He’s Biblical and classic, literary and cool. No wonder he’s a global sensation and a perennial favorite in the US, too.

Thanks to Melissa for suggesting Samuel as Name of the Day. And congratulations to Photoquilty on the birth of her new son Samuel, too!

Samuel has risen and fallen in the US, but he’s never left the Top 100. In the nineteenth century, he ranked in the Top 20. From the late 50s into the mid 60s, he hovered north of #80. In 2008, he was #26, falling slightly from previous years. But it is safe to call him a classic.

In the Old Testament, the childless Hannah yearned to be a mother. When her prayers were answered, she called him Shem’uel – God has heard. Her son went on to be a prophet and leader of ancient Israel. He’s revered in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, doubtless explaining much of the name’s popularity.

Like many an Old Testament moniker, he came into general use in post-Protestant Reformation England, just in time for plenty of figures in Colonial America to sport the name, including Samuel Adams. Adams was a patriot and leader of the American Revolution – and possibly a brewer, too, though thanks to Boston Brewing Company’s Sam Adams brand, that’s the image that endures.

Even without Mr. Adams, Sam would undeniably be patriotic. Said to be named in honor of a New York meatpacker, Samuel Wilson, our image of Uncle Sam has been in use since the War of 1812. He’s inspired a DC Comics superhero, the Muppets’ oh-so-serious Sam the Eagle, and the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics mascot, also Sam, also an eagle, but far more light-hearted.

There’s also Samuel Houston, as in Texas. He was president of the Republic, first senator from the newly formed state and eventually governor. He was a colorful figure, lending Sam some of his rough’n’tumble cowboy charm.

Literary Samuels include:

  • Seventeenth century diarist Samuel Pepys
  • The great Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • Eighteenth century poet, essayist and compiler of the era’s definitive dictionary, Samuel Johnson
  • Samuel Clemens, the birth name of the legendary Mark Twain
  • Nobel prize winning Irish writer Samuel Beckett

Lake Champlain is named after French explorer Samuel de Champlain, a pivotal figure in the development of Quebec. He also points to one of the most appealing features of the name – if you’re looking to span two languages, Samuel is one that works well. While Samuel’s pronunciation changes in different languages, his spelling often remains the same. Samuel is Samuel in English and French, plus Spanish, Polish, Danish and Swedish.

A few notable bearers ensure that Sam keeps his cool:

  • Actor Samuel L. Jackson
  • Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr.
  • R&B singer Sam Cook, known for hits like “You Send Me” and “What a Wonderful World”
  • Filmmaker Sam Peckinpah is remembered for his 1969 classic The Wild Bunch

And, of course, you’ll have a readymade bedtime story: Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss, complete with frequent repetition of your kiddo’s name. The BBC’s Fireman Sam has been released on DVD, too.

Throw in ABC news anchor Sam Donaldson and Walmart founder Sam Walton and you have quite a set of Sams.

All together, it is easy to like Sam. He’s quite versatile – Samuel is the scholar, Sam is the star athlete. If you don’t care for some of the Sams, no matter. There will almost certainly be another worthy namesake in the bunch.

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. Is it bad that my first thought upon hearing Samuel is Samuel Whinchester from “Supernatural”….oh well I knew I was a big fan lol

  2. Thanks for the good wishes, all!
    We had a hard time choosing a name for our new little boy. Ethan was a bit easier – he was going to be Calvin until I changed my mind and chose Ethan, and that was that. With Sam, I knew I wanted a name that wasn’t going to sound weird next to Ethan, so obviously it had to be classic/traditional, and have been used throughout the years – not a generational-trendy name! Samuel fit the bill…however, I don’t really like the name Samuel. I do like Sam a lot. But give my child a nickname as a full name? No, siree! So Samuel Sebastian is the full name, and Sam or Sammy is what we’ve been calling him. So far, he’s a sweetheart, and Ethan is totally in love with him. Ethan and Sam: a nice sib-set, I think.

      1. For anyone else with a Samuel, looking for another boy’s name that works with it, Benjamin was a popular pairing in the SSA lists. I love both! 🙂

  3. Congratulations, Photoquilty!

    Other Sams I thought of are Sammy Sosa, Sammy Hagar, Sam Kinison, the Sam Moon stores, actors Sam Shepard, Sam Worthington (Avatar), Sam Rockwell and Sam Elliott, Sam Rayburn (another Texan and Speaker of the House), fictional characters Sam Spade, Sam Seaborn on The West Wing and Sam Malone on Cheers.

    The only downside I can think of for Sam/Samuel is how popular it is. It’s a great, classic name.

  4. I love Samuel. It’s still one of my favorites despite it’s popularity. That popularity gives me pause, though, before I would consider using it. I know what it’s like to have a popular name, and I wouldn’t wish that upon my child. My “alternative” name for my much loved Samuel is Simon, which is also Biblical. Its also easy to spell and prononunce. And as far as I know, there aren’t very many little Simons out there.

  5. Congratulations, Photoquilty, on your little Samuel!

    Samuel’s not a favourite of mine, but that’s mainly because I’ve never really been partial to any “Sam” names. Not really sure why, but there it is. However, I love the name’s heritage — so many worthy people to be named after!

  6. Thank you so much for choosing Samuel as the name of the day. My Sam is a year old, and I just love seeing how classic and versatile his name is. So far it suits him very well.
    Congratulations on your new little Sam, Photoquilty!

  7. Samuel was my husband’s top pick for our son (who is now 2). It’s a good name – my only issue with it was that I knew two boys named Sam / Samuel when I was growing up. So that made the name ‘unexciting’ to me. I wanted a name that I hadn’t personally known anyone with – like our daughter’s name. (Which sounds kind of silly. :P) I’ve not met any baby / toddler Sams around here though.

    I guess it also slightly bugs me that I don’t know if I should say “Sam-U-ul” or “Sam-yule”.

  8. Congratulations, photoquilty!

    Samuel’s a great name.. Love it. Know several – one close college friend recently chose it for her son, too. It’s my lil’ brother’s mn and the baby (no longer) I babysat regularly in my teens. Lots of love for the name Sam.