Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Around the 5th century BC, a tribe called the Lucani conquered part of southern Italy. Their lands stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Gulf of Taranto. Eventually they became part of the Roman Empire.
The Greek name Loukas refers to the Lucani or one from their lands.
It’s possible that the tribe’s name comes from luc, meaning light – the same as the Latin. While the language spoken by the Lucani is mostly lost, there’s evidence that the whole family of Osco-Umbrian languages shared quite a bit with Latin. Some suggest that the name means “eastern land.”
But it’s hard to know. What’s certain is that Loukas is a name of Greek origin, derived from the region, and the baby name Lucas is the Latin.
Luke, in turn, is the English form of the name.
THE GOSPEL of LUKE
In the New Testament, the author of the third gospel hailed from Antioch, not Lucania.
It’s believed that Luke was highly educated, possibly Greek, and probably a physician before he became an evangelist. He’s credited with writing both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles.
He became a widely admired figure, and the saint is the reason that this name is found in many languages, just like fellow evangelists Matthew, Mark, and John.
ACROSS THE YEARS
While the baby name Luke was in use during the Middle Ages, it was probably less common than many other Biblical favorites.
One possible reason Luke rose in use: the Crusades increased interest in both the ancient world and the early church, increasing the popularity of Saint Luke.
In the English-speaking world, the baby name Luke was long used in small numbers. It wasn’t until the late twentieth century that everything began to change.
COOL HAND LUKE
While the baby name Luke had always ranked in the US Top 1000, it never rose much higher than the 200s, and often in the 500s.
Then along came Paul Newman. He starred in 1967’s Cool Hand Luke. It was a box office success, and a critical one, too, earning multiple Academy Award nominations. The story of a prisoner with an unbreakable spirit, it’s the origin of the unforgettable line: What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.
Newman’s character booste d the name, and it rose every year afterwards.
A decade later, along came Star Wars, and the world has never been the same.
The blockbuster debuted in 1977, generated two sequels over the next few years, a trio of prequels a few decades later, and eventually an entire universe built on the mythology created by George Lucas in the initial movie.
But it all started with Luke Skywalker.
The character answered to the surname Starkiller in early drafts, a much-discussed point.
But there’s little discussion of his first name. Could it be a nod to George Lucas’ surname? There are rafts full of analysis of all things Star Wars, and some speculation that the name’s similarity to the Latin lux – light – was the inspiration. It’s a sharp contrast to (is this still a spoiler?) his father’s chosen title, Darth Vader.
In 1976, the baby name Luke ranked #222. By 1980, it had darted into the US Top 100. It teetered, falling for a few years, but by the 1990s, Luke was back in the Top 100 and rising.
FAMOUS PEOPLE NAMED LUKE
Some of those early bearers of the name grew up – think of actor Luke Wilson, whose career started in the 1990s. Beverly Hills, 90210 made another bearer of the name famous in the same decade – though Luke Perry was born Coy Luther Perry III.
Singer songwriter Luke Bryan is a major force in country music today. Luke Combs is another familiar name, winner of the Country Music Association Entertainer of the Year award in 2021 and 2022.
And Luke Hemsworth is a member of the famous acting family, most recently seen in Westworld.
Post-Skywalker, the 1980s gave us an almost unending list of fictional Lukes.
During the 1980s, daytime television supercouple Luke and Laura dominated ratings on General Hospital. Their 1981 wedding remains the highest watched hour of soap opera programming ever.
The now painfully-dated Dukes of Hazzard once ranked among the most-watched tv series of the early 1980s, featuring the exploits of cousins Beau and Luke Duke.
During the 1990s, Gilmore Girls plots often revolved around Lorelai Gilmore and her would-be romance with local diner owner Luke Danes.
The Rock played Luke Hobbs in several Fast and the Furious movies.
Marvel gives us Luke Cage, introduced in the 1980s, but brought to life by Netflix in the 2010s, originally as a guest character on Jessica Jones.
The saint gets credit for spreading the baby name Luke across the world. Luke Skywalker kicked off a renaissance for them, not only in the US, but across multiple languages.
- Lukasz in Polish
- The FrenchLuc, as well as the rare, but not unknown, Luco
- Lluc in Catalan
- Loek and Luuk in Dutch
- Lukacs in Hungarian (or Lukács)
- And, of course, plenty of languages add diacritical marks, like the Irish Lúcás
Luca and Luka are popular across Europe, in multiple languages – and, increasingly, favorites in English, too. It’s worth noting that they’re almost always a boy’s name, but the -a ending is very occassionally feminine in some languages.
And then there are all of the longer Luke names:
- Lucas, the Latin form of the name, now a Top Ten favorite in the US
- Lucius, directly derived from the Latin lux – light. You’ll sometimes see this meaning attached to any of the Luc-/Luk- names.
- The related Lucianus, which led to Lucian and Lucien.
- International versions, including the Italian Luciano, Italian and Spanish Lucio, and many others. Double names with Luke are common, too – think Star Trek’s Jean-Luc Picard or reality television’s John Luke Robertson.
Luke could be a nickname for nearly any of these and more.
It’s among the most popular baby boy names of recent decades. As of 2021, Luke ranks #32. It’s been a Top 50 pick since 2001.
Factor in all of those related names, as well as sisters Lucy, Lucia, and Lucinda and the sound is everywhere.
And yet, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a traditional name that shares the same qualities as favorites like Jack, a mix of traditional and current. Luke could a sibling name for Cole or Kai … or William or Daniel.
For parents seeking a name that feels thoughtful and active, current and timeless, the baby name Luke ia traditional favorite fits.
What do you think of the baby name Luke?
This post was originally published on November 8, 2008. It was substantially revised and reposted on January 25, 2016 and again on May 4, 2023.