This post was originally published on May 26, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on July 7, 2014.
The Beatles scored a hit with this name in 1968, but only in recent years has it become a mainstream choice for a son.
Thanks to Natalie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Jude.
Michelle was already popular when the Fab Four first recorded their franglais ballad, singing Michelle, ma belle back in 1965. The name rocketed from #18 to #4 in 1966, and reached #2 by 1968. “Hey Jude” was as big a hit – bigger, even – but the name didn’t benefit in the same way.
Back then, if you knew a Jude, it was probably short for Judy or Judith. Judy peaked at #11 in 1946, and remained a Top 100 choice for twenty more years. The more formal Judith was a Top Ten pick in the 1940s.
In the Old Testament, Judah is one of Jacob’s twelve sons, and the name means praised. He’s on the family trees of both King David and Jesus, so there’s no shortage of significance for Judah. He’s currently at his peak of popularity, ranked #265 as of 2013, following Isaiah and Elijah up the charts.
Judas, the Greek form of the name, has a big role in the New Testament, since Judas Iscariot is the apostle who betrays Jesus. While Judah and Jude have long histories of use, Judas is far less common.
But there’s another apostle, called Jude, Thaddeus, or Jude Thaddeus. Today we know him as Saint Jude, patron saint of lost causes, or, more hopefully, desperate situations.
Danny Thomas, the founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, was a struggling entertainer when he prayed to a statue of St. Jude, promising that he’d honor the saint should he succeed professionally.
Then there’s the literary Jude, Thomas Hardy’s the title character in his 1895 novel, Jude the Obscure. Hardy’s leading man encountered nothing but desperate situations and dashed hopes – perhaps a reason why parents have been reluctant to bestow the name.
But now there’s another image that comes to mind. Born David Jude Law, and known professionally by his middle, the English actor is a Hollywood A-lister, and he gets credit for much of the name’s rise.
Jude first appears in the US Top 1000 in the 1950s and 60s, the era of short names like Todd and Dean. But he never really caught on, and by the 1980s, Jude was fading.
Then Law’s star started to rise. In 1999, he appeared with Matt Damon in The Talented Mr. Ripley, earning an Oscar nomination, and Jude spiked, from #948 in 1999 to #679 in 2000.
The name has climbed steadily since then, and stands at #162 as of 2013. Judah is up to #265.
And yet don’t give Law all of the credit for his name’s success. With a Biblical backstory and a literary tie, Jude has quite a bit of appeal – traditional, but not traditionally common. A single-syllable boys’ name that’s long on style, it is easy to see why Jude is catching on.
Baby Name of the Day: Judah
Fetching Names: Borrowed from the Beatles