He’s a heroic medieval knight, a legend whose exploits were celebrated in stories throughout Europe. But would he wear well on a boy born in our times?

Thanks to Lola for suggesting our Name of the Day: Roland.

The original Roland may have been real. In fact, he may have been Charlemagne’s nephew. But most of the tales of Roland are pure medieval fantasy, invented – or at least heavily embroidered – by troubadours. The 12th century Le Chanson de Roland is one of the earliest surviving works of French literature. Three hundred years later, Italian poet Matteo Boiardo penned Orlando Innamorato. Stories of Roland appear in Spain, Norway, Germany and England.

The name’s meaning fits his reputation. Roland comes from the Old High German Hrodland – famous land, or perhaps famous in the land.

Like any good medieval legend, Roland has continued to inspire through the ages. Composers Monteverdi, Lully, Handel and Vivaldi all took inspiration from the stories. So did 19th century poet Robert Browning and 20th century author Virginia Woolf, as well as artists and sculptors aplenty.

In many cases, Roland was known by the Italian translation of his name: Orlando. It is Orlando that’s most popular today, rising to #368, bolstered by popular actor Orlando Bloom, the ends-in-o trend and a preference for softer names for boys. You might also hear the Spanish Rolando from time to time.

But don’t count Roland out. He’s ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since 1880. At #745 today, he’s certainly not common, and he’s slipped quite a bit from his high of #98 back in the 1920s.

Still, Roland remains in use, including:

  • A minor character in the Matrix trilogy;
  • Roland Orzabal, half of British pop duo Tears for Fears best known for 80s hits like “Everybody Wants to Rule the World;”
  • Stephen King chose Roland as the name of his gunslinger anti-hero in The Dark Tower series;
  • Cities in the US and Canada, and mountains in Australia and Antarctica.

Some accounts say that Saint Roland lived in the 1100s in France, where he founded a monastery. However, there’s little historical confirmation. We do know that Roland de Medici turned his back on his powerful and wealthy family in the 1300s to live as a hermit. He’s currently up for canonization.

Roland isn’t the easiest name for a small child to wear, mostly because there’s not an obvious nickname. Of course Rolly might fit in with all the Olivers-called-Ollie. With his bright “o” sound, two-syllable pattern and long history of use, Roland emerges as a surprisingly reasonable choice. He’s far less dramatic than Orlando or Romeo. Perhaps Roland is best suited for parents heartbroken to learn that Tristan has taken a place in the US Top 100.

If you’re set on choosing a knightly name that’s widely recognized but not heavily used, Roland might be the perfect choice for you.

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. Emmy Jo – I like Rolando better than Roland – so maybe it’s a 3 vs 2 syllable issue for me and/or the emphasis shift away from the RO part. I also LOVE Giselle (or Gisela – I knew a couple in Argentina “hee SAY la”). I also like Rowena. Great names!

  2. I actually went to elementary school with a boy named Rolando. He was Filipino. I grew up in an area with a large Filipino population, and quite a few of my friends had very romantic, medieval names (including a Rowena and a Giselle).

    I have a lot of respect for the name Roland, and I love the medieval knightly connection, but I’ll admit that he’s a bit to “rolly” for me to ever use him. He reminds me a bit of the chubby puppy in “101 Dalmatians”. (Wasn’t his name Rolly?)

  3. Roland is probably my most down-to-earth favorite for a boy. I really like his sound and his looks. I had a friend named Roland in HS. Hated his twin, Randall but loved Roland. He died in a car accident when we were 23. I still miss him (and hate his twin) and would use it to honor my late friend. I prefer Rollo to Rolly (RAHL-oh to RAHL-ee) but realise in looks, Rollo’s going to be roll-oh & candy to a lot of folks. No matter. Candy’s sweet! I’ve got Roland August Valentin on my list but have alternate Roland Cassius Edward there too. Can’t decide which I like best. He’s warm, charming, handsome & strong. He gets a solid :thumbsup: from me.

  4. I was going to reply and then I read what JNE said and that’s exactly what I was going to say. So, instead of being redundant, I’ll just agree with her.

  5. I don’t know why it is, but somehow I just can’t get my head around Roland. I can’t even give a reason or point to the whys and wherefores. All I can say for sure is that it’s not working for me. The knightly background is appealing. Maybe it’s the rolly poly-ness of it? It’s sort of in the same place in my mind as Sheldon – a la When Harry met Sally. And while I’m not a fan of Orlando (probably because of it being au currant) I prefer it to Roland by a wide margin… why is that? Maybe because there are three syllables? Maybe because the “land” part is the emphasized syllable (as apposed to the OR or the RO). Well, sadly, this one is a miss for me and I clearly can’t even capture why… odd.