Glenn, Cliff, and Craig all had their moments in the not-so-distant past.
And it’s not just American families in the last hundred years, either. Many cultures bestow names based on nature, and have for millennia.
Many of them stay under the radar. We tend to think of names like Philip – friend of horses – as a classic. Parents might name a son Silas and never dream of the woods, despite the meaning.
From Greek mythology to common surnames, nature boy names can be found hiding everywhere.
Those mainstream – but subtle – earthy boy names aren’t the focus here.
So what makes a nature name?
Instead, the early twenty-first century is proving a golden age for word names, lifting nature names along with so many other categories. The overlap between a kindergarten list and a page in the dictionary is greater than ever before.
Many of these are straight-up words. Others feel slightly more name-like, but immediately suggest a specific animal or other borrowing from the natural world.
In April 2016, these were the ten most popular nature names for boys:
Even if they’ve shifted position on the list, nearly every entry has continued to rise in use among baby boy names. It’s possible that more children today receive a nature-themed name than ever before.
Of course, that opens the door to ever more daring names that aren’t currently in use, from trees like Alder or Cedar, to animals like Hawk or Falcon, to natural features like Canyon or Cove. Weather-inspired names, like Storm and Frost, have potential, too. They’d fit in surprisingly well with so many nature-inspired choices for our boys, as well as baby girl names borrowed from the natural world.
MOST POPULAR NATURE NAMES FOR BOYS
35. STONE (#982)
Handsome Stone is common as a surname, but relatively rare as a first. Anchorman Stone Phillips helped raise the name’s profile. It blends the bold ruggedness of Maverick with the gentler nature name appeal of River.
34. TALON (#931)
A talon is a claw, used by birds of prey to snare their lunch. If that seems like unlikely inspiration for a child’s name, well … maybe that’s why it ranks in the 900s rather than the Top 100. Still, it’s a sometimes-surname, and plenty of comic book and other fictional characters have answered to Talon. So that probably explains where parents first heard the idea. It fits with so many two-syllable, ends-in-n boy names, plus there’s no denying the connection to the natural world. As a bonus, it’s more subtle than Eagle.
33. ROCKY (#888)
This brings to mind fictional champion Balboa. But the big screen boxer aside, Rocky sounds tough and outdoorsy in equal measure, a name with plenty of strength and a little bit of fun mixed in. It also nods to many a place, from the Rocky Mountains to more local – but often just as outdoorsy – destinations.
You might call it a field or a meadow, but heath describes a specific habitat, found across the globe. It leapt to given name status thanks to The Big Valley, a 1960s smash hit Western featuring a handsome, cowboy-hat-wearing Heath, played by a young Lee Majors. (This is the first of Majors’ two contributions to this list.) The late Heath Ledger also keeps this name familiar to today’s parents. If it hadn’t peaked in the 1970s, it would almost certainly feel like a fresh discovery today.
31. EVEREST (#832)
While Everest likely owes its popularity to the unrelated Everett, it’s an undeniable nature name. Mount Everest is the Earth’s highest mountain, known for challenging even the most experienced climbers who try to reach the summit. Westerners refer to it as Mount Everest, named for British surveyor George Everest. Native peoples refer to it as Sagarmāthā in Nepali, Chomolungma in Tibetan, or Zhūmùlǎngmǎ Fēng or Mt Qomolangma in Chinese. It brings to mind the mountain, but also the idea of physical endurance and achievement.
30. ROBIN (#795)
Originally a nickname for Robert, Robin has spent years in style limbo. It was the name of Batman’s young sidekick and one of the Bee Gees. While Batman projects continue to appear on the big screen, Robin has been missing from the more recent iterations. Should that change, that might help boost the name further. For now, it benefits from our love of nature names, as well as unisex R choices. If Rowan, River, and Remy can rise, why not Robin?
Plenty of names bring to mind bears, from Teddy to Arthur. That opens the door to just Bear, too. A handful of high profile birth announcements have featured the name, and, of course, figures like football coach Bear Bryant – born Paul – make it seem more familiar. With word names, and especially nature names for boys on the rise, this feels less surprising that it would’ve even ten years ago.
28. RAY (#761)
Odds are that Ray is just an offshoot of Raymond, a noble and saintly Germanic name that’s since mellowed into the dad-next-door. Or maybe Ray is effortlessly cool, as in Ray Charles and Ray Donovan. But it makes this list for two reasons – the rays of the sun and sting rays. Both feel a little bit summery and quite coastal.
27. BLAZE (#752)
Saintly Blaise has nothing to do with fire. Instead, that traditional name brings to mind the ancient martyr – now invoked against illnesses of the throat – and mathematician Blaise Pascal. But respell it Blaze, and this name transforms. From an Old English word meaning shining or white, Blaze brings to mind campfires and the brightest of summer days. The name also serves as a virtue name – think of trailblazers.
