English: Albatross with pilot Jack Treaty at t...
Albatross with pilot Jack Treaty at the controls, ca. 1928 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Scan any list of wacky celebrity baby names, and he’ll be near the very top.

Our Baby Name of the Day is Pilot.

The word pilot comes from the Greek pedon – steering oar.  It shares the same roots as pedestrian, one who goes by foot, even though it conjures up the wild blue yonder.

To get from ped- to pilot took a few steps.  The Old Italian pedoto meant helmsman, from pedon.  It became piloto.  Many words shifted from the Latin -l to a -d in the vernacular over the centuries.

By the early sixteenth century, a pilot steered a ship.  As man invented new forms of travel, the pilot remains in control.  Those who fly hot air balloons wear the title, too.  When airplanes came along, it was only natural that they were flown by pilots.

That’s not the only word, of course.  We think of them as captains, too, as in “Welcome aboard flight 123, I’m Captain So and So.”  There’s also the term aviator, though it can be broader, including others in military operations – navigators or weapons operators.

Ever since Tom Cruise flew across the big screen, naval aviator has a very specific image – confident, even arrogant, but overall, it is a positive image.

Pilot applies to lots of things that lead the way:

  • A test or experiment can be a pilot project
  • The first episode of a potential television series is called a pilot
  • You can write with a Pilot-brand pen
  • Appliances come with a pilot light

But does that make it a viable baby name?  Maybe.

Australian sci fi show Farscape included a character by the name, but the reason he’s on Appellation Mountain today is  actor Jason Lee and his ex, actress Beth Riesgraf.  Back in 2003, the happy couple was casting about for a name for their first child together.

Inspiration struck when they heard a song from California indie band Grandaddy: “He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot.”  The word pilot isn’t actually part of the lyrics – just the song title.  Grandaddy tends towards the cerebral, and the song has a haunting, ethereal quality.  Listen to it, and even if he still strikes you as outrageous, maybe you can imagine that it would feel like appropriate inspiration for some parents.

The Lee-Riesgrafs weren’t the only ones to use the name.  The 1940 Census includes a handful of men named Pilot.

It’s also sometimes a surname – and this is where it gets really interesting.  Pil and Pila both appear as Anglo-Saxon names, the kind that died out after the Norman invasion.  Compound names like Pilheard were also in use.  Pilot could be a diminutive form of Pila, just like Eliot emerged from Elias.

Still, it  is likely the celebrity influence behind the arrival of eleven baby boys named Pilot born in 2011.  Back in 2009, that number was 19.  That’s no Knox, but it isn’t zero, either.

Overall, Pilot is something of a romantic name.  He’s on trend with occupational choices and noun names.

My theory?  It isn’t Pilot that strikes us as outrageous.  It’s Pilot Inspektor.  Had he been named Pilot William Jason or Pilot Evan Elias or anything else in the middle spot, we’d see the first name in a very different light today.

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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. We named our son Pilot in 2010. We wanted to honor my father and neither of his names was appealing to us. My father was in the Air force and hobby flies. His middle name is Bernard after his great grandfather. Our second son is Ford Alan. We made sure our kids had middle names they could go by if they hated us as adults. 😉

  2. we named our baby girl Pilot in 2012. Some people love it and some people hate it. There is so much meaning behind the name, and we have a whole story that goes with it. Its a very special name to us. 🙂 Love the information you drummed up on the origin of it. Thanks for sharing.

    1. So glad you found the right name for your daughter, Cortnie! Names with stories are the best names … always. P.S. Your site is gorgeous. 🙂

  3. Pilot is always firstly Mr. Rochester’s dog to me. I think it would be fabulous for a Burmese Mountain Dog or a St. Bernard, perhaps even a Great Dane.

  4. I like Pilot and I’m sure any boy would love to be named Pilot.

    I found a Pilot the other day. HER name Pilot Adelle.

  5. Pilot is also the name of Rochester’s dog in Jane Eyre.

    I agree that it’s the combination of Pilot Inspektor that gets Mr. Lee on all of the “Wacky” celebrity baby name lists. Meanwhile, Ryder (Russell), Rowan (Frances) and Cruz (David) are practically commonplace… Anyone else remember the uproar when those celebrity babies’ names were released?

    1. Very nice point about Ryder, Rowan, and Cruz – all names that are catching on and never seem to make wacky celeb baby names lists! The power of a good middle name choice …