The baby name Wren has transformed from well-why-not nature name to high-flying favorite.
Thanks to Katharine for suggesting our Name of the Day.
The baby name Wren moves from the wilds to the nursery with grace and style.
A wren is a songbird. Various wren cousins live all over the world. They’re smallish in size, but their songs can be surprisingly loud and complex.
The bird was known as the wrenne in Middle English and the wrenna or wrænna in Old English. It can be traced back to the Germanic werna and variations appear in Old Icelandic, too.
HUMBLE AND REGAL
While Wren feels like a restrained, even humble name, it also sounds just like reine – the French word for queen. Fitting, because this creature is sometimes known as King of the Birds.
Aristotle wrote of a contest amongst all the birds to determine their leader. It was decided that he who could fly the highest would earn the crown. It looked like the eagle would win handily. Except that a clever little wren hid in the proud eagle’s plumage. At the last minute, he soared ahead on his own, and the title went to the wren instead.
The fable survives, but the bird changes over the centuries.
It sometimes appears as a surname.
Some families probably earned the surname thanks to an ancestor’s small size. It’s also possible that the surname has nothing to do with the bird; it might come from an Irish name meaning spear. You might see “descendant of Rinn” listed as a meaning, a reference to this origin.
And then there’s a theory that Wren comes from the Welsh personal name Uren, which could be cousin to all of those Old English origin antiques, like Everard, which mean “boar.” Which is still an animal reference, but a very different kind.
Perhaps the most famous bearer of the surname was Sir Christopher Wren. A celebrated architect at the turn of the eighteenth century, we count St. Paul’s Cathedral in London among his masterworks.
Regardless of the name’s origins, we think of the baby name Wren as a small bird. We can’t picture them as easily as, say, parrots or eagles, but it’s still an immediately familiar reference.
BY THE NUMBERS
The baby name Wren doesn’t appear as a first until very recently. There are a very small number of them over the years, with a dozen or so annually beginning in the 1980s and 90s.
In 2000, 18 girls and 10 boys received the name. By 2010, the numbers reached 185 girls and 32 boys.
The baby name Wren debuted in the US Top 1000 at #798 in 2013. It reached #428 by 2019.
Possible influences include:
- A 1981 children’s story called Wren by author Marie Killilea. It was inspired by her daughter, Karen, who was born with cerebral palsy.
- Comic strip Baby Blues has been around since the 1990s. The parents are Wanda and Darryl, with kids called Zoe, Hammie, and Wren.
- Sci fi/fantasy authors Philip Reeve, Sherwood Smith, and Terry Brooks have all used the name for characters.
REN, HOLD THE W
You might also think of The Ren & Stimpy Show, the Nickelodeon cartoon about a chihuahua and a Manx cat.
Or maybe you think of Footloose, and the rebellious-dancer Ren, played by Kevin Bacon in the 1984 original and Kenny Wormald in the 2011 remake.
But they’re both Ren, hold the W.
Maybe they come from surnames like Reynolds or even Renner. And Ren is a masculine Japanese name, too. Wren and Ren can also serve as unexpected nicknames for classic Lawrence.
While the numbers give this one to the girls, it’s worth noting that over 100 boys have received the baby name Wren in 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021, too. There’s no reason Wren can’t be considered unisex.
Fans of Pretty Little Liars might think of this name as male. After all, recurring character Wren Kingston – medical student, love interest for Spencer, and occasional villain – answers to the name. The series ran from 2010 through 2017, which coincides with a rise in the first name Wren’s growing popularity as a boy’s name.
One more intriguing idea: Wren might serve as an honor name for Catherine. Or even a nickname.
Credit goes to Rainbow Rowell’s 2013 young adult novel Fangirl.
It centers on twin sisters Cather “Cath” Avery and Wren Avery. As the story tells it, the girls’ parents hadn’t realized they were expecting twins. They planned to name their single daughter Catherine. When two babies arrived instead of just one, they split the full name Catherine into Cather and Wren.
While it’s not a perfect match, the sound is there.
SOARING NATURE NAME
The baby name Wren is the twenty-first century equivalent of Fern. It’s spare and simple, but with plenty of strength, too.
Bird names for our daughters rival flowers – there’s Raven and Robin, Birdie and Merle.