26. BRIAR (#743)
Briar feels like a nature name that should succeed today. It brings to mind former favorites like Brian and Bryce, Brianna and Bree, as well as so many -r ending names we love. It’s a unisex choice, ranking for boys and girls alike. A briar or brier is a thorny shrub; it reads feminine to some because Briar Rose is one name for the princess in Sleeping Beauty. But with generations of men answering to Brian and Bryce, I think sound puts Briar in the same unisex category as Rowan.
It’s a literary name – think of Prince Caspian, part of CS Lewis’ Narnia series. But Caspian is also the name of the world’s largest inland body of water, the Caspian Sea, located between Europe and Asia. That makes it a nature name, in the key of Orion. But it’s also a three-syllable, ends-with-n name, a successor to Adrian and Julian, and a very on-trend choice. While Caspian arrived in the Top 1000 recently, it’s attracting plenty of attention.
24. CLAY (#615)
Clay and Clayton sound every bit as modern as Colt and Colton. But the Clay- names have appeared in the US Top 1000 every year since 1880. They started out as English surnames for someone who worked with clay or lived near a clay deposit. (The even more popular Clayton indicated that your ancestors was a dweller near such a place.) That makes Clay an obvious nature name, and yet a long history of use makes this choice feel more traditional than some others on the list.
23. OCEAN (#604)
A newcomer to the rankings in calendar year 2020, Ocean follows logically from River and Brooks. It’s also got some history – way back in 1620, Oceanus Hopkins was born aboard the Mayflower. And Océane topped the popularity charts for girls in France – and elsewhere in the French-speaking world – during the late 1990s. But Ocean for boys feels fresh today, a choice that’s equal parts powerful and zen, just right for surfers, sailors, or casual beachcombers.
22. DRAKE (#568)
A male duck. A surname meaning dragon. And a wildly successful rapper and hip hop artist.
21. RIO (#561)
The Spanish word for river combines the charm of that very popular nature name with a bright O ending.
Ridge just plain sounds rugged. The Old English root of ridge originally referred to the back of a man or an animal; today it’s a geological term a long, narrow mountaintop. (Think of a mountain ridge and a backbone to connect the two ideas.) It’s outdoorsy and modern. The Bold and the Beautiful first put Ridge on our list of possibilities in 1987, but today most parents are likely inspired by the sound and nature name style, rather than the soap opera characters.
Wells is a recent arrival to the US Top 1000 – it charted just a handful of the times in the nineteenth century, then disappeared until 2016. It’s a surname, but also fits with nature names for boys. Well once meant a spring or a fountain; now, it’s more likely to refer to the hole dug in order to pull up water (or oil) hidden underground. It also implies health, well-being, and abundance – think of words like wellspring.
Forest might better fit this list. But Forrest – a surname originally given to someone who lived near or worked in a woodland – ranks much higher. The name spiked after Tom Hanks played the unconventional hero at the heart of 1994 Oscar-winning movie Forrest Gump. It faded, but with our love of nature names, Forrest is back and could easily join River and Rowan farther up this list. FIX – FOREST ALSO IN TOP 1000
17. STERLING (#401)
As in sterling silver. Technically, it’s an alloy – not something you mine directly. But if Ruby and Pearl make the girls’ list, then Sterling feels like it belongs on the boys’ side. Another reason? Sterling means “little star,” from stars imprinted on Norman pennies way back in the day.
16. OAKLEY (#394)
We do love a good ends-with-ley name, and lately Oakley is the shining star in this category. It’s rising rapidly in use for boys; for girls, Oaklee and Oaklyn/n are also racing up the charts. All of the names clearly reference the mighty oak, a tree long associated with strength and endurance. That makes it a little bit of a virtue name, too.
Sage combines the best of color names, virtue names, and nature names for boys, too. Depending on your preference, it can mean wise, refer to a shade of green, or be the name of an evergreen also used as an herb. Sage is given to boys and girls in growing numbers; it’s more popular for girls in the US popularity rankings, but still feels unisex. It’s a successor to more traditional – but equally herbal – names like Basil.
14. WILDER (#373)
This name could be lots of things. It’s a little bit heavy metal – especially when spelled Wylder, another Top 1000 entry. The surname can bring to mind figures like legendary Hollywood director Billy Wilder or author Thornton Wilder. But it also suggests the wild outdoors, and for that reason, it counts for this list, too.
13. ONYX (#355)
This gemstone name also refers to a shade of black – even though the mineral comes in a wide range of colors, including white, red, and yellow. If Jasper works, then Onyx should, too, especially with that appealing letter ‘x’. It debuted in the US Top 1000 in 2018, and has climbed dramatically since then.
