The baby name Peter counts as a classic, from saintly origins to favorite children’s stories.
Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The first Saint Peter was a fisherman turned apostle.
Born Simon, Jesus nicknamed him rock – petros. The Roman Catholic church considers him the leader who picked up the pieces after Jesus’ crucifixion, the very first Pope. Head to the Vatican, and you can wander through the cavernous, football-field-dwarfing St. Peter’s Basilica, named in his honor.
The name has been used in commemoration of the saint ever since, with versions in nearly every European languages. Other saints followed.
There’s no shortage of notables across history and fiction:
- Many a royal family embraced the name, but Russia’s Peter the Great might be the most famous.
- Artists include Bruegel and Rubens, plus the more contemporary Max.
- Peter Abelard is remembered for his letters to his forbidden love, Heloise.
- Music gives us composer Tchaikovsky; folk music trio Peter, Paul, and Mary; and innovator Gabriel. There’s Townsend, frontman for The Who; and Frampton, to name just a few.
- Celebrated director Jackson is best known for the Lord of the Rings movies; there’s also director Bogdanovich, and actors including Sellers and Dinklage.
Athletes, politicians – including recent presidential hopeful “Mayor” Pete Buttiegeg, and many others belong on this list, too.
But somehow, the baby name Peter really shines in fiction.
Nursery rhyme names favor the most traditional choices. Jack appears in more than one; there’s Simon and George, too.
We know Peter as the pumpkin eater, first published around 1825, but recorded some years earlier. He “had a wife and couldn’t keep her.” It sounds nonsensical, but I’ve heard that it refers to a husband murdering his unfaithful wife.
A little dark – but also obscure.
On balance, the name’s nursery rhyme status lends the baby name Peter an innocent, timeless quality.
Beatrix Potter created Peter Rabbit in 1902. He featured in more stories through 1912, and has been wildly popular ever since. He’s clever and fearless, but also disobedient and a bit of a risk-taker. Many an adaptation has followed over the years, including a pair of computer-animated movies, the first in 2018, and the second expected later in 2020.
Potter’s creation isn’t the only rabbit by the name. Thornton Burgess gave us Peter Cottontail, who hopped down the bunny trail in a memorable 1971 Easter special.
In 1936, Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev wrote Peter and the Wolf, the story and the music. It introduces children to instruments, with each representing a character. The duck is an oboe; the flute, a bird.
The symphonic fairy tale debuted in the US in 1938. It’s among the most frequently performed pieces of all time.
And then there’s Peter Pan.
JM Barrie’s enduring tale of a boy who would never grow up has been re-told and re-invented again and again over the years. Disney gave us an enduring version – complete with his green tunic and cartoon-ish adversary, Captain Hook.
The Lost Boys of Neverland continue to capture our imagination, well over a century after we first met them. (Remember this song from 2015?)
The most famous Peter of the moment, though?
Has to be Spider-Man.
While other people have worn the suit in the Spiderverse – Miles Morales and Gwen Stacy to name two – Peter Parker is the original, and the current member of the Avengers seen on the silver screen since 2016.
If you have your heart set on classic names for boys, but find William and James, Henry and Theodore are all already taken, Peter could be the perfect choice. Traditional and storied, playful and heroic.
Chances are long-time this long-time Top 100 favorite is just waiting for a comeback.
What do you think of the baby name Peter? Would you consider it for a son?
First published on April 12, 2009, this post was revised and re-published on September 23, 2020.
Was there an entry on this name originally? It’s not showing up for me.
I adore Peter, but my strongest associations are the euphemism, and Peter Brady.
I love this name! It’s a close contest between Peter and Andrew at our house – I feel like using them both would be a little too much saintliness in one family, although we like them both for their literary connections (Peter Pan and Ender’s Game). Maybe we’ll up with them as brothers, after all. I think Peter is that perfect classic that is not over used. I knew a Peter a few years younger than myself, he never had a problem with teasing because of the slang.
Emmy Jo says
Yes, Esme, we do. The technical linguistic term for it is “flap” and Americans turn both their D’s and T’s into flaps between two vowels in most words.
So, Peter does sound the same as Peder would.
I love the name Peter; it’s stylish without knowing it! It’s also my grandfather’s name, who died before I was born, so it would be a nice way of honouring him. I did come across someone on a board once who said they considered Peter but where put off by the way their fellow Americans pronounced it. That did make me wonder; do Americans say it with a ‘D’ sound rather than a ‘T’, like us Brits?
Peter is a lovely name for a baby – traditional but not too terribly popular. I’m not sure I’d use it personally, but not for any overarching reason other than liking a few names more. I think it would be great to meet some little babies named Peter.
I love the name Peter. My good friend actually just gave birth to a little Peter on Tuesday.
Laney McDonald says
Hoppy Easter, as Anya, Eric and I always say. (Excuse the pun.)
I LOVE Peter. One of my cousins is named Peter, and he’s either 10 or 11 and such a sweet kid. That makes me like the name even more. His sister is named Francesca. One of Grandmom’s brothers is named Peter too. Lots of Peters in our family. I think we have at least three, so I would most likely use Peter as a middle name so people don’t get confused.
Peter is a great name once you get past the Peter Griffin/Family Guy association or the fact that it is a slang term for a certain male body part.
Emmy Jo says
My mind immediately jumped to the disciple and not the bunny when I saw this — but I feel so silly for not thinking of Peter Rabbit. You’re absolutely right that this is the perfect Easter name!
I like Peter. I remember when my brother was a little kid he always used to say he’d name his first son Peter. I’ve asked him recently if he still likes it, and I think he does. (Though my brother is a III, so I think he’s planning on making his first son James Edward IV, which is pretty darn cool.)
I taught a sweet little boy named Peter last year. His little brother is Charles and his older sister got a Lebanese name. (The family is from Lebanon.)
I don’t think the slang term is in common use anymore (at least not at the elementary school where I teach), so I can’t imagine Peter being a problem for that reason.
Great Name of the Day!
Happy Easter to Everyone!
Indeed, Peter is a grand name. I like it but was daunted enough 22 years ago by that slang to name him Simon instead. (Granted that was the Uncle but still, Simon-Peter is drilled in my head, they’re practically interchangeable for me). I also had a Great Uncle named Pyotr. He died diving off a bridge the summer of ’22. Hit a shallow spot. He was my Babci’s favorite brother too. The youngest. She was 24, he was 17. So Peter sits on my lists but I don’t think I’ll ever use him. Pete does nothing for me. And I’m a consumate nicknamer. I don’t like simple middles overmuch on my boys so he’s not middle material either. I do know a now three year old Peter, just Peter. And he’s an adorable redhead too. RF, I’d consider Peter as a middle, if I were you. He’d balance some of those other, less common names on your list and that would keep him from being that STI! 🙂
If I can consider Gwendolen, nn Wendy because of Barrie perhaps I should give Peter another chance?
I love Peter. I think a few recent television shows and movies helped it to grow on me. Before I probably thought it was a tad dull. I would consider using Peter myself, but it is more common than almost my entire long list. More so, my friends tell me it must be out considering that Peter is a euphemism for male genitalia and when combined with my last name sounds like a STI. :O Oh well.