baby name CalvinThe baby name Calvin has gone from theologian’s surname to the pop culture staple to rising favorite for our sons.

Thanks to Another for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


The baby name Calvin begins in France.

That’s where Jehan Cauvin was born, circa 1509.

Thanks to his father’s efforts and some good fortune, Jehan studied Latin and Greek, philosophy and law. By the 1530s, he’d left the Catholic faith of his childhood, becoming a reform-minded pastor and theologian.

We remember him as John Calvin, one of the most broadly influential leaders of the Protestant Reformation.

As for his surname, it comes from the French word chauve – bald, from the Latin calvus. Calvus had some history in the ancient world. The poet Gaius Licinius Macer Calvus wrote way back in the first century BC.

But it wasn’t until the fame of John Calvin spread that the surname was regularly heard as a first.


The name peaked in popularity in the US in the year 1924.

That coincides with the election of Calvin Coolidge, thirtieth President of the United States.

Fun fact: Coolidge was born John Calvin Coolidge, Jr. He’s (at least) the fourth generation of Coolidge men named Calvin, and was always known by his middle. It’s generally considered a nod to the theologian, as the future president grew up in a Congregational church, one of the offshoots of Calvinist beliefs.

But during the 1920s, the name regularly charted in the US Top 100.

It transitioned from surname with religious overtones to mainstream choice in the years that followed.


One of the many Calvins from those ordinary-name years? Calvin Klein, born in 1942. Among other things, Klein gets credit for sparking the designer denim trend in the mid-70s. Those jeans were called “Calvins,” lending a very different vibe to the name.

Born in 1960, baseball legend Cal Ripken is also a Calvin – Calvin Edward Ripken Jr. He played 21 seasons for the Baltimore Orioles, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible. His dad, Cal Sr., also played for the Orioles. Once again, the name transforms, this time to something rather sporty.


Of course, if you’re old enough to have children, the baby name Calvin might make you think of a fictional character.

Comic strip creator Bill Watterson chose his hero’s name – and that of the boy’s stuffed tiger companion, Hobbes – to reflect the two philosophical points of view implied by the names. It’s whimsical and brainy at the same time.


If the 100-year rule applies, then a name popular in the 1920s ought to be back in favor today.

It holds true for names like Leo and Charlie. And, increasingly, it’s true for the baby name Calvin, too.

The name last peaked at #44 in 1924. It 2010, it ranked a respectable – but not especially common – #215. But it’s climbed steadily since, ranking #145 in 2019.


With so many middle-v names in favor, from Oliver to Everett, the baby name Calvin fits right in. It’s not quite as classic as Charles, but it’s not nearly as novel as Maverick.

Casual-cool nickname Cal is a bonus. And the name’s many touchstones – from sports to fashion to American history – make it surprisingly versatile, too.

For parents after something traditional-ish and slightly vintage, but not as buttoned-up as James or Henry, Calvin might be the perfect alternative.

What do you think of the baby name Calvin? Would you consider it for a son?

First published on October 10, 2008, this post was substantially revised and re-published on January 26, 2021.

boy name Calvin

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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What do you think?


  1. I love the name Calvin. If I didn’t have a 6yo nephew with that name, I’d use it for a son of my own. It manages to sound both sophisticated and cutesy, depending on the age and personality of its bearer. And it sounds both classic and current to me.

  2. Purely on its sound, I’m not a huge fan of the name – I don’t hate it but I don’t love it. But, I’m a fan of Calvin the theologian, so for that reason I’d consider it as a middle name.

  3. I want our 3rd boy to be named Calvin- husband and I are still in discussion and have a few weeks left before we need to decide. I like it because it’s got the same feel as our other boys, isn’t trendy, and will suit them well through life. I’ve never really read Calvin and Hobbes but originally considered it because of John Calvin.

    1. Three boys! Congratulations. Calvin has plenty of positive associations that trump the comic strip – and the comic strip association isn’t something that would bother a kid. A president, a theologian, a baseball legend … yeah, you can overlook the funny pages!

    2. Hubby wanted Calvin for Ripken, but since my husband has essentially left the Catholic Church, he was worried that his mom would think it was big snub to her faith. (Yes, she thinks this way and yes, it would been a *big deal*!) Still love the name, so we’ll just be jealous of those of you that get to use the name.

  4. My 18 month old son’s name is Calvin Dean. We got the name from Calvin and Hobbes and we absolutely love it 🙂

  5. I have a 5 month old son called Calvin Alexander – and is so named after Bill Watterson’s ‘Calvin & Hobbes’.

    I love the name and am quite happy that it isn’t in the ‘most popular’ list. People seem to be making up their own names these days and some are simply ridiculous. I think old fashioned names will be making a come back.

  6. I love the name Calvin. It’s so classic and cool. It’s a name Kevin liked too, but we ended up crossing off the list because it’s too close in sound to Kevin to use as a first name for comfort.

  7. Calvin is fabulous! I love him because of his theological roots, because it was the name of one of my good college friends, and especially because it allows the nickname Cal (I went to UC Berkeley, which is often called “Cal” for short).

    Unfortunately, my husband once had a teacher by this name who molested some of the little girls in his class, so that completely ruins it for us. (A name really can’t get more ruined than that, can it?)

  8. Yeah, I like Calvin. I’d put him with Arthur, Leo, Henry, Wesley & Francis/Frank. (Now there’s one I would love to see, how adorable would Frankie be on a three year old?) Stuffy but not tied too tightly. And I fully expect to see a few Harolds in my neck of the woods within the next 5 years, Hal is a mighty appealing little nickname.

    Cal is perfectly lovely. Sporty, powerful and fun. I actually know of two Calvins around here, I run into them at the mall occasionally as well as the local park. One blonde, one raven dark, it equally suits both. I would think Calvin could also suit a redhead. And I could hope he’d be as bright as the comic Calvin (if a bit less troublesome)!

    Calvin’s simple, sweet & strong. Perfectly masculine but not too much so (no Hunter/Cutter/Gunner for me, thank you very much!) and a gentleman too. I can see him pleasing Mom for his softness and Pop for his strength. If the comic strip Calvin wasn’t quite a bit like Leo, (and I don’t know if I could weather another Leo at 41!) I’d consider him for myself. As is, He’s on the list for Leo’s boys. I’d love having a Grandson named Calvin! 😀

  9. Calvin was our frontrunner for a long time – but I never could get on board with Cal as a nickname. Maybe it’s because I hate the Orioles; maybe it’s just the sound of Cal; it killed the name Calvin for me. I could insist on always calling him Calvin (as does my friend with her Benjamin) but there would always be someone somewhere that would try to call him Cal, and that was not worth it to me. So we settled on Ethan (my favorite!), though hubby held out for a long time. As for our inspiration in the first place? It was assuredly little Calvin of the comic book fame – and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

  10. I think of Calvin as much more modern than Walter. My girls go to school with two Calvins, one in each of their classes, and there’s a little Benjamin in our afterschool group, and his twin little siblings are Calvin and Celeste. They’re so adorable! Benji, Cal, and Cel are great nicknames, IMO. I love them together 😉