Wilbur Wright, child photo portrait

Today is the 111th anniversary of the Wright Brothers’ trailblazing flight at Kitty Hawk – a date I always remember because it’s my son’s birthday!  

Today’s post goes out with a Happy Birthday to my dearest Alex – and a wish that you take risks and fly and sometimes crash.  And then soar.

A pioneer in flight.  A famous literary pig.

Our Baby Name of the Day is Wilbur.

Wilbur: Nineteenth Century Gentleman

Here’s something that always strikes me as unfair: we fearlessly revive girls’ names from the past, be they tailored Joan or elaborate Evangeline.

When it comes to naming boys, we hesitate.

Sure, Bertha and Myrtle have yet to make a comeback.  But that’s nothing compared to our the nineteenth century boys’ names we’ve abandoned: Herbert, Alfred, Elmer, Ralph, Clyde.

And Wilbur.

Back in 1880, Wilbur was a Top 200 name for boys.

Milton and Susan Wright gave the name to their son in 1867, inspired by prominent Methodist minister Wilbur Fisk, founder of Wesleyan University.  That’s Wilbur Wright as a child in the picture above.

The other Wright children were Orville, born in 1871, Reuchlin, Lorin, Katharine, and twins Otis and Ida.

Wilbur: Defying Gravity

The Wright Brothers were in the bicycle business by 1892, but they were fascinated by the possibility of flight.

They weren’t alone.  Glider pilots were flying – but also dying, with two high-profile innovators falling to their deaths in Europe as the brothers began crafting their first aircraft.

By 1900, they were testing a series of gliders.

And then, in 1903, they flew, with Wilbur in the Wright Flyer I.

Their aircraft cost less than $1,000, including lots of custom-