This one ought to be as edgy as naming your baby boy Racer or Rogue. But instead of sacking Rome, he sounds like the type to study Latin.

Thanks to Alicia for suggesting Wendell as Name of the Day.

It’s hard to connect Wendell with the barbarians who sacked Rome in the fifth century, ushering in the Dark Ages. Historians tell us that the Vandals weren’t any more destructive than their peers – including the Romans themselves – but the label stuck.

Wendell, Wendel and Wendal come from the Germanic wandal – the name for a member of the tribe. But it’s not all bad – it probably relates to their word for wanderer.

One of the earliest bearers of the name wasn’t a marauding bandit, but a shepherd-turned-saint. Also called Wendolinus, Wendelinus and Wendelin – a diminutive form – he lived in the early 600s. You can still visit the picturesque town of Sankt Wendel in Germany, not too far from the French border.

So Wendell went from vandal to saint within his first few hundred years. He’s remained a gentle soul ever since. Don’t get me wrong – I’m no advocate of hyper-masculine picks like Cannon. And Wendell would share a playground with Joshua and Noah, Oliver and Simon. Soft, smart-sounding boys’ names aren’t really a problem, though some parents fret that their little Ezra might be mistaken for a girl.

There have been plenty of notable Wendells over the years, including:

  • Wendell Wilkie, former US presidential candidate from 1940, best remembered for winning the popular vote but losing in the electoral college to FDR;
  • It was the middle name of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. – the noted nineteenth century poet – as well as his son, influential and long-serving Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.;
  • Wendell Neville served as Commandant of the Marine Corps in the 1920s;
  • Abolitionist and reformer Wendell Phillips was active in the nineteenth century;
  • Wendell Stanley snagged a Nobel prize for his twentieth century work in biochemistry.

W-names are in vogue for boys, from classic William to cowpoke Wyatt to retro Walter. And yet Wendell seems to not quite fit with this trio.

Perhaps it is simply too soon to reconsider Wendell. The name peaked in 1940, at #114. While plenty of classic boys’ names were in use, a glance at the Top Ten suggests just how differently parents thought about names. Donald stood at #9; Ronald occupied the #10 slot. Other Top 100 picks included:

  • Harold
  • Lawrence
  • Eugene
  • Albert
  • Howard
  • Norman
  • Melvin
  • Earl
  • Ernest
  • Stanley
  • Marvin
  • Clarence
  • Herbert
  • Bernard
  • Gordon

While they’re all perfectly respectable, even classic, choices, none can be considered fashionable. For the most part, they’re not even proto-fashionable, like 1920s favorites Raymond, Arthur, Chester, Oscar and Homer. If there’s an era currently in a fashion blind spot? The 30s and 40s must be it.

Then again, someone was the first to bring back Leo. But in Wendell’s case, that someone will probably be one of our children.

If you’re set on honoring a grandpa Wendell, two altenratives emerge – the Eastern European Vendelin, for boys, or the Scandinavian Vendela – worn by a supermodel and a historic novel – for girls.

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 Wendell! It sounds sweet and soft, a little bit feminine. I love the idea of a little boy Wendell-called-Wendy.

  2. Well, I’m laaaaate to this party, but I have to represent for Wendell! I have a little cousin named Wendell, and I think it’s a great name. Strong, quirky, and there’s the great association with Wendell Berry, the amazing naturalist/farmer/author. Yay for Wendell.

  3. I can’t warm up to Wendell. I agree that there is something very geeky about it and it doesn’t lend itself to many nickname options.

  4. I first think of the father of one of my schoolmates, who ran a used car lot. When I found out his name was Wendell, I immediately loved it. Certainly helped that he was a single father to two young kids.

    Then I think of the song, which I’ve always really liked.

    So overall, a thumbs-up from me.

  5. The Arrested Development song IMMEDIATELY popped into my head as soon as I saw this post. Great song though…takes me back!

    As for the name, I actually find it kind of charming.

  6. While my eyes tell me that Wendell should really be a charming name (it looks well), I just can’t cotton on to it. This is probably due in large part to the only Wendell I knew: a slightly obnoxious, loud, silly, and stereotypically chubby kid. Nope, it can’t be done.

  7. Wendell immediately makes me think of Prince Wendell from the mini series “the Tenth Kingdom” ^^ such a unique character!

    Also, I have to say that I love Wendell and a lot of the names on your 40’s list, Malvin, Marvin, Bernard, Clarence, Ernest (Earnest) and Lawrence especially, Clarence and Lawrence being the favourites with Earnest (this spelling) and Bernard right behind ^^
    I also like Ethel and Thelma, which is rather out of the ordinary… I think they would make excellent Name of the Day posts, forcing people to reconsider them… 🙂

  8. Wendell sounds hick-ish to me, mostly because I currently live not terribly far from a town called Wendell, which is kind of out in the sticks. A former colleague of mine with a wonderfully authentic rural NC accent often spoke of going to Wendell to visit family – her intonation of the town’s name has stuck in my head. It’s not so much WEN-duhl as when-DELL – drawn out and almost having equal emphasis on both syllables. On the other hand, I *do* especially like Marvin from your 40s names list above!

  9. Mr. Wendal – yup! About homelessness. And I really couldn’t fit a reference into this post, though it has been running through my head all day … My you ARE up on your pop music. 🙂

  10. Um. It just sounds so geeky. Didn’t Arrested Development have a song, Mr. Wendell in the 1990s? A college boyfriend of mine had a roommate named Wendell. He used to fart in his sleep. I would never be able to use this one. I still think Walter is super, though.

    1. The song was my first thought too. And I like Walter a lot, but couldn’t get my husband on board.