The baby name Heath mixes the best of modern nature names with a rugged, Western vibe.

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


In our age of River and Meadow, it’s easy to imagine parents discovering the baby name Heath for the very first time.

Except it’s used steadily beginning in the middle of the twentieth-century.

Heath’s popularity begins with a character on a long-running 1960s Western. Big Valley marks the first time this surname-meets-nature name debuted in the US data. 

One of those early Heaths? Heath Ledger, a talented actor known for a wide range of roles, and gone too soon. He raised the name’s profile considerably.

Before we talk about either famous figure, let’s look at the origin and meaning of the name Heath. 


No question that Heath is a nature name, and a word name, too. It evolved from the Old English hæð, which has a meaning closer to wasteland, but a heath is actually quite pretty.

In general, it’s open land covered in shrubs and other small plants, but not trees or even large bushes. It’s similar to a moor.

You can find such habitats in England and California, Chile and Australia. Unless you’re a resident of Antarctica, you’ve probably seen one.


The last name Heath was first given to people who lived such a place. Over time, it slowly migrated to first name status.

This name might’ve remained firmly in the last spot, save for the television Western Big Valley

While we might think of surf boards and peace signs, the 1960s were also good to Stetsons and cowboy boots, at least on television.

Big Valley featured a young Lee Majors playing Heath Barkley, the illegitimate half-brother hungry for acceptance. Barbara Stanwyk was iron-willed widow Victoria, mother to Jarrod, Nick, and Audra (a young Linda Evans, who would later be a massive 1980s star on the original Dallas). Despite his illegitimate status, the half-brother eventually became one of the Barkley clan.

The show debuted on ABC in 1965. Prior to that time, a handful of children received the name each year, probably thanks to the family surname Heath.

In 1966, the character’s name surged in the rankings to debut in the US Top 1000 as the 359th most popular choice for newborn baby boys. In 1974 – five years after Big Valley left the air – the name peaked at #181.

That’s a massive impact – far outpacing even the Yellowstone effect.

A handful of pre-Valley bearers of the name includes Heath MacQuarrie, the Canadian politician and writer. He named his eldest daughter Heather.

By the 1970s, Heather was a Top Ten name. Despite the shared spelling, it refers to a small, flowering shrub. 

Still, they may have influenced each other. The girls’ name was rising rapidly when Big Valley debuted.


One more reason the name Heath might’ve been familiar during the twentieth century? 

A candy bar.

LS Heath bought a confectionery in Robinson, Illinois. He gave it to his sons, Bayard and Everett, to run. The family businesses also included a dairy.

By 1928, they were offering milk chocolate covered English toffee, and for a time it was marketed as a health food and delivered along with the milk.

It was included in soldiers’ ration kits during World War II, and grew in popularity after the war.

The candy has been made by Hershey since the mid-1990s. They’re still widely available, even if they’re outsold by Snickers and Reese’s.


Then came Australian actor Heath Ledger. His popularity gave the name Heath a tiny boost. 

In 1999, the actor starred in teen comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, based on The Taming of the Shrew

He went on to appear in a string of successful movies, including The Patriot and A Knight’s Tale. In 2005, Ledger was nominated for a long list of awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actorfor Brokeback Mountain. 

Following Ledger’s tragic death and his posthumous Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor as the Joker in 2008’s The Dark Knight, the name climbed again – just slightly.


rugged nature name

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First a surname for someone living near a field, rugged nature name Heath blends Western style with Hollywood status, too.


#861 as of 2022


holding steady


from an Old English word for a type of natural habitat, similar to a moor

The baby name Heath ought to be a huge hit by mid-2020s standards, a brother for Sage and Brooks.

Except Heath also owes some of its success to the runaway popularity of Scottish surname name Keith. It was a Top 100 favorite in the US beginning in 1946, opening the door for Heath.

While Heath was never nearly that popular, peaking at #181, similar names can make it feel a little more dated. As so the combination of long-time favorite boy’s name Keith coupled with 1970s/80s Top Ten girl’s name Heather contributes to Heath feeling like a name we’ve heard before.

Despite the fame of the Oscar-winning actor, the name Heath hasn’t ranked in the US Top 500 since 1990. As of 2022, the name ranked just #861.

