It doesn’t get much more classic. This choice has been worn by saints, kings and a world famous fictional spy.

He’s also reader Kayt’s beautiful new baby boy, the inspiration for the Name of the Day: James.

James is truly never out of style. Since the US started collecting data on baby names, he is one of four choices to consistently rank in the Top Twenty. Of course, the rankings trace back to 1880, and James’ history is far more ancient.

Two of Jesus’ apostles were called James. More precisely, they were probably called Ya’aquov, a name that has spawned dozens of seemingly unrelated monikers. Today, the best known are James and Jacob.

The Hebrew name is usually said to mean supplanter – one who takes the place of someone else. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob is born holding his twin Esau’s heel, so you’ll sometimes find a definition related to the story. (As it happens, Jacob went on to supplant Esau in the Bible, too.)

Ya’aquov morphed into James and Jacob, but also Iago, Jago, Seamus, Hamish, Diego and Giacomo. In Latin, Ya’aquov became Iacobus. Pronunciation changed the name to Iacombus, and eventually the b was dropped entirely – Iacomus. The French took Jacobus and Jacomus and gave the English Jacques and James.

James is no longer heard in French, but he’s gained steadily in English ever since his introduction by the Normans. Popular saints inspired some parents. But it was King James’ ascension to the English throne in 1603 that cemented his use. The monarch’s moniker has remained popular ever since.

Jacob was once the preferred form for Jewish families. Today, Jacob and James are just as likely to attend the same house of worship – or even live in the same house. Brothers called Jake and Jamie are not uncommon.

Besides saints – I counted more than two dozen! – the name has been worn by kings of Scotland, England and Aragon and six presidents of the United States. (Madison, Monroe, Polk, Buchanan, Garfield and Carter – more than any other given name, though the last is almost always known as Jimmy.)

Artists, authors, actors, aristocrats and athletes have all been called James. The name has was once downwardly mobile – James became a generic term for a driver in the late nineteenth century – but is so widely used that he escapes definition. For every Jimbo or Jim Bob, there’s an Ivy League James or a titled Jamie.

While plenty of girls have been called Jamie in recent years, fictional spy James Bond keeps the name undeniably masculine.

Some bearers of the name answer to Jim or Jimmy or Jamie. But James is increasingly used sans diminutive, a choice that feels surprisingly fresh and vibrant.

Jameson and Jamison put a surname spin on the appellation, and both also rank in the US Top 1000. But it is James that is unstoppable. He’s in the UK’s Top Ten and ranked #15 in the US last year.

There’s nothing unusual about James, but that’s his strength. He’s classic and enduring, and still completely current.

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 man named James who lives on St. James street. I think it is a very funny coincidence!

  2. Hi! I realize this thread is old but I feel compelled to leave a message and let you now that I am a Kate (obvs spelling difference there) and that my son, now three years old, is James Edward. My husband and I had few names we both loved, and this was one of the happy few! It’s my Dad’s middle name so we chose Edward too, his Dad’s middle name, which seemed appropriate and fitting.
    I recall telling myself, “He need a name that could allow him to be president (if he wants!) but is also down to earth at the same time.” James it is! We still love it and he seems too as well. We occasionally call him Jame-James (a nickname given by his teacher, which I don’t love but it stuck) but mostly it’s just James. His initials are JEM, so I thought I would call him Jem more often than I do. But I love To Kill A Mockingbird, so it seemed really fitting as well. My brother lovingly/jokingly calls him Lil’ Jimmy, for which he receives pointed glares from me. sigh.
    Anyway, I hope your James has come to love his name as well!

  3. A solid name that you can’t go wrong with. I used it in the middle for my son, after my dad (it’s his middle name also). Don’t really like nicknames Jim or Jimmy, and I know Jamie was originally completely masculine but it has a girly sound to me. I really like the name Jacob and especially Jake.. my dad is always shocked when I tell him how popular Jacob has become.

  4. That smiley face was supposed to be an 8, I didn’t realize that 8 followed by ) would turn into an emoticon.

  5. The last book (#8) of the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery (some of my favorite books from my childhood!) had 3 characters named James. One had gone by Jem since birth, the other main one was a baby nicknamed Jims so as not to be confused with his father James or with Jem. These days, Jem probably leans towards the girls due to the singer and as a possible nn for Jemima (the books were early 20th century), but I always thought Jem and Jims were both interesting James nicknames! I like James, though – if I have a James he’ll go by James.