Of course, nature names for boys have always been with us. Glenn and Craig and Ray all had their moments during the twentieth century. Many cultures bestow names based on nature, but they’ve long since become mainstream. We don’t think of Philip or Caleb in the same category as Raven or Wolf; parents might name a son Silas and never dream of the woods.
But the early twenty-first century is proving a golden age of 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.
The original version of this list looked only at nature names for boys in their purest forms: a word that could plausibly be used in a sentence to refer to the object. This time, though, I’ve loosened things up to incorporate more names clearly drawn from natural world – even though they’ve long since crossed into given name territory.
Read on for the 25 most popular nature names for boys.
Current US popularity rank: #40
2018 US popularity rank: #61
2016 US popularity rank: #74
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.
Current US popularity rank: #100
2018 US popularity rank: #127
2016 US popularity rank: #145
A newcomer to the US popularity charts, 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.
Current US popularity rank: #109
2018 US popularity rank: #204
2016 US popularity rank: #232
Brooks powered up the most popular boy names this year, and it also jumped from #7 to #3 among the nature names for boys rankings. 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.
Current US popularity rank: #118
2018 US popularity rank: #140
2016 US popularity rank: #182
A nearly unisex name, used for boys and girls, Rowan is 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.
Current US popularity rank: #136
2018 US popularity rank: #185
2016 US popularity rank: #209
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.
Current US popularity rank: #167
2018 US popularity rank: #191
2016 US popularity rank: #193
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.
Current US popularity rank: #168
2018 US popularity rank: #201
2016 US popularity rank: #214
Once, River stood out as a crazy hippie-gone-Hollywood name, suitable only for young actor River Phoenix. 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. Factor in that high-value Scrabble letter v, and River seems unstoppable.
Current US popularity rank: #210
2018 US popularity rank: #269
2016 US popularity rank: #337
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. In many ways, equine Colt is the forerunner of modern animal names like Bear and Fox.
Current US popularity rank: #312
2018 US popularity rank: #334
2016 US popularity rank: #324
Mythological baby names have always enjoyed some use, but never have they been more mainstream than today. But Orion feels more like a night sky name – 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.
Current US popularity rank: #441
2018 US popularity rank: #479
2016 US popularity rank: #577
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. But 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.
Current US popularity rank: #449
2018 US popularity rank: #472
2016 US popularity rank: #546
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.
Current US popularity rank: #491 (Forest #911)
2018 US popularity rank: #596 (Forest #1006)
2016 US popularity rank: #633 (Forest #1101)
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.
Current US popularity rank: #612
2018 US popularity rank: #735
2016 US popularity ranking: #879
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.
Current US popularity rank: #624
2018 US popularity rank: #730
2016 US popularity ranking: #915
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. Like Brooks, it feels as much surname as nature name, but it 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.
Current US popularity rank: #681
2018 US popularity rank: #697
2106 US popularity rank: #731
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. 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.
Current US popularity rank: #702
2018 US popularity rank: #754
2016 US popularity rank: #650
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 … I’d have to agree. 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.
Current US popularity rank: #740
2018 US popularity rank: #814
2016 US popularity rank: unranked
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.
Current US popularity rank: #745
2018 US popularity rank: #864
2016 US popularity rank: unranked
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 already climbed dramatically.
Current US popularity rank: #773
2018 US popularity rank: #808
2016 US popularity rank: #1004
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.
Current US popularity rank: #791
2018 US popularity rank: #859
2016 US popularity rank: unranked
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.
Current US popularity rank: #896
2018 US popularity rank: #997
2016 US popularity rank: unranked
Plenty of names bring to mind bears, from Teddy to Arthur. So why not just plain Bear? 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.
Current US popularity rank: #899
2018 US popularity rank: #767
2016 US popularity rank: #746
Fox benefits from several trends. It’s a short name, like Max and Kai. That ‘x’ puts Fox in the company of Felix and Jaxon. Today’s parents also grew up watching Fox Mulder search for the truth on long-running television favorite The X-Files. Since Mulder and partner Dana Scully continue to reprise their roles, we can’t forget that this name is out there. It’s worth noting that Fox is among the very few nature names that fell in terms of popularity rank in 2019, but that could easily change.
Current US popularity rank: #910
2018 US popularity rank: #813
2016 US popularity rank: #858
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.
Current US popularity rank: #948
2018 US popularity rank: #885
2016 US popularity rank: #876
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. (If you’re counting, that’s Majors’ second contribution 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.
Current US popularity rank: #999
2018 US popularity rank: unranked
2016 US popularity rank: unranked
Strong and modern, Stone returned to the US Top 1000 in 2019. The more traditional Peter and even Rocco share the same meaning, but Stone has never quite caught on. Respected news anchor Stone Phillips is one notable bearer, and it does feel like a strong, modern nature name.
Would you consider any of these nature names for boys? What are your favorites?
This post was originally published on September 22, 2017. It was updated and re-published on April 22, 2019 and again on September 12, 2020.