Still, that could make Heath the perfect choice for parents looking for something on-trend but not trendy. Not only is Heath a potential nature name, it benefits from the TH sound of Theodore, as well as the rugged, surname style of choices like Riggs. 

That mix of cowboy-meets-Hollywood, surname-meets-nature-name appeal could be surprisingly powerful today.

What do you think of the baby name Heath? 

This post was originally published on May 5, 2009. It was revised and re-posted on June 15, 2016 and again on May 6, 2024.

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 know a little Heath his name probably was inspired by Heath Braxton on Australian soap opera Home and Away like most Australian Heath’s (it’s probably around the high 100s here). I do quite like it but worry it’s too home and away over here.

  2. We were trying for baby # 3, but miscarried. So we will try again. Heath was our top boy name. We too must love one syllable boy names since we already have a Blake and Grant.
    Some other people commented that they love how Heath is a nature name. One person even called it mossy like. Well, our last name is Moss. Would the name Heath Moss be over the top?

  3. Ah – Heath is one of few 1-syllable boys names I rather like. He’s strong and masculine, yet sounds very kind, with the breathy ‘th’ at the end.

    Heath Ledger & Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights (my favourite!) are equally my first thought when I hear the name, neither of which are bad references, despite the tragedy behind them.

    I’d be absolutely charmed to meet a little Heath!

  4. You’re welcome, Bek. I like him quite a bit, too. My dear mother is a HUGE fan of old Westerns. (Really.) So I could never really name a kid Heath – or any of the other names used by Bonanza/Gunsmoke/Big Valley/etc. Because even though they were before my time, I know them all by heart. (I guess it must be said that Barbara Stanwyk was fabulous in Big Valley. She was so tough, in an era when most women on television were still wielding feather dusters.)

    But it is too bad that we couldn’t use him, because Heath rocks! And Wrenn, I suspect that Heath Ledger might boost the name. Maybe.

    Lola, I think my reaction to Heather might also have something to do with how very, very popular the name was – it always makes me think of the Winona Ryder/Christian Slater movie – the original Mean Girls!

    1. Yeah, I’ve never watched those old Westerns, so I’ve got no reference… but it doesn’t bother me that others do. I was mostly nervous the young death of Heath Ledger would make using the name now seem a little too celeb, but it seems that a lot of the fervor died down after awards season.

  5. thank you, thank you, Verity! 🙂

    I adore Heath. One of our top contenders this go-around. I can’t even articulate what it is that I love so much, except to say that I love the mossy, breezy, handsome feel of the name. It just feels comfortable, if that makes sense.

    Funny how I can’t stand Heathcliff – that cliff makes all the difference 😉

  6. Heath is very attractive, and unmistakeably masculine. I have known several people who seem to favor 1-syllable names, and Heath would make an outstanding choice. I have one girlfriend w/ sons named Brock and Dean, and another w/ (daughter) Reese and (son) Cale.

    1. I did! Oh my goodness, you’re right. *Blushes.* Thanks for mentioning my oversight! Was he really named after the character? That’s interesting.

      1. I think I’ve read that both he and his sister (who is Kate), were named for the characters… Interesting, no?

  7. Aww, I like Ben & Jerry’s Vanilla Heath Bar Crunch! 🙂
    Heath’s one of three or four nature names for boys I really like (Jasper, Garnet, Reed & Heath). Heath Ledger didn’t hurt the name any for me amd while I’m old enough to remember “Big Valley”, I was young enough to not really pay attention to it very much.
    I really dislike the related Heather though. Maybe becuase I loved through an infestation of them and have only met 1 lovely Heather. The rest have been terrors. (my apologies to any Heathers out there, I just haven’t met you yet, so the bad ones color my judgement) 🙂

    But Heath is open, airy and sweepingly charming. I love the candy and if I didn’t think Ken would laugh at me for suggestiong my favorite candy bar as a name for our son… well, I’d use it myself. As is, I’ll have to hope I run into a few little ones named Heath, belonging to someone else. I really, REALLY like Heath! 😀

  8. I like Heath! Strong and masculine sounding without being overdone. Hopefully the association with Heath Ledger will not end the use of this one.