Lyle, Lyle Crocodile by Bernard Waber
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Kyle became a late 20th century staple and is still going strong today. But what ever happened to this rhyming choice?

Thanks to Wrenn for suggesting Lyle as our Name of the Day.

Lyle was never as popular as Charles or Henry, Jason or Jacob. But between 1880 and 1995, Lyle ranked in the US Top 1000 every single year. His best showing was #145 in 1918. But today, while the rhyming Kyle continues to be quite the current choice, Lyle is headed for obscurity. It’s been well over a decade since he charted.

Like Kyle, he has his roots in a surname. But while Kyle is Scottish, Lyle comes from the French for island – l’isle. He may also stem from the place names Lille and Lisle, which owe their origins to the same word. The Normans imported him to England, and his spelling eventually became Lyle. Not long after, an aristocratic William de Lyle can be found in the historical record. By the fifteenth century, there was a Lord Lyle.

But say Lyle in 2009, and most parents will think of the quirky singer-songwriter Lyle Lovett. His name was on the decline when he started recording in 1980. He’s scored Grammy awards and released plenty of singles through the years, but he’s best known as the former Mr. Julia Roberts.

There’s also The House on East 88th Street and a series of children’s books by Bernard Waber about a cheerful urban-dwelling crocodile called Lyle. Lyle the Crocodile lives with the Primm family in their brownstone and goes on all sorts of adventures. If you’ve considered calling your daughter Eloise so she’ll have a storybook of her very own, then Lyle might appeal.

There have been famous Lyles in real life, including:

  • The NFL’s Lyle Alzado, known for his time with the Broncos, Browns and Raiders;
  • Veteran television actor Lyle Waggoner, known for his work on The Carol Burnett Show and Wonder Woman;
  • Lyle Wheeler won five Oscars and was nominated for many more over the course of his career in art direction for the movies. You’ve seen his work for movies like A Star is Born and The Seven Year Itch.

Then there’s silent film star Lyle Tayo. She worked steadily between the 1920s and 1940s, making the leap to talking pictures – and no, that’s not a typo. This Lyle was a woman. You might’ve spotted her in an old Laurel & Hardy or Our Gang flick. While some parents have bestowed masculine monikers on their daughters since the dawn of time, the case of Miss Tayo is mysterious – I can’t determine if it was a birth name or stage name, a family name or something chosen for style alone.

In other uses, a lyle gun is used to shoot a line towards swimmers in distress. It looks something like a cannon. While they’re no longer in use, lyle guns saved countless lives, lending Lyle a heroic tinge.

Lyle ought to wear reasonably well today. But rather than benefiting from his similarity to Kyle, perhaps Lyle is suffering for his similarity to Lila (and Lilah, Lyla, Delilah and so on.) Still, he’s an intriguing pick for a son – familiar, but rarely heard.

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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. This has a very dated vibe to it. I don’t necessarily think of Lyle Lovitt though. I do think it has a soft, dweeby sound, like Lance.

  2. Haha Emmy Jo that ‘slimy’ connotation is fantastic! Whilst I was reading his history, I knew there was something bugging me, and you’ve hit the spot 🙂 Lyle feels like a name for a used car salesman or something to me!

  3. I’m coming out of Lurkerdom.

    My mom’s sister is named Lyla and her stepbrother was named Lyle, and somehow I never thought that was strange… until I read this article. I’m disappointed that it’s so uncommon in this generation. I suppose it’s like Gordon and Gerard that are unpopular, yet sound almost identical to Jordon and Jared.

    Anyways, Lyle is such a pleasant name, and probably because of the “Lyle, Lyle Crocodile” books it seems like a “green” verdant name. Two of my step-cousins have children who have the middle name Lyle, but then it’s a family name and only used Lyle in the middle. I would be so pleasantly surprised to meet a little Lyle.

    1. Welcome from the shadows, Julie! My sister considered Lyle for a girl – I suppose it is possible that she\’ll still use it. I know that plenty of readers hate, hate, hate gender-bending with first names. Me? I\’m not so sure. But that\’s why Lyle Tayo intrigues me so.

      Lila, Lilah and Lyla seem destined to leap up the charts … not necessarily a bad thing, but it might put some parents off the choice. You\’re right about the Gordon/Jordan, Jared/Gerard thing, too.

      And I *loved* Lyle, Lyle Crocodile as a child – must order a copy – and I agree, I quite like this choice.

  4. I’m a first grade teacher, so my mind immediately goes to “Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile,” which I have a copy of in my classroom. I’m not sure I’d be able to shake that association.

    And for some reason, all the “ile/yle” boys’ names have started seeming a bit slimy to me recently, including my beloved Miles, which has been on my favorites list for quite some time. Lyle, Miles, and even Kyle — they’re smooth characters who you can’t really trust.

  5. Oh, thanks so much for showcasing Lyle!

    I think Lyle is great because it is not too common but everyone knows how to pronounce it when they see it and how to spell it when they hear it. And my southern ear loves the long “i” sound!

    I like Lila too but it is becoming too popular. But don’t worry – I’d never use Lyle and Lila together!

    I’m looking forward to seeing what others think…

  6. You pegged it for me – Lyle Lovett and his curly mop – it’s odd how strong that association is – the picture in my head is instant and vivid. Not that it’s a horrible association (I know little other than he was Mr Julia Roberts and has odd hair and is not really a looker), but it’s strong. Beyond that, the name is fine. I don’t have any other strong reaction to it. If I met a baby Lyle, maybe the Lovett association would deminish. It’s not a name for me, but there’s nothing wrong with it.