On television, he was Frasier Crane’s fastidious brother. And he’s just one letter removed from the white hot Miles.
Thanks to Allison and Cat for suggesting our Name of the Day: Niles.
Frasier’s younger brother made Niles familiar, but he’s still seldom heard. The name charted in the US only briefly in the 1940s. (Big brother Frasier’s moniker has never cracked the Top 1000, even in the era of Tyler, Cooper and Mason.) Miles, on the other hand, had sky rocketed to #189 by 2007 and seems likely to keep gaining.
Niles is related to Neil, which in turn comes from Niall. Niall was a semi-legendary King of Ireland back in the 400s. Both the Vikings and the Normans exported the name, which lives on today in English as Neal and Neil. Nigel also traces his roots back to Niall.
Odds are that most descendants of men named Neil became Nelson, Nilson or Neilson, but there is always some variation, and so some favored Niles. Others might have derived the surname Niles from Cornelius.
Hezekiah Niles was a nineteenth century newspaper publisher . Wendell Niles served as radio announcer on countless classic programs, from The Bob Hope Show to Burns & Allen.
Most Niles are probably wearing a family surname. While it was never common, a handful of men called Niles appear in the US Census records from the early 20th century onwards.
In addition to the Frasier character, I found three other fictional bearers:
- In DC Comics, the leader of the Doom Patrol is Dr. Niles Caulder – better known as The Chief;
- A second television Niles was the Sheffield family’s butler on 1990s era sitcom The Nanny.
- Comedy Central’s Crank Yankers features an obnoxious puppet known as Niles Standish.
There’s relatively little backstory to this name and even the origins of High King Niall’s moniker are disputed. And yet, Niles picks up a bit of mystery from the unrelated Nile River. Even if the words evolved independently, Niles does conjure up the shimmer of Egypt.
You can visit places called Niles in Illinois, Michigan, New York and Ohio. Railroad buffs can travel between Fremont and Sunol, California on the Niles Canyon Railway.
The success of Miles is either a promising sign for Niles, or his death knell. Choose this name for your son and odds are that he’ll be correcting teachers, classmates and pretty much everyone else, indefinitely. And while Miles offers the jaunty Milo as a nickname, Nilo doesn’t quite work. In fact, Niles’ image tends to be a bit more buttoned-down.
Overall, Niles presents an appealing way to update Neil, or to adapt the family name Nelson into something slightly more wearable. It doesn’t have quite the cachet of Miles – but that might be a good thing.