The baby name Wesley has hugged the edges of the most popular baby boy names for generations. It feels one-part English gentleman, one-part at home on the range.
Thanks to Another for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The baby name Wesley has ranked in the US Top 200 – and sometimes higher – every year since the rankings began in 1880. It fits in nearly every era, sounding right with early 20th century picks like Stanley and Harvey; alongside Baby Boomers Larry and Jerry; and in the mix with 80s favorites like Cody, Corey, and Casey.
The name peaked in the US Top 100 from 1977 through 1982, and again from 1985 through 1989. Some would expect the name to be in hibernation right about now, but not so. After falling in the 1990s, the baby name Wesley is back at #84 as of 2021.
Originally an English surname meaning western meadow, plenty of places are named Wesley.
It entered into use as a given name to honor seventeenth century religious reformer John Wesley. A theologian by training – he studied at Oxford – Wesley drifted across various movements before starting his own. While he considered himself a member of the Church of England throughout his life, we now know his followers as Methodists.
His younger brother, Charles Wesley, followed him into the faith. He’s best remembered as a prolific writer of hymns, including “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”
The last name Wesley entered common use as a first in the 1800s as a means to honor his legacy.
JOHN WESLEY HARDIN
One of the men named after the reformer? Future outlaw John Wesley Hardin.
Born in 1853, Hardin was a thoroughly despicable character, in trouble with the law from an early age and jailed for murder at the age of 23.
But in pop culture, Hardin became a romanticized hero.
He features in books, movies, and television.
Johnny Cash recorded Hardin Wouldn’t Run in 1965. Two years later, Bob Dylan recorded John Wesley Harding. (Same figure, just with an extra ‘g’ on his name.)
Johnny Cash’s lyrics called him Wes, and plenty of Wesleys also favor that distinctive diminutive.
Instead of sounding polished and gentlemanly, by the 1960s, the baby name Wesley felt a little rough and tumble.
After years of steadily rising and falling in the mid-100s, the baby name Wesley starting to rise in the 1970s.
One possible reason? Young actor Wesley Eure, known for roles in soap opera Days of Our Lives and children’s television series Land of the Lost, both airing simultaneously.
In any case, by 1977, the baby name Wesley debuted in the US Top 100 at #66.
THE PRINCESS BRIDE
1973 novel The Princess Bride added a t to the name: Westley.
In 1987, it became a movie, starring Cary Elwes as Westley – and, of course, the Dread Pirate Roberts. It was only a modest success at the box office, but has since become a box office classic.
None of the other character names had an impact – Robin Wright played Princess Buttercup, a name that has never been given to even five girls in a single year. But Westley-with-a-t spiked in 1988, and probably helps explain our continuing love of the baby name Wesley.
SNIPES, CRAVEN, CRUSHER
Pop culture gave us more and more figures by the name.
Horror movie director extraordinaire Wes Craven made it big in the 1980s, beginning with A Nightmare on Elm Street. Eventually indie filmmaker Wes Anderson would make his mark.
Actor Wesley Snipes rocketed to stardom in 1991’s New Jack City. By 1998, he was playing a half-vampire hero in the Blade series.
Speaking of vampires, in the late 1990s, we met Wesley Wyndham-Price, a new character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He later became part of the cast of Buffy spin-off Angel. And one more: The Vampire Diaries gives us Wes Maxfield, plus one of the main characters – Stefan – is played by Paul Wesley.
Science fiction fans might think of Wesley Crusher, played by Wil Wheaton. The young crew member on Star Trek: The Next Generation is a child prodigy. His name likely pays homage to the original Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry – middle name Wesley. The character debuted in 1987.
VERSATILE and TRADITIONAL
The baby name Wesley feels surprisingly versatile. It shares the softer sounds of Sebastian and Elijah, but pop culture gives us the outlaw and Wesley Snipes – figures that lend it quite a bit of muscle.
It fits right in with modern surname names like Mason and Hendrix, but Wes leans a little breezy and vintage, closer to Gus or even Max.
Wesley Crusher makes it smart and Wes Anderson makes the name indie cool.
Factor in the name’s long history of steady – but not chart-topping – use, and the baby name Wesley feels like the kind of choice lots of parents seek. It’s a normal name, tough to pin to a specific generation and versatile enough to suit any personality. If a versatile traditional is your wish, the queit classic Wesley delivers.
What do you think of the baby name Wesley?
First published on September 28, 2008, this post was revised and re-published on February 2, 2021 and again on July 5, 2022.
My five year old boy is named Wesley. I agree that it’s hard to pin down: wimp or tough guy? Although my little guy leans more towards the weenie artsy bookish end of the spectrum, I can’t imagine that his name is going to cause him any problems in life. I always planned to call him Wes, but no one ever does.
My two main associations with this name (other than my son, of course) are 1) Wesley Snipes and 2) This really really really good looking cool guy in high school.
Emmy Jo, I think that’s just it – Ashley feels unthinkable for boys now, but Wesley still works.
Is Wesley hefty or wimpy? (LOL, Another!) I think that’s the surprising thing. It *could* be wimpy, based on sound alone. But the story and pop culture references read tough guy.
Plus, the nickname Wes sounds strong and confident.
Emmy Jo, your other kitten’s name is coming up in a few days. 🙂
And Lola, if Josephine DOES come home with a boy named Wesley … well that would just be too perfect!
Emmy Jo says
I love Wesley! When I was in high school, it was my #1 favorite boys’ name (after I realized I really couldn’t get away with Ashley on a son). I abandoned it because I decided it just didn’t seem historical or literary enough, but I just may have to put it back on my list.
While we’re on the topic, I used to have two kittens named Calvin and Wesley — yes, after the theologians. 🙂
I am thoroughly charmed by Wesley (and *sigh* over Westley, a la “Princess Bride” & Cary Elwes) [There’s another name for ya: Cary!] You forgot that one!
I think Wes is sprightly, handsome and sharp. And I’d be willing to say he’s more Hefty, Hefty, Hefty. 🙂 I like him for the “Bride” connection, the Roddenberry connection and well, the other half thinks the Vampire thing is wicked cool. Necermind the “horror” connection coolness.
Another, Calvin & Wesley might be a bit too religious for brothers but Wesley pairs well with thngs like Timothy, Geoffrey, Philip (to toss in a non – y ender!) or even Emmett. I would hate to see Wesley on a girl (I don’t think I could even pretend to admore it should I meet one… “oh, um… pretty dress, sweetheart, what beautiful eyes she has!” would be me).
I really do like Wesley, he wanders onto & off my own lists. Mainly off because I am a “Princess Bride” Geek and think it’s far too obvious of me but I would absolutely *swoon* should Josephine come home with a boy named Wesley sometime down the road! He’s absolutely aces to me!
I like Wesley a lot! I’m just not sure if he’s heft, hefty, hefty or wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. I haven’t made up my mind. Would this be like Calvin, which at the last minute I couldn’t bring myself to name my child? Or is it a stronger name, one that I wouldn’t be a bit ashamed about? I do like it, though!