Editor’s note: This post was originally published on January 5, 2010 and was substantially revised and re-posted on January 6, 2014.
He feels like an antique revival, but he’s actually at his most popular right about now.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting Miles as Name of the Day.
Miles strikes the right note between unusual and familiar. Smart, stylish and perfectly appropriate for a small child or a grown man, it is easy to see why Miles is catching on.
And make no mistake, Miles is catching on. Both Miles and variant Myles are currently at their most popular. In 2008, Miles came in at #167. By 2012, he was up to #111. Myles has climbed from #266 to #222 in the same time period. Combined, he is about as popular as Adam, Cooper, or Nathaniel.
Miles’ origin is debated.
The most likely explanation is that he’s a Germanic name, ultimately from the Slavic element mil – gracious. Miles, Myles, and Milo were all in use in Anglo-Norman England, along with variants like Milot and Milon.
He could also be a cousin to Michael, via Mihel, an Old French form of the name.
The Latin word miles means soldier, and there might be some overlap between the noun and the name, too.
In Ancient Rome, Miles Glorious was the standard name for any boastful soldier. Roman writer Plautus titled a play Miles Glorious circa 200 BC. Many centuries later, Stephen Sondheim borrowed the name for a character in 1962’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.
No one suggests that Miles shares origins with the Old English mil – the source of our word mile – but I think the shared sound lends Miles some of his adventurous spirit. At least one marathoner has chosen the name as a nod to running.
But the earliest use is back in Greek myth. Myles was the son of Lelex, and inherited the throne of Laconia from his dad. Myles’ granddaughter Sparta would inspire the name of the legendary city. The mythological figure probably has nothing to do with the name that surfaced in Norman England.
Famous bearers of the name are plentiful:
- Captain Myles Standish of the Mayflower.
- Miles Coverdale translated the Bible to English in the sixteenth century.
- Jazz great Miles Davis – born Miles Dewey Davis III – is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and inspiration for many other musicians.
Fictional characters include:
- The little boy in Henry James‘ haunting The Turn of the Screw wears the name.
- In Natalie Babbitt’s 1975 novel Tuck Everlasting, Miles is a member of the Tuck family, brother to Jesse.
- The neurotic executive producer of Murphy Brown wore the name.
- It was Macauley Culkin’s character in 1989’s Uncle Buck.
- Star Trek universe character Miles O’Brien claims descent from the High Kings of Ireland.
- Lost’s Miles Straume was introduced in the show’s fourth season.
- Paul Giamatti played a frustrated writer and wine snob from 2004 movie Sideways.
He’s also a surname, and a favorite for celebrity parents. Among the earliest were Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins, in 1992. Lionel Richie, Mayim Balik, Joan Cusak, and Elisabeth Shue have all chosen the name, too.