With a modern spelling, he became one of the most popular names for American boys born in the 1950s, 60s and 70s.  But in his original form, he was once equally trendy – back in the Middle Ages.

Thanks to Katharine for suggesting our Name of the Day: <strong>Geoffrey</strong>.


In recent years, the best known Geoffreys are probably the Toys’R’Us spokesgiraffe and Oscar-winning actor Geoffrey Rush of <em>Pirates of the Caribbean</em> fame.  (He plays Captain Barbossa, the bad guy.)  Change the spelling to Jeffrey, however, and we can all list a few – from 1953 to 1979, he was a Top 25 pick for boys born in the US.  Today he stands at #109.

He’s derived from Germanic elements, though which elements are debated.  Most agree that the second syllable comes from <em>frid</em> – peace.  But that first bit leads to a wide range of attributed meanings:  peaceful place, peace of the world, peaceful traveler, pledge of peace and, most commonly, peace of God – though that last one is more closely linked to Godfrey.  Chances are he’s a mash-up of several names, like Gaufrid and Gisfrid, whispered from German to French to English.

The Counts of Anjou were among the first famous Geoffreys – five of them bore the name between the 900s and 1100s.  Geoffrey V married Matilda, daughter of Henry I of England, and their son went on to inherit the English throne as Henry II.

In the same era, the given name Geoffrey caught fire in England.  In addition to aristocrats, we find two notable literary bearers:
<li>Geoffrey of Monmouth, the 12th century writer of tales of British history and especially stories of King Arthur;</li>
<li>The 14th century courtier and poet Geoffrey Chaucer, best known for penning <em>The Canterbury Tales</em>.  </li>
You can find alternate spellings, including Jeffrey, as far back as the 11th century, but Geoffrey was dominant through the Middle Ages.

The name faded in popularity, only to be rediscovered in the 20th century.  In the US, this time the preference was clearly for that once-rare version beginning with J.  He’s utterly eclipsed the G spelling.  While Jeffrey has remained in steady use, Geoffrey left the US Top 1000 after 2005.

And we suspect that this is the problem.  While Geoffrey is distinguished and historic, Jeffrey feels tired.  It’s tempting to dust off the medieval spelling and make him new again – but most parents seeking an underused gem want something that <em>sounds</em> distinctive.  After all, we all know that spelling your daughter’s name Maddisyn doesn’t really make for an unusual moniker.

While Jeff is a friendly everyman kind of name – our generation’s Bob – that upbeat, ordinary vibe probably argues against a revival of Geoffrey, at least in the US.

Unless, of course, you go a few steps farther and adopt a pronunciation closer to the French.  We know one 30-something Geoffrey who goes by Jof.  Or, if you happen to be living outside the US, where Jeff was never a smash hit, then this is an appealing candidate for revival.  Use it and make us Americans jealous!

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. Jeff is pedestrian and on the East Coast ubiquitous for men born around 1976 due to the Bicentennial and associations with Thomas Jefferson. Geoff is more distinguished but when spoken he is assumed be just a Jeff.

  2. Wondering if you could fix this up; the new site messed up the formatting.
    Or maybe you could repost it all together.

    I hadn’t really thought about Geoffrey before my bunny (what I call my boyfriend :P) suggested it. It’s a great name, strong sounding and all that. It’s kind of weird that I hadn’t come across it before now. Proves there are lovely names just waiting for me to discover them! 🙂

    1. I totally agree. This name sounds bright and solid. Jeffrey looks like a Dad name, but somehow Geoffrey doesn’t. But you might have to spell or at least explain it a lot. Geoff with a G.

  3. My #2 son (now 22) is a Geoffrey. He goes by “Geoff”, but I have met another young Geoffrey who goes by Geo, which I thought was a cute take on it.

    My fiance is a 36 year old Jeff, though, and he complains that his name is way too common. (It’s a weird thing to have a boyfriend and a son with essentially the same name, although it is easy enough to distinguish the two– G-Geoff and J-Jeff, or Jeff and Geoffrey, since my boyfriend hates his full name and my son uses his fairly regularly.)

    1. Geo for Geoffrey is pretty neat!

      I know what your Jeff means … I’ve know a lot of (now) 30-something and 40-something men called Jeff. It’s wildly common.

  4. I met a Jeffery today. I wanted to ask him if his mother was illiterate. But I didn’t because I am nice. (Well, not really, but I was pretending I was nice.)

  5. Ohh Geoffrey! How I do like him. He sounds so kind, warm and friendly and every Geoff/Jeff that I know embodies all of these qualities but I think you’ve all hit the nail on the head as far as this one is concerned. For the vast majority, Geoffrey feels tired, give him 20 years or so and he’ll be back -mark my words!

  6. I love Geoffrey! My dad’s a Jeffery and my boyfriend’s uncle a Geoffrey. It’s wandered off and on my shortlist many a time. I think it’d be fresh on a child nowadays, much in the way a Deborah would be.

  7. I much prefer Geoffrey to Jeffrey. Geoffrey does feel fresh yet classic. I toyed with the idea of using him to honor my brother, who is of course Jeffrey. My brother prefers Geoffrey too. 😛

  8. oh Geoffrey, how I love thee! I do, honest. But you’ve pinpointed exactly why I can’t sell him “Jeffrey? We knew hundreds, why”? I then I get those big blue eyes of his turned puppydog.
    *sigh* No arguing with the puppydog. I’ve tried.

    I love him for Chaucer, whose works I fell in love with at 9. (I was an odd child, too) And Geoffrey Rush hurts me none (I love his “brand” of evil). But he recalls the Jerrfrey we smashed cicadas with in the 7th grade. *sigh* (again) what’s a girl to do when the cicada stomper beats out divine Chaucer and cool Rush? And Jof, over Jeff is appealing in and of himself.

    Please, someone use Geoffrey and I’ll be your friend forever! 😀 :cheesy grin: I’d be thrilled to meet even one!