give this name to your son he will get beat up on the playground every day of his life. Even his teachers will make fun of him for it. This name is always given to the socially inept character in every movie and television program. This name is horrid sounding. Do your son a favour and give him a pleasent name he won’t be embarrassed by or mock for.

Arthur is an allround winner then! I love his old fashioned clunky feel and he’s definitely on my list. I’m not keen on any variation of the theme especially given the popularity of Archie in the UK and the not-so-disimilar Alfie, nope for me, it’s Arthur or nothing!

I love Arthur, too! My husband and I are probably going to use it as a middle name for our first son. It’s the middle name of both my father and of my husband’s favorite grandfather.

Since I studied medieval literature in college and used to pretend I was Guinevere as a child, it seems like an obvious choice!

I love Arthur too! I think your husband has it right . . . everyone knows it but there aren’t many about. I’m a sucker for a name drenched in history like this. It seems to me that older names have so many associations with them that they become versatile—because I know of so many different Arthurs (mostly fictional or historical) it’s easy to imagine the name working on any sort of boy or man.

Alas, I have a nephew named Arturo (which I also think is smashing) so we’ll never have a little Arthur in our family, but it was in serious contention until my nephew was born.

Very cool, Arthur! How many other names have their own adjective? (Not *are* adjectives, have one.) Arthur’s a Great Uncle of my own, (my Grandmother’s yougest sister Carolyn’s husband) a lovely man. And thanks for posting Arthur Conan Doyle’s full name! I could happily name a kid Arthur Ignatius Conan myself.

I have Arthur firmly in my top 10, but he’s not in the top 5, due to Art & Artie. I’m not fond of anything but Arthur. He’s strong, handsome and charming, what’s not to love? I have to ask, Does anyone know if there are any Arthur Treacher resturants left? I used to love eating there as a kid, there was one just on the edge of Scotch Plains, NJ, on 22 west. I know it closed down when I was in college sometime, but have no clue what it is now, since I’m not in Jersey anymore. I also used to work witha lovely young Arthur when I was in my 20’s. He was an intern in high school at the time. Must be 34 or so now.

Arthur is a firm love of mine, and never drops off my top 10. A very wonderful moniker. Tell your husband that his name getrs some love from me!

This felt out of place in my original post, but I thought I’d mention it here – Arthur is a family name on my mother’s side – my dear grandfather’s name, as well as the name of my cousin. Given my family’s fondness for family names, odds are that there are Arthurs hanging from my tree back at least a few generations. (I’m not certain, though – my grandfather was a much younger son, so it is equally possible that he was the first.)

But more importantly, it’s my dear husband’s given name – one that I’ve always found quirky and appealing. He’s quite fond of it – as he says, everyone knows it, but he’s never one of many. In his case, it isn’t a family name at all, just something his parents liked.

As for nicknames, my husband isn’t fond of Art and my grandfather never answered to it – though as a young man, I understand that he answered to Archie. But Arthur – like Carter and Tyler and Piper – doesn’t really seem to need one.

It’s always nice to write about the names of people I love, so I’m really pleased to have this chance!