“Aidan, Jayden, Braeden, Brendan, Landon, Logan, Macon, Mason … has anyone thought to bring back Urban?”

Thanks to Arthur for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: the on-trend, but fabulously obscure Urban.

Eight popes have been called Urban. While John, Paul, Gregory and Leo continue to inspire many a child’s name, we can safely class Urban with Innocent, Pius and Boniface – not likely choices for even the most Catholic among us.

Today, we consider Urban an adjective to describe city living – urban renewal, urban homesteading, urban decay, urban planning. It comes directly from the Latin urbanus, meaning “pertaining to city life.” But while the word has been around, it was rarely used in the modern context until the 17th century, and wasn’t common for another 200 years. The term urbane, taken from the Middle French urbain, was used interchangeably with urban for a time. Today, urbane means sophisticated and refined while the other just means, depending on your point of view, crime and grit or excitement and access to mass transit.

Back in the 200s, Urban was the birth name of Pope Urban I, who served from 222 to 230. He was bookended by Popes Callixtus and Pontian; the idea of naming your child after a saint had not yet been established, and most Christians were probably adult converts anyhow. Little is known of his early life, and even tales of his papacy are based on legend more than established fact.

Seven subsequent Popes Urban took their name from the original. They were actually born:

  • Otho
  • Uberto
  • Jacques
  • Guillaume
  • Bartolomeo
  • Giovanni
  • Maffeo

Urban I became a saint, and so while the given name was never common, it was in use at least in the 200s. Besides the religious leader, there was a would-be revolutionary named Urbanus who attempted to stage a coup circa 270.

The name also appeared in Medieval Europe and again in 19th century America. Some of the later uses may stem from Urban’s popularity as a surname. Variants appear in at least nine European languages, stretching from England to the Ukraine.

You’ll find plenty of Urbans in early 20th century census records, and the name appeared in the US Top 1000 through 1931. The best known bearer of the given name in recent years is probably Urban Meyer, head football coach at the University of Florida.

The coach aside, this name is just about extinct. Google “baby name urban” and you’ll come up with lists like this one: Urban Baby Names, including some eye-poppingly unusual choices like Na’Chauncia and Zamarious. And, of course, there will be many references to Miss Sunday Rose Kidman Urban.

Urban’s exact origins remain shrouded in mystery. As the name has become more of a descriptive term and less of an appellation, his appeal has suffered. He’s not helped by the unpopularity of the “urb” sound – Herbert and Herman, once staples, are at a low ebb, too.

While Urban fits the two-syllable, ends-in-n trend, he’s unlikely to be revived. But we can’t help feel this one does have some quirky, ancient appeal.

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. 7 months ago I had a dream that I had a baby boy named Urban Banjo. I woke up and texted all my girlfriends something along the lines of “LOL do I hate my future son?” and went to tend to my 7 month old baby girl. Welllll, 2 weeks later, I had a positive pregnancy test; 12 weeks after that we found out it was a boy, and now after calling the baby UB (“Oobie”) for months, the name Urban has really grown on me! We won’t be using it as a first name because I grew up with an unusual first name and I think it’s an undue burden to put on a child; I could maybe see it as a middle name, though.

  2. RF, that’s an interesting point. Would Urban risk being too much like South Park’s Token?

    It’s hard for me to say – being Catholic, to me Urban is an obscure saint’s name that happens to also be an adjective these days. While I’m sensible that it’s also punky make-up and a radio format featuring mainly African-American artists, it’s not the first place my head goes.

    It’s my husband’s objection to Dante – living in a big city, he tells me that everyone expects Dante to be, well, anything other than a pasty kid of mixed European descent. It doesn’t bother me for a second, but then, I think men are more sensitive to a category I oh-so-creatively call “names that can get you beat up unless you’re the biggest kid in your class.” Then again, I also cringe when I hear parents choose boys’ names like Slade and Jett – because if it would be tough to be a bookworm called Dante, can you imagine being a mathlete named Jett? Yikes!

    Hmmm … it’s an interesting point about Urban. And should I meet one, I’ll let you know if he’s blonde and wearing a cashmere Ralph Lauren cardie around his shoulders. 🙂

    1. Ironically, Urban seems a bit odd to me, while Jett & Slade more usable & contemporary. To me, Urban is a more daring choice. Hey, if Egbert has an actual history & use; who am I to say that you can’t use Urban? It can even fit in with the surname trend

  3. I think depending where your mind goes w/ this one, the name can seem… silly.

    I imagine a little blonde haired, blue eyed, iced out, baby yuppie. Totally wanksta.

    On some children it could seem too pointed.

    The name seems loaded to me. It does have a regal sound though.

  4. DH, love your M. Kors/Project Runway reference – you’re quite right. 🙂

    I like Urban, even though I can’t see myself ever using it. But Elisabeth, you’re quite right – he could be part of a sibset with virtually any other given name. That’s pretty wild.

  5. Ooh, I really really really like Urban (I think) but have been too ashamed to admit it until now. He’s ancient yet cutting edge, and could go many directions. I could see him equally as likely to be a brother to Na

  6. It’s not an awful name, but not one I would use unless it’s a family name, and it would only be in the middle. It was interesting to learn about, though. Thanks for the research!

  7. eh . . . don’t really have anything to say about this one. Too many other associations for me to really consider it a name.

    And, to quote Michael Kors a few episodes of Project Runway ago, the worst review is no review.

  8. Fabulously obscure is a perfect description of Urban! 😀 I at one point recently, had a list of Pope names that appealed to me and Urban was most definitely on it. (My boys have Pope names, completely unintentionally, and I’d thought to maybe keep the “theme”. As for those original names of the subsequent pope Urbans, Maffeo makes me crack up & Otho & Uberto really appeal. Maybe Umberto instead? I like vowel beginners as long as they end with one too. Otho also makes me think of “Beetlejuice”!

    Urban’s not on any list of mine anymore, but I do like him despite the “Urban Decay” thought (which is punk nailpolish to me first & foremost) and If he were a surname on my tree, I’d use him in the middle in a heartbeat. I think he’s rather snappy, dashing and (pardon the pun) urbane. 😛

    If you’re in the market for a two syllable, ends in -n moniker for your boy, this is one that will easily stand out in the crowd! 🙂