We The baby name Malcolm qualifies as a quiet classic for a son.
Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The baby name Malcolm qualifies as a Scottish heritage choice.
It comes from Mael Colium, follower or disciple of Saint Columba.
Columba is credited with converting Scotland to Christianity. It’s also the source of Colm, Calum, and Callum, too.
The saint crossed into Scotland around the year 563, establishing an influential abbey to support his efforts.
Columba means dove. It’s a symbol of peace, as well as the Holy Spirit in Christianity.
So the meaning of the name Malcolm connects with these ideas: peace, as well as all that Columba stood for, and his status as a significant figure in Scottish history.
Between 943 and 1165, four kings of Scotland answered to Malcolm, too.
The real life Malcolm III inspired events in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
If you remember the tragic tale, Duncan is the king of Scotland, and Malcolm is his older son. Macbeth is a loyal general in the king’s army.
If we didn’t think of this name as specifically Scottish to begin with, Malcolm’s status as a son of Duncan in the famous play would almost certainly make it so.
But something happens as we move into the twentieth century. The given name Malcolm remains in steady use, for an ever wider range of world-changing men.
Some of them are pop culture sensations. There’s the manager – and mastermind – of punk legends The Sex Pistols, Malcolm McLaren.
AC/DC co-founder Malcolm Young is another musical reference.
Actor Malcolm McDowell starred in everything from from Stanely Kubrick’s 1971 A Clockwork Orange to 1994’s Star Trek Generations.
We remember entrepreneur Malcolm Forbes as the publisher of his family’s magazine, Forbes.
But there are a few who are even better known.
Born Malcolm Little, the African-American Muslim preacher and civil rights activist became internationally known during the 1960s. Malcolm X served as a spokesman for the Nation of Islam, believing that adherence to the Muslim faith was consistent with Black empowerment.
During his conversion to Islam, he dropped the surname “Little,” instead adopting X. The X symbolized his unknowable African ancestors, their history lost to slavery.
Over time he became disillusioned with the Nation of Islam, studying Muslim teachings independently. After completing a pilgrimage to Mecca, Malcolm X adopted the name Malik al-Shabazz – but in the popular imagination, he’s always been Malcolm X.
The schism between the Nation of Islam and its former member led to death threats and his 1965 assassination. All these years later, there’s still debate about exactly who was responsible for his murder.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X was published posthumously, less than a year after his death.
In 1992, Denzel Washington played the activist in a biopic, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
There’s a boldness and strength to the baby name Malcolm, thanks to the activist.
In recent years, journalist, best-selling author, and podcaster Malcolm Gladwell has become difficult to avoid. His work often shows that our conventional thinking is wrong, and reveals hidden truths about how the world really works.
Gladwell investigates everything – including his own name, leading to this comment:
“Malcolm seems substantial. It’s not a fly-by-night, suspicious name. It’s sturdy, forthright.”
Plenty more Malcolms come to mind, including:
- Malcolm Jamal-Warner, the only brother in The Cosby Show. His character’s name, Theo, has become one of the hottest of this moment. Is that down to a generation of kids who grew up watching the sitcom in re-runs during the 1990s?
- Popular Fox show Malcolm in the Middle ran during the early 2000s. The super-smart title character, played by Frankie Muniz, made the name almost cuddly.
- It’s a go-to name in the Harry Potter series, worn by six separate characters, ranging from a Hufflepuff Quidditch player to a friend of Dudley’s in the non-magical world.
- While we’re visiting alternate universes, how about Firefly and Serenity? The space Western includes Captain Malcolm Reynolds, played by the dashing Nathan Fillion.
BY the NUMBERS
We don’t necessarily think of the baby name Malcolm as a classic. And yet, it’s appeared in the US Top 1000 every year since the rankings were established in 1880. Then again, it’s never cracked the US Top 100 – which makes it easier to overlook.
As of 2021, the name stands at #282. It’s a great choice for a traditional name that everyone recognizes, but relatively few boys will share.
FORTHRIGHT and CAPABLE
What Gladwell said about his name rings true. It’s a solid choice for a son. Traditional and reliable. We expect our Malcolms to be capable, too, whether that means piloting a starship or reporting on the 10,000 hours required to become an expert.
