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.

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. I love the idea of Niles in the middle spot, Paige. And NIles, brother to Byron? Swoon-worthy indeed!

    A feminine form of Niles … hmmm. Actually, I think you’d find something awkward like Niela or Nielina in use earlier in history. (If you read the higher reaches of the US Census records, it’s interesting to note that many of the uncommon names for girls appear to attempts at feminizing a name.) The other option is Nigella. Funny you should bring him up, Christina – he’s related to Neil, too!

    There is an Indian name, Nila. But I’m pretty sure she’s pronounced NEE la. And there’s an Arabic name Nailiah – NAH ee lah, I think.

    Nyla does rank in the US Top 1000, and I have seen it referred to as a Gaelic name. But I suspect it’s also often just a twist on Kyla/Myla, etc. I like the sound, though – I’m a big fan of Twyla.

  2. Like his unforgettable character, Niles will always be dapper and fastidious to me. Is Nyla the feminine version, or an unrelated name? She manages to sound both feminine and edgy to me.

  3. Christina that makes me smile because all the Nigel’s I know are accountants, solicitors and the such like – not the most adventurous of professions! 🙂

  4. Your comment about Niles bringing up images of the Nile had me thinking of how often Nigel is used for fictional explorers (The Wild Thornberry’s and, if you’ve ever heard of it, Adventures in Odyssey).

    Don’t prefer the name, but it definitly makes me think of an adventurous life 🙂

  5. I like Niles. Josephine would have been a Miles had she been a boy. But That was then. Miles is far too hot for my liking, Niles is a nice option and even I liked the Frasier character. 🙂 He’s smooth, suave and gentlemanly. If he were a touch more boisterous, he’d be perfect (for me at least)! Both Miles & Niles skew masculine for me, still Miles, probably because I’m near Boston. Niles, because of Frasier. I know a couple, expecting their second in May. Niles is their choice for a boy, (they haven’t finalised a girl yet) brother to Byron. I think it’s awesome for them! I hope it rises a little bit, because that’s encouraging to me and probably others. And in my neighborhood, I’m hoping familiarity breeds more!

  6. Nils (neels) is preferred, but it aside, I like it!
    I prefer it to Miles- the latter just seems a little feminine to me thanks to a certain Hannah Montana (curse you Miley Cyrus) and reminds me of roadway signs, as lame as that sounds.
    Niles is very, very dignified, and would make a cool, unexpected middle name choice.
    Potential combo: David Niles, Thomas Niles, Jonathan Niles, etc.

  7. Frasier – good show. I like Niles better than Miles, but I really prefer Niall or Nils(Swedish or Norwegian- don’t know which).

  8. Love Niles. I think it’s such a debonair name with more appeal than Miles, probably due to its Frasier associations. Niles was one of those really guilty pleasure character crushes. If I were Daphne, I’d have been on him like white on rice! *ahem* …

    Anyway, love the name, love the character, love the rareness. I don’t know if I’d use it myself, upon discovering probable surname origins, but Niles is an absolute winner for me!