Kai is the Hawaiian word for sea; Koa, the Hawaiian word for a type of tree. The wood is used for everything from guitars to canoes. Oh, and surfboards. Pro surfer Koa Smith was born in Hawaii. Factor in the stylish sound – it rhymes with Top Ten Noah, and it has an -a ending, just like Ezra and Luca – and it’s no surprise that Koa is rapidly climbing, on the popularity charts, and among nature names for boys.
11. WADE (#346)
Up until recently, Wade didn’t make the list of most popular nature nams for boys – even though it’s never left the US Top 1000. Wade is a surname dervied from the verb – to wade is to cross river at a low point. (The surname typically referred to someone who lived nearby such a place.) But now Disney Pixar’s Elemental gave the name to a character; and that has us thinking of Wade and water much more clearly.
Mythological baby names have always enjoyed some use, but never have they been more mainstream than today. But Greek name Orion feels more like a night sky choice – and thus, suitable for this list – than one from myth. That’s probably because the constellation is among the most recognizable, thanks to the bright stars of the celestial hunter’s belt. With O names like Oliver and Owen climbing the charts, that appealing first letter also bolsters this name.
9. COLT (#240)
Have wild horses have inspired a growing number of parents to give this name to their sons? Or maybe credit goes to Samuel Colt, founder of the firearms manufacturer? Maybe both, but the data suggests that Colt – and Colton – owe their success to 1980s television series, The Fall Guy, starring Lee Majors. Majors played Hollywood stunt man Colt Seavers. The series folded after five seasons, but Colt and Colton kept marching up the popularity charts.
Jasper brings to mind the gemstone, which is why the name makes this list. But tradition also gives it to one of the three Wise Men who visited the newborn Jesus in the manger. It means “treasurer” in Persian, though there’s no link between the stone and the job title. The English have used it over the centuries – Jasper Tudor fought in the Wars of the Roses. Jasper makes a great compromise, less classic than James, but not as novel as Jaxton. American artist Jasper Johns lends this name a a pop art cool quotient.
7. ATLAS (#129)
While Atlas might be viewed as a nod to the Greek mythological figure, it’s also a book of maps.
You might think August belongs with the epic boy names, the Legends and the Mavericks. The Latin augustus means venerable. And yet, it feels like a gentle nature name thanks to the lazy, hazy height of summer month. (The month was, of course, named for ancient ruler Augustus Ceasar.) Celebrated playwright August Wilson also takes this name away from the Roman Empire and in a more creative direction. Homespun nickname Gus adds to the name’s casual, artistic, approachable vibe.
Once, River stood out as a crazy hippie-gone-Hollywood name, suitable only for young actor River Phoenix. (His siblings? Summer, Rain, Liberty, and Joaquin – fomrerly known as Leaf.) And then, following Phoenix’s tragic death, a generation grew up and decided it was a downright great name, the masculine equivalent of nature names like Lily. River also picks up on the ends-in-r trend. When it first started to rise, choices like Connor, Carter, and Hunter were also catching on. Now it’s River that seems unstoppable.
A nearly gender-neutral name, used for boys and girls, Rowan remains slightly more popular for our sons. Maybe that’s because tree names tend to lean masculine. Or because Rowan is an Irish surname, a two-syllable, ends-with-n choice that fits in seamlessly with so many popular picks of recent years. Kevin and Brian gave way to Ryan and Brandon, followed by Aidan and Nolan. Rowan seems like its up next. It’s also a color name, since the red berries give the rowan tree its name.
Brooks powered up the most popular boy names in recent years. It owes an awful lot to country music greats Garth Brooks and the (unrelated) duo Brooks & Dunn. But Brooks also sounds like, well, Brooke. And brook, as in babbling, as in another body of water name, right up there with River. It’s much more clearly a surname than most names on this list. Besides the musicians, there’s haberdasher Brooks Brothers, long known for traditional menswear. That pushes Brooks in a different direction, and puts this name on the list of preppy hellraisers. But it’s undeniably a nature name, too, one with a straightforward English origin.
Kai is imported from … Hawaii. Which isn’t exactly an import, but neither is it a language most of us speak. Despite that, many parents can instantly tell you that Kai refers to the sea. A LEGO ninja helped boost the name; so did celebrities and a handful of other uses. Over a dozen possible origins lend Kai other possible meanings, and yet, it owes much of its success to the nature name tie. Spell it Kye and the link isn’t as obvious.
Leo is the best of both worlds. It’s a short name that stands alone, though longer forms abound. It feels mainstream, even traditional, but still immediately brings to mind the mighty lion. The sparky, upbeat ‘o’ ending makes Leo sound modern, but generations of accomplished men by the name remind us that it is grounded in history. (Tolstoy and Da Vinci qualify as some pretty heavy hitters.) It’s the most popular nature name for boys by a long shot – and it just keeps climbing.
What are your favorite nature names for boys?
This post was originally published on September 22, 2017. It was updated and re-published on April 22, 2019; September 12, 2020; June 30, 2021; July 28, 2022; and September 5, 2023.