If you’re crushed that classics like Theodore and Henry are so very popular, the baby name Malcolm could be the substitute you seek.
What do you think of the baby name Malcolm?
Originally published on September 19, 2008, this post was revised and re-posted on September 8, 2014, and again on July 19, 2022.
Johnna B Barker says
My grandpa was a Malcolm. I grew up thinking Malcolm was a strong name for a strong man. My husband took some convincing, but I made him a deal that one of us would get to pick the last name and other, the first and middle name. I’m pregnant now and the more he hears it and sees it, the more he likes it. It’s a family name for me, but I love that it’s classic and uncommon. Nickname would be Mac. I’ve known some Macs and the name sounded cool on them.
I’d love to use this name for a son if my husband would allow it… (Thus far he won’t even consider it )
My 2 year old is Malcolm. 🙂 Named after Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly. He proudly wears his name. And his Jayne hat! 😉
My little one is named Malcolm! We call him Mal, Malley, or Malkie (I don’t like that one as much but it just stuck) and his aunt calls him Malcs. I love his name.
Had a son in August and he is named Malcolm Paul after his grandparents.
(Anyone else having trouble seeing the comments section?)
It’s a glitch in a behind-the-scenes upgrade I recently installed … still not sure exactly *which* upgrade though, so please bear with me as I try to unravel it!
I love the name Malcolm, and the character Malcolm in Macbeth.
The one thing that makes me nervous about it is actually mentioned by River Tam on the tv show Firefly:
“Mal… Bad… In the Latin.”
Does she really say that? I don’t remember! Yes, that’s an issue …
I love Malcolm! If I were to have another child, which I’m certainly not, this would be top-of-the-list for a boy (not sure my husband would agree, but since it’s all hypothetical, no matter!).
C in DC says
I had this one under heavy consideration if we’d had a boy. Grandpa was Melvin, a name I don’t like, but my grandma called him “Mal” instead of “Mel”, leading me to Malcolm.
I just saw this via one of the Sunday Summaries…
I LOVE Malcolm. He’s at the TOP of my list if I ever have a boy. I love the Scottish feel and having a strong history and at least a slightly positive meaning. I hope if future-DC#2 is a boy DH will agree to this one. Love it and the nn Mac or Max.
Malcolm Wheeler says
Malcolm is a top contender for my future son’s name, and I just adore the nickname Mal. It’s a very refreshing name to hear in this age of Aidens.
I quite love Malcolm, but could never imagine using Mac, just for the whole “Big Mac” thing. (for those not in the states, that’s a McDonald’s thing).
I think I once knew a Malcolm nicknamed Colm, but I’m not 100% sure…
I’d definitely use it, and shall now consider it greatly! 😉
You’re welcome! I love the nickname Mac, and I’ve known a fabulous Malcolm, too. It’s almost as if there never was a bearer of the name who wasn’t just a great guy.
My one-year-old is named Malcolm and we call him “Mac”, which is a nod to his great grandpa McNamara who was commonly referred to as “Mac”. We never hear “Big Mac” or any association with McDonald’s so that’s completely a non-issue for us. We love the name, obviously.
Kendra, thanks for sharing! I do think Malcolm called Mac is all kinds of fabulous. And I love that it’s a nod to his great grandpa, too.
Oh Thank you for Malcolm! He’s absolutely ACES for me. Despite feeling a bit “too” Scottish with my surname, I am thoroughly charmed by him and continue to consider using him for a boy. I find Malcolm strong, handsome, charming and wonderful. He could be “Mac” (With this name or my last name!), Mick or Colm, easily. Shakespeare made me like him when I was a kid, Malcolm McDowell made me love him and I met Malcolm Forbes back in the early 80’s, what a fantastic guy he was (Funny, smart & a really sweet guy, honest!) Malcolm’s easy on the eyes and just as easy to wear, I think. Especially in a state where Connor, Ryan & Duncan rign supreme!
I adore Malcolm (and thanks for saying he goes with Simon)!