He’s a cartoon child in an orange parka with appealingly regal roots.

Thanks to Kayt for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Kenneth.

For the first five seasons of South Park, poor Kenny McCormick met a gruesome fate nearly every episode. “You killed Kenny!” became a punch line. That’s unfortunate, because Kenneth’s history has much appeal.

Back in the 9th century, Cináed mac Alpin united the Scots and the Picts to become the first king of Scotland. His name is Anglicized as Kenneth. Two of his descendants would also take the name, the first in the late 900s and the second in the early 1000s.

Other Gaelic monikers have been Anglicized as Kenneth, including:

  • Saint Cainnech of Aghaboe was a sixth century missionary, one of the twelve apostles of Ireland. He’s also known as Canice, Canicus and Kenneth;
  • The Welsh hermit Cenydd or Cennydd also lived in the sixth century and is usually remembered as Saint Kenneth;
  • Coinneach Odhar probably lived in the sixteenth century. Known as the Brahan Seer, he briefly enjoyed a reputation for predicting the futures of the ruling families. Coinneach is also Anglicized as Kenneth.

The name as we know it today owes his success to an 1825 novel. Sir Walter Scott had previously published The Betrothed, a tale of gallant Crusaders. The sequel, The Talisman, featured a hero called Kenneth. Kenneth’s adventures in Syria presaged the European fascination with all things from the Orient.

By the late nineteenth century, Kenneth was established as a personal name. He entered the US Top 100 in 1898 and continued to climb rapidly. From 1920 to 1970, he was a Top 25 pick – that’s an impressive five decades’ run and well over one million boys given the name. Besides Kenneth, variants Kennith, Kenny, Kennth, Ken, Kent, Kennedy, Kendrick, Kendall, Kenyon and Kenton all charted over the same period, too.

Little wonder that plenty of well-known individuals wear the name:

  • Kenneth Grahame penned the enduring children’s classic The Wind in the Willows;
  • Celebrated actor and director Kenneth Branagh is best known for breathing life into big screen adaptations of Shakespeare, and, of course, for playing Professor Gilderoy Lockhart in the Harry Potter franchise.
  • Born into shoe business, Kenneth Cole has put his stamp on footwear, fashion and socially conscious ad campaigns;
  • R&B singer Babyface was born Kenneth Edmonds.

On another musical note, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members R.E.M. recorded a hit song titled “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth” in 1994. The song’s unusual title comes from an attack on Dan Rather – his assailant repeated the phrase. Despite that unfortunate association, the single keeps Kenneth current.

Kenneth peaked at #13 in 1939, and today stands at a respectable #135. Perhaps the biggest drawback to Kenneth is that a kid called Ken will be forever asked about Barbie and a boy named Kenny faces the South Park association. Still, this one doesn’t require a nickname – or parents could opt for the Superman-inspired, 1950s flavored Kent.

In a sea of Aidans, Dylans and Jordans, Kenneth is pleasingly different.

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. Thanks for the post about my name. I don’t know if I’ve every met anyone who didn’t love their own name, but I think Kenny’s a great name. But my uncle and my grandfather were Kenneths. As a Kenny growing up (born in 1977) I occasionally got the “where’s Barbie” line. I also can’t tell you how many times this conversation goes down.

    “What’s your name?”
    “Kenny G?”

    Seriously, how dumb is that, but at least during the early 90’s it happened all the time.

    I would say that I’ve found it to be a very uncommon name. Other than my own family, I’ve only known 3-5 other Ken, Kenny or Kenneths (although I office right next door to one now). This has always made me feel pretty unique. From someone who’s lived with it for over 30 years, I think it’s a great name!

  2. I have an uncle Kenny (never called Kenneth that I know of). Does sound a little dated to my ear, but certainly a usable name. Maybe I’d use in the middle.

  3. Lola, I hope your Kenneth enjoys hearing that his name is such a hit here! 🙂

    And Cat, “aging gracefully” is a great way to think about this one.

    Kayt, James Kenneth is such a fabulous combination! It’s rock solid – very confidence inspiring. Like Kate said, Kenneth is distinguished and respectable.

    Emmy Jo, I can’t think of a term that captures your concept – but “somewhere between classic and throwback/retro” is definitely a comfortable spot for many of us. I used the term “sensible” for my girls’ list – that’s as close as I could come to describing the idea!

  4. Ohh I agree, Kenneth is quite the dashing, distinguised, respectable chap isn’t he ?! I would be delighted to hear of a young Kenneth, it would be such a refreshingly unexpected choice. I don’t mind Ken as a nickname either but am really not so keen on Kenny, he’s is a real no go area for me.

  5. I find Kenneth dashing. It’s in my top-10 list for a future son. Yes, it definitely has an older feel, but it’s SO handsome. For me, it’s probably helped by the fact that the three Kenneth’s I know best (two close friends from my undergrad days and one from grad school) are all around my age (late 20’s), so it doesn’t sound that dated. I didn’t grow up watching South Park, so I don’t really mind the Kenny references.

    It seems the sort of name that would be a bit unexpected on a modern child but still perfectly suitable. It hovers somewhere between classic and throwback/retro, and I think that’s a place I’m very comfortable.

  6. Thanks! I find Kenneth handsome, if a bit dated to my own ear. It’s my son’s middle name. It’s too common in my husband’s family to have as a first name (four of them in the immediate family!), plus, with my husband being Kevin Kenneth, I think that’s too many K names!

  7. My other half’s a Kenneth and yes, I got the “Barbie” jokes in HS. Didn’t help any that I was blonde & light eyed and skinny back then! I agree that the name’s aging gracefully, just as he is. If he wasn’t a Kennth, i’d probably still like the name. I find it rather dashing as a whole. Unlike Cat, I’m a sucker for Th and Ph sounds, they figure ointo a lot of my favorites, especia;lly for girls! Ken is a decent enough sound for a short form, too. Nice & even sounds, a strong feel and a lovely historical presence makes Kenneth a name I like, even if it weren’t attached to the love of my life! I’ll have to show this to him later tonight, He hates his name, thinks it’s dated. And no matter how I tell him it’s not quite as bad as he thinks, he persists. So maybe this will help him come to terms with his name. Now, If only Wayne could have aged as gracefully!

  8. Kenneth is a thoroughly respectable name. I think it was Laura Wattenberg who said something about how it may be showing grey, but it is also aging gracefully. I have to agree, both about the name, and the kind of person I imagine carrying it. I imagine a Kenneth as something of a silver fox, a la George Clooney (or Rahm Emmanuel, rawr).

    As for the sound, I don’t care for th enders, they sound lispy to me more often than not, but Kenneth’s other strong sounds make up for it a bit and I find the name completely handsome. All in all, not something I’d pick, but I do like to seem them around.