The baby name Giles feels like a logical alternative to current favorite Miles.

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

LATIN ROOTS

Giles comes from the Late Latin Aegidius.

There’s a bit of a tangle around the name’s meaning. It’s given as both “shield” and “young goat” – two seemingly unrelated concepts, yet both are almost certainly correct.

The missing link? The word aegis, meaning protection or sponsorship, comes from the Greek aigis. Aigis referred to Zeus’ shield fashioned from – wait for it – goat skin, or aigos. So while the animal reference is correct, it’s not the whole story.

Giles suggests protection. Only how did we go from Aegidius to Giles?

SAINT GILES

In the seventh century, a well-born Athenian traveled to France, lived as a hermit and eventually founded a monastery. He was known as Aegidius, which became Giden and Gilles – zheel.

When the Normans invaded England, Gilles became Giles.

You can still visit St. Gilles, near Nîmes in southern France.

St. Giles is best known as the patron saint of those with disabilities, probably because he once suffered an injury himself while taking an arrow intended for his pet deer.

Medieval philosopher Giles of Rome – also known as Egidio Colonna – wrote circa 1300. The Augustinian friar’s writings remained influential for centuries.

In the 13th century, Giles of Assisi was one of St. Francis of Assisi’s first followers. While little is known of his early life, the Blessed Brother Giles appears to have kept his birth name.

All of this squares with other reports that Giles remained in steady use throughout medieval Europe.

LONDON and the NEW WORLD

Today, the church called St. Giles in the Fields stands in the middle of London, on ground that has been consecrated for nearly a millennia.

Several buildings and restorations later, the present structure is credited to architect Henry Flitcroft in the 1700s. The neighborhood around it has transformed, too, from rural to urban; wealthy to impoverished to prosperous once more; war-damaged to revitalized.

It features in plenty of historical episodes, but you might know it best thanks to a nursery rhyme, usually called “Oranges and lemons” for the opening line:

Oranges and lemons say the bells of St. Clement’s …

It continues, listing other London churches, including:

Brickbats and tiles, say the bells of St. Giles …

It might refer to trades practiced around the parish. Or possibly the rhyme contains a veiled political meaning, lost to time.

In any case, the given name Giles appears in the historical record.

One notable name: Giles Corey was born in England in the 1620s, and met his death during the Salem witch trials in 1692.

SURNAME NAME

By the 1600s, Giles was also established as a surname.

Over the years, it has blended with similar surnames, like the Scottish McGillis, and used as an English equivalent of names like the Gaelic Ó Glaisne – which originally referred to a shade of blue.

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BY the NUMBERS

None of this makes the baby name Giles seem particularly popular, at least not in recent years.

But look back through US Social Security Administration data, and Giles ranks in the US Top 1000, nearly every year from 1880 through 1955.

While the name was never common, it wasn’t particularly rare, either.

The name slowly dropped in use. By the year 2000, just 15 newborn boys received the name.

As of 2023. that number was just 11 newborn boys named Giles.

SIR GILES, RUPERT GILES, and WILLIAM GILES

All of this lends the name a sort of antique vibe.

It feels a little rusty. Or maybe terribly British, at least to an American audience.

Way back in 1941, Disney gave us The Reluctant Dragon, with Sir Giles determined to slay the beast. Only the beast was actually a very nice dragon, and, in a twist, Giles teams up with a local boy to fake taming the dragon so all can live happily ever after.

The late 1990s supernatural television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer gave teenage Buffy a very British mentor named Rupert Giles. While his last name is Giles, Rupert is seldom heard.

Around the same time, prison drama Oz told the story of inmate William Giles, again mostly referred to by his last name. That’s the one non-British example of Giles.

Back to the UK, Giles Wemmbley-Hogg Goes Off was a BBC Radio 4 comedy about a rather posh British man bumbling his way on travels across the world.

So maybe that’s the issue with Giles. Could it feel a little too English?

OBVIOUS MILES ALTERNATIVE

Miles is a Top 100 favorite. Choices with a British vibe – like Jasper – aren’t far behind. Plus, we love boy names ending with S, from Brooks to Atticus to Wells.

Giles combines all of these sounds in an unexpected, handsome name, rich with potential. For parents drawn to antiques like Harold and Cedric, but hoping for something that sounds more contemporary, Giles is a logical option.

What do you think of the baby name Giles?

First published on August 2, 2008, this post was substantially revised and re-published on May 30, 2024.

Giles

shield/protection

An ancient name transformed to a decidedly British, surname-style choice, Giles is uncommon but quite handsome.

Popularity

unranked; given to 11 boys in 2023

Trend

holding steady

Origin

From the Latin Aegidius, originally referring to a shield made of goat skin.

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?

8 Comments

  1. Another, Garrett is the name of one of my favorite cousins! He’s only 20-something, and when his mother chose the name, she got some flak for it. (It was the era of Jason, Josh and Ryan.) But I’ve always loved it, and the name caught fire right around the same time she chose it for her son. I’ve also worked with a lovely, 20-something Jarrett, so I’m curious to dig into the history of the name. Garrett will be NotD on 8/28.

    Between Giles and Gilbert, I think I prefer Giles – but it’s a close call. And since my husband’s last name starts with an “S,” we’d actually never use Giles anyhow. What I can say for certain is that I like Giles better than Miles, which always sound like a plural noun or a Pilgrim to me.

    Catherine, *love* that tidbit about Giles Corey’s noble sufferings. It adds something to the name, doesn’t it?

  2. Giles feels a bit too British for my taste. I have a hard time imaging Giles to be much fun at a party, not that “fun” is really a major concern in naming someone, but I guess it’s just not a very versatile name for me.

    Gilbert feels a lot warmer and more friendly to me.

  3. I quite like Giles. Warm & friendly he is. But then, I also Like Niles, despite the fusspot on Frasier and Miles was what Josephine would have been, if she’d been born with male parts. My heart does belong to Gilbert though, I really love him.

    Giles has an interesting history, one I was almost entirely unaware of.The church of London is my main assocation and St. Giles of Assisi was my Babci’s favorite Saint (no clue why, though). I had no notion of his Latin roots, nor his assocation with Zeus. Now there’s a God I’d name a kid for, Zues is fun to say! 🙂

    Giles is one that’s snappy, handsome and strong. I would love to see him used !

  4. While I love Anthony Head’s Rupert Giles, I would never in a million uears use this name. It’s too…serious sounding. And as for Myles – I don’t really understand the attraction these mommies are feeling to that one either.

    I think I’d actually prefer Gilbert over Giles – but for G names, my favorite would be Garrett, probably. Care to do a NotD on Garrett? – maybe include its relation to Jarrett – if any.

  5. Giles! Love it! Of course, my favourite historical/literary reference is Giles Corey of Salem. He was accused of witchcraft and refused to plead, leading to his death. In the play, as he was being tortured and crushed under a weight of rocks, all he said was “More weight.” Now, I don’t know if that really happened, but it makes the character, at least, one bad-ass dude. I also see him as sort of a level head in all of that craziness and an admirable man.

    I thought the part on Giles of Assisi was really interesting. I’m not Christian, never was, but I always did like St. Francis’ whole deal. I suppose you could say he’s my favourite saint, along with St. Cecilia. So this tidbit makes me love Giles all the more.

    Apart from these associations, I love the name for it’s slick throwback feel and smooth sound. Gil is nice, but if I had a little Giles he’d be Giles 24/7. It’s way too cool to nickname. I also love similar names Miles and Niles. Of course, not on siblings!