Wren falls somewhere between Claire and Daisy. It feels feminine, but not frilly. And while the connection to the natural world is clear, Wren isn’t exactly used in everyday speech.
It makes a great middle name alternative to Grace and Rose, and there’s no question that the baby name Wren wears beautifully as a first name, too.
What do you think of the baby name Wren? Do you like it better as a middle or a first?
Originally posted on September 30, 2013, this post was revised substantially and re-published on November 11, 2020 and again on July 12, 2022.
Ren and Stimpy put me off a little, but I do like the name otherwise. My grandfather was. Lawrence, so Lawrence nn Wren is intriguing… :-).
Btw, it’s Urien (pronounced Ee-ree-en) not Uren, so not quite such a clear connection. There’s a famous Urien of Rheged, a medieval lord who was the subject of a lot of (rather good) praise-poetry.
The Mrs. says
The two lab rats who wanted to take over the world were Pinky and the Brain, part of Warner Bros.’ Animaniacs series.
Ren and Stimpy were a cat and dog pair who were created for Nickelodeon.
Love the name Wren!
My eldest’s name is Wren Lee, born in 2019. I think it’s funny that you said Wren is the new Fern, because I just named my second daughter Fern Eleanor 4 days ago.
Fern was on my girl’s list the first time around, but my husband didn’t like it then. This time, after having a Wren for 2 years, he said he loved how short and easy Fern is. No frills, but still a woman’s name. Spare, tidy, practical, like their mother.
Wren’s nickname is the bird or just bird.
I run a nature education program and two nature centers for a large park system, so no one is surprised that those are the names I picked. So far everyone who asks their names have loved them. Most have said that is the only Wren or Fern they know of.
A friend of mine just had a son. They named him Lawrence and will call him Wren. Very clever!
Jennifer L. says
My son is named Wren and we love it. If we had twins, we were considering Robin and Wren since they could be gender flexible. Thankfully for our family situation, there was only one big boy in there! Our two older girls have flower names and we couldn’t think of a plant name we all liked (though we’ve head a lot of interesting ideas!). Ren in Japanese is “lotus flower,” but we weren’t keen on the Ren & Stimpy association and his cousin has a W name, so we went that route.
Janice Doyle says
Hi, our new grandson is to be named Wren. How is your Wren doing? Any issues with the name?
My little girl is Autumn Wren.
I love it. 🙂
Megan M. says
I just read Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, which features twins Cather and Wren. (Their mother didn’t know she was having twins and couldn’t be bothered to come up with a second name… get it? Catherine…. Cather Wren?)
Oh wow … clever and funny. But not fair! Thank goodness it is fiction …
My daughter, born in 2007 too(!) is named Wren – 1st name (Wren Josephine). We Love the name and have gotten very positive feedback most of the time. Interesting to me is that my other daughter’s name – Ivy – is technically in the top 1000 baby names, but not only do people seem to like the name Wren better (of course, I think they are Equally lovely names:), we also have now met 4 other Wren’s since her birth, while still not one Ivy since the latter was born in 2005. I am hoping that doesn’t mean we will see it become too popular, though…We all enjoy the not-so-common aspect of their names (along with my son Graham, who started our Old English origin, heard of but not popular naming trend).
We named my beautiful red-haired baby Vida Wren after my grandmother, but she goes by “Wren.” It fits her so well… she has sweet blue eyes and a sparkling spirit.
I love Wren. My grandmother was an avid bird watcher and called me her little Wren, my husband also calls me Ren as a short form of Serenity, so I am partial to the sound and love it written as Wren. I could see using it in the middle for sure
I think Wren is stunning. Absolutely stunning. I love the soft but strong sound. I love the subtle feminine charm and the whimsical modern feel.
As someone who has been called Birdie and Bird by her parents for her entire life, bird names have special significance to me. Ironically, nobody can quite remember why my parents call me Birdie, but they all agree it isn’t for my Great Grandmother Birtie. There was some talk of a kids’ book involving a Lulu Bird, but I can’t seem to figure that one out…
Wren’s extra-special for me because it shares a link to Sir Christopher Wren, architect of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. A double whammy of awesome for me because my twin sister is well on her way to becoming an architect and I grew up in London as a child.
