Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day
TRADITIONAL with an EDGE
Looking for a name that’s rich with history but still feels edgy and cool? Here’s one that fits the bill.
The baby name Bruno simply means brown – think brun in French. The name might have been given to someone with brown hair, or some other association with the color. Or possibly it’s a surname from a place with the name, of which there are several.
Bruno has been in use for centuries. A Duke of Saxony wore it in the 800s.
During the 900s, Archbishop Bruno of Cologne was among the most powerful men in Germany. At least three saints answered to the name over the next two hundred years or so. Bruno was the given name of both Pope Gregory V and Pope Saint Leo IX.
In recent decades, the name took on a tough guy vibe.
One possible reason: Angelo Bruno, the mastermind of organized crime in Philadelphia during the 1960s and 70s. While there was a minimum of violence on his watch – he was nicknamed “The Gentle Don” – it still frames how we hear the name. Bruno’s 1980 murder sparked a wave of mob violence that grabbed headlines, and the crime boss has been portrayed in movies in recent years, including 2019’s The Irishman.
There’s also pro wrestler Bruno Sammartino. (Yes, that’s his real name!) The World Wrestling Hall-of-Famer was one of the most popular wrestlers from the 1960s into the 1980s.
SO MANY BRUNOS
But plenty of uses lend the baby name Bruno a different energy.
Brown University’s mascot is a bear by the name.
Lewis Carroll’s fairy siblings are Sylvie and Bruno.
Comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s character Bruno inspired a full-length film, but the character has since been retired.
On the one hand, it points to the name’s long and steady history. But it also feels like a random, even eclectic collection of references.
But the baby name Bruno’s starts to shift in the early 2000s.
Why? One man, born Peter Gene Hernandez.
The chart-topping singer-songwriter-producer Bruno Mars earned his new first name from the wrestler. Young Peter’s father thought his baby boy resembled Bruno Sammartino.
As for Mars? The singer adopted the second half of his stage name himself.
The singer’s big break came in 2009, when he sang the vocals on rapper B.o.B.’s hit “Nothin’ On You.” A few months later, he sang on Travie McCoy’s “Billionaire” and released his debut album.
It’s been hit after hit ever since.
Mars has become one of the best-selling artists of all time, collecting eleven Grammy Awards and too many other accolades and honors to list.
It’s the kind of meteoric rise than can really boost a baby name – and completely reshape its image.
BY the NUMBERS
In 2009, the baby name Bruno ranked a chilly #863.
That’s not the name’s lowest point – it left the Top 1000 entirely during the 1970s, 80s, and 90s.
Since 2009, the name has climbed slightly, currently ranked #709 as of 2020.
That suggests the singer hasn’t been enough to make the name feel fresh for a new generation.
But Mars did something for the baby name Bruno, beside the modest bump in use.
The name’s image shifted dramatically. It went from a sometimes-heard Italian name, mostly associated with gangsters, to a pan-global, romance language possibility. Smooth, creative, and cool.
It opened the door to two new Brunos:
- In Pixar’s Luca, Bruno isn’t a character, but an inner voice. The 2021 movie details the adventures of the sea monster-on-land, Luca, as well as his friend Alberto. Alberto counsels Luca to “Silenzio Bruno!” – to tell his inner critic to pipe down and take the risk.
- Disney’s late 2021 Encanto gave the name to a reclusive Madrigal family member, complete with the infectious song “We Don’t Talk About Bruno.” By the movie’s happy ending, things have changed.
The baby name Bruno reached as high as #270 way back in the 1910s – a century ago. If the pattern holds, that could make Bruno feel fresh and interesting right about now.
It fits in nicely with boy names ending with -o, as well as romance language favorites like the fast-rising Luca.
If you’re after a name that’s familiar, but not common, colorful and creative, but still strong, then the baby name Bruno could be exactly right for you.
What do you think of the baby name Bruno?
Today’s post was originally published on December 16, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on September 17, 2015 and again on January 19, 2022.