I have a thing for Spain, and I blame my grandma. She spent hours reading me this fabulous little book by Munro Leaf about a pacifist Spanish bull.

Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting Ferdinand as Name of the Day.

Maybe it is silly, even unfair, that this name – regal, celestial and Shakespearean – conjures up a bull from a children’s book. But there it is. Penned in 1936, The Story of Ferdinand tells of a bull who preferred flowers to fights. Even when confronted with the matador, he simply sat down in the middle of the arena and blissed out on the scent of the roses tucked into the senoritas’ coifs.

This reduces the matador to tears.

Given the moment it was written, Ferdinand became both a left-wing staple, not unlike Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, and an early subject for an award-winning Walt Disney short.

With girls named Eloise, Madeleine and Matilda, Frances and Olivia, why not a boy named Ferdinand? Beyond the bull, there’s:

  • Many a regal and aristocratic Ferdinand, from countries ranging from Portugal and Spain to Bulgaria and Romania. Throw in a bunch of Holy Roman Emperors and Grand Dukes from Tuscany and Parma, and Ferdinand takes on a nicely pan-European feel;
  • At least two saints have worn the name;
  • Shakespeare chose Ferdinand as the name of King Alonso’s son in The Tempest. Prince Ferdinand falls madly in love with Miranda in the story. He’s obscure today, but with a big screen adaptation underway, that could change;
  • One of Uranus’ moons wears the name. There are more than two dozen moons; Ferdinand is among the smaller and more recently discovered. When the satellite was named in 2001, there was already a Miranda orbiting the planet;
  • Real-life Ferdinands include Ferdinand von Zeppelin, founder of the airship company;
  • Ferdinand Porsche, Sr., designed the original VW Beetle. His son, known as Ferry Porsche, also designed cars, including the high performance racers that we know as Porsches today;
  • Ferdinand Magellan lends the name an explorer’s dash;
  • Early jazz innovator Jelly Roll Morton was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe.

Then there’s Franz Ferdinand.

The 1914 assassination of the archduke is often considered the triggering event of World War I. And Scottish indie rockers Franz Ferdinand will spring to mind for many modern parents.

In the US, Ferdinand peaked at #245 back in 1887, well before world events – or animated bulls or popular music – changed our perception of the name. Since 1971, he’s been out of the rankings entirely.

Could he make a comeback? His meaning – derived from the Germanic frith (protection) combined with nantha (boldness, readiness) is translated various ways, including “eager for peace” – just like the bull. It could appeal to modern parents seeking a name more subtle than Pax.

Ferdinand also popped up over on Nameberry’s message boards, in a thread titled “Outhip the Hipsters.” If Atticus and Silas are obvious, all of a sudden Ferdinand does sound fresh – especially if you borrow Ferry Porsche’s appealing diminutive.

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. Elisabeth, you read my mind. I was just coming over to post that Fred or Freddie would be a perfect nickname for those unwilling to use Ferry.