All in all, if I have my way whenever I have my first daughter, I’d like to name her Eliza Wren. It’s a little bit me and a little bit my sister, which is entirely perfect. Plus, the male Superb Fairywren is absolutely stunning – my favorite color, blue!
My daughter’s name is Wren and we love it, we normally get not so nice reactions to her name but have enjoyed reading everyones comments here. It totally suits her and we cant imagine her being called anything else!!
She was born in 2007 as well 🙂
there’s a book called Jenny Wren from the turn of the last century, a novel about a young woman.
our gorgeous baby daughter born in 2007 has the middle name wren and we love it, slightly unusual but not odd, girlish without being too girly … and although many had not heard of it used other than a surname it has received positive reactions across the board; harriet wren – the classic with the modern we like the balance 🙂
G, that’s great! Ever since we tucked Wren in the middle of our daughter’s name, I find myself drawn to birds. As I start thinking about her big girl room, I’m wondering if it would be so wrong to have an avian theme …
And Harriet is great, too! What a lucky girl. 🙂
I really love Wren. I think she’s beautiful and spirited. I’ve often wondered if we can pull her off as a NN for Bronwen or if it’s just too far-fetched for most people… (I’m kind of a fan of not-all-together-intuitive NNs, like Whit for William, or Thad for Nathaniel…)
And just read up on Clio’s name, and it’s a great story. How beautiful, too, in full! (I like Clio, btw, darling NN)
Yay for Wren! She’s one of the few modern names to receive a reasonably positive response. (Our experience has been the same – while Clio has been controversial, Wren has been a big hit.) We realized after she was born that her godfather is the son of an ornithologist – really not a planned thing, but a funny coincidence. I suspect she has a few pen and ink sketches of birds in her future.
Emmy Jo, I agree that Wrenna feels like an interesting option. I’m a fan of Brenna, too.
SKS, I know a Ren. He was born Reynolds. (Mother’s maiden name or something like that.) And I suspect that’s the source for many male Rens. That said, I recall a hockey player from the 60s named Wren – possibly he’s wearing a surname, too, as Wren sometimes pops up as a last name. The one problem is, of course, Ren and Stimpy – one of my few hesitations in using the name in the first spot. (In the third, who cares?)
BTW, did you know they’re planning a remake of Footloose with Zac Efron in Kevin Bacon’s role? Nothing is sacred!
Kevin Bacon’s character in Footloose was named Ren. I’ve always kind of wondered where that came from (I don’t remember it being a nickname) and whether many boys have had this given name IRL.
I really like Wren – she’s short but packs a punch in her own spunky yet graceful way. I like her best in the middle or as Lola and Shannon have suggested as an unrelated nickname…
I like Wren, in theory. She’s a bit hard to grow up with (I know one, she’s 35 this year, friend of my kid Brother) but she’s got a lovely sound and is easy to figure out. I like her etymologic loops too!
I could use it, like Shannon, as a completely unrelated nickname but am far more prone to cuppycake and sweetpea myself. 🙂 Wren’s okay with me. Not for me, but I don’t mind her at all.
Emmy Jo says
Wren is lovely! It’s one of my favorite middle names to suggest, and I like it as a first name, too. Though it’s very sweet and feminine, it still remains fresh and unexpected, and it’s just the thing to liven up a common or classic first name. Elizabeth Wren is currently one of my top 5 combinations.
Not only would this work well for the birdwatching types, but I can imagine it suiting an architect’s daughter (bestowed in honor of Christopher Wren).
I’ve never heard the Old English Wrenna, but I think that would be a beautiful first name.
Thanks for a great Name of the Day!
it is cute but wouldn’t use as a first name.. too spare for me. I have read 2 books with someone called Wren in them… one a fiction book (not at all famous)for teenagers – and the other was a true story, sometimes they called their duaghter (named Karen) Wren as a nickname..
I think Wren is so cute and a total guilty pleasure of mine. I would love it as a nickname for something else or maybe a middle name. It’s the epitome of dainty and feminine to me.
I really like Wren but only perhaps as a middle name.
It seems weak to give as a first name.
Another *bird* name I quite like is Lark.
Oh and a family member just had a baby girl, her name Is Naomi Rachel.
Not the right section but I just wanted to let everyone know 🙂