I know what you’re thinking – Wolfgang? Sheer madness!

Or is it?

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting our controversial Name of the Day.

Wolfgang is aggressively German, and it is no secret that the first bit means wolf. The second bit – gang – means traveler or path. So rather than “horde o’ wolves,” Wolfgang’s meaning is more like “lupine beast on the go.”

Thanks to the most famous Wolfgang, he also means “child prodigy,” “world famous composer” and, assuming you’ve seen the Oscar-winning movie Amadeus, toss in “with a penchant for fart jokes and a crazy laugh.”

But long before there was the musical genius, there was the tenth century Saint Wolfgang. The Bishop of Regensburg, Wolfgang built monasteries, promoted education and supported charity. Along with Ulrich and Conrad, he’s considered one of great German saints of the era. The Wolfgangsee, a lake in Austria now popular with tourists, is named after him. It’s said that he founded the first church in the area and spent his last days there as a hermit.

So Wolfgang has religious cred, at least if you’re Catholic. He also has literary flair, thanks to Mozart’s contemporary, German novelist and poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. His telling of the traditional German story of bargaining with the devil, Faust, is an enduring classic.

There are also plenty of notable 20th century Wolfgangs:

  • Austrian celeb chef Wolfgang Puck is best known for his L.A. restaurant Spago – and for slapping his name on everything from frying pans to frozen pizzas;
  • Oscar-nominated German film director Wolfgang Petersen is known for action-adventure flicks like Air Force One, The Perfect Storm and Troy;
  • Austrian scientist Wolfgang Pauli made key discoveries in chemistry;
  • German physicist and M.I.T. prof Wolfgang Ketterle nabbed a Nobel Prize in 2001;
  • Early Disney director Wolfgang Reitherman helmed classics like 1961’s One Hundred and One Dalmations and 1967’s The Jungle Book.

Back in 1991, Valerie Bertinelli caused a stir when she named her starbaby son Wolfgang. She and his rocker daddy, Eddie Van Halen, chose the name in honor of Mozart. Wolfgang has followed his father into the family business, and became Van Halen’s bassist while still in his teens.

Despite the success of Amadeus and the celeb connection, Wolfgang has never charted in the US Top 1000. He is found in the US cenus records, of course, usually paired with a decidedly German surname.

It is hard to imagine Wolfgang on a modern playground. But then again, hyper-masculine boys’ names are scattered throughout the US Top 1000, including:

  • Gunner (#501) and Gunnar (#550)
  • Maverick (#559)
  • Colt (#596)
  • Slade (#850)
  • Blaze (#876)

Next to Slade, Wolfgang starts to feel like a classic choice. Still, the limited nickname options remains an issue.

Perhaps Wolfgang is best reserved as a surprising middle name – making your son the rare James W. or Atticus W. who isn’t middle-named William.

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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  1. Just thought I’d add that on May 20, 2010, I gave birth to Wolfgang Alexander von Rhine. My husband is of German descent. I wasn’t crazy about the name at first, but it has definately grown on me. Now I couldn’t imagine calling him anything other than Wolf or Wolfie.

  2. I’ve always loved the name Wolfgang. He has been on my list for quite awhile. Don’t know if I’d ever actually use it since neither I or my SO have the heritage to pull it off. Great entry!

    1. Thanks – have you been following 9 By Design? Their firstborn is Wolfgang. And their youngest is Major!

  3. Ah, interesting history. I thought maybe Wolf Blitzer was a Wolfgang, but it turns out he’s not. I wouldn’t ever use the name; I was just curious about what you could find on it. Thanks for doing the research!

  4. If I was under orders to come up with a name for a boy from Mozart’s (his absolute favorite composer), I’d stick Amadeo/Amadeus in the middle. I like the meaning of that much, much more. And it’s a touch less aggressive a name. And if I had to pick one of those agressive go-alongs, it’s be Blaze, spelled Blaise (which I long to put on the list but he keeps shooting it down).

    I was one of those that went “WHA?” when the Van Halens named their boy Wolfgang. I still think Wolf Van Halen sounds a little ridiculous, but that’s neither here nor there, he’s not *my* kid. Wolfgang Puck is a different story for me. his surnames’ a bit soft feeling and rather whimsical. Wolfgang in this case, grounds it most effectively. Whereas, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, now that’s more my style. Stick the weird thing in the middle, that’s more me. (and Faust! Oh how I love that story! I would kill, no torture, to be able to put “Faust” in the middle, what a fun sound and hey, it might make him a bit more sober a guy, you know? 🙂

    I like Wolfgang, but only in small doses. And still, I’d much rather Amadeo or Amadeus!

  5. Perhaps because I know a Wolfgang (who goes by Wolf), this name actually doesn’t seem too crazy for me. (Yes, the Wolfgang I know is of German heritage, but decidedly American) When I was younger I always thought, “Wow. Wolf! That’s crazy!” but it definitely grew on me over the years and has become more acceptable to me than Gunner, Maverick, Colt, Slade or Blaze. Maybe the famous Wolfgangs help the cause…

    Definitely not a name I’d ever use, especially with our German surname 😉 But it is one I’d respect hearing it on the playground… It might even cause me to strike up a conversation with his parents, just to hear how they had the guts to use such a name! :0

  6. WOLFGANG!!!! crazy!!
    it reminds me of Harry potter ingredients though they do actually use wolfebane, still if you wanted to use Wolfgang im sure wolfebane would also be appealing.
    I have to say it does not appeal to me even point one of a percent

    1. Like I care that you are a blab. I guess I do. WTF. My unborn child is Wolfgang. God said so. Now, peace.