Katharine tells us that today’s choice is quintessentially English. And indeed, he should’ve been yesterday’s Name of the Day. Because had we been on the other side of the Atlantic on November 5, we’d have been off to a bonfire in celebration of Guy Fawkes Day.
Some parents decry the “modern” habit of naming children Willow or River. But centuries back, the Germanic name Wido was derived from the word widu, or wood.
While Wido is extinct, his descendants are many: Guido, Vito, Veit and, yes, Guy.
Thank the Normans for yet another name. They brought Guy with them to England. It was quite popular throughout Europe for a few centuries. Check the historical record and you’ll find:
- In the 900s, the Margrave of Tuscany was known as Guy, though his name is also recorded as Wido and Guido;
- In the 1200s, Guy de la Roche, Duke of Athens;
- A century later, two Guys held the title Count of Blois;
- Counts of Spoleto and Ponthieu were also Guy;
- A French knight called Guy of Lusignan became King of Jerusalem through marriage in the 1100s.
The name might’ve become a staple, except that in the 1500s along came Guy Fawkes. Part of a group of revolutionaries, Fawkes and friends set out to overthrow the English government, killing King James I, the royal family and most of the House of Lords. Fawkes was foiled, caught with his gunpowder stash. He and his co-conspirators were executed for treason a few weeks later.
Not surprisingly, this put a damper on English parents’ willingness to name their baby boys Guy.
While the bonfires and fireworks commemorating the thwarted plot continue in Britain today, by the 19th century, the association between the name Guy and the would-be assassin had mellowed. Instead, Guy was yet another of those romantic throwback choices rediscovered by Victorian-era parents. Sir Walter Scott’s 1815 novel Guy Mannering gave the name a literary edge, too.
Guy remained in use – and kept his literary cred intact when Ray Bradbury named his Fahrenheit 451 protagonist Guy Montag. And of course there’s Guy de Maupassant, the 19th century French writer.
In French, Guy rhymes with Lee, and has enjoyed ongoing use. Any ice hockey fan can name nearly a dozen notable players who have worn the name, starting with the legendary French Canadian Guy LaFleur.
Other 20th century Guys of note include:
- Muppet Guy Smiley, Sesame Street’s game show host;
- Coldplay bassist Guy Berryman;
- Food Network’s Guy Fieri;
- Filmmaker and soon-to-be ex-Mr. Madonna, Guy Ritchie.
Some parents probably find Guy the equivalent of naming a child Dude. We can’t deny the link in modern usage, but they are etymologically distinct. In fact, guy in that sense didn’t emerge until the 1300s.
In the US, Guy’s heyday was clearly the 19th century. He stayed in the Top 100 through 1901, and lingered in the Top 200 until 1967. He’s fallen steadily since then, and left the rankings in 2005. In 2006, he just made it in at #989. In 2007, again he failed to chart.
Guy packs a lot of style into just three letters. He’s a bit medieval, a tinge exotic and yet athletic and vibrant, too. Plus, single-syllable choices for boys present a refreshing antidote to all of those Jaydens and Logans. It would be a daring pick for American parents. But if we can have playgrounds filled with Tristans and Romeos, Coles and Cades, why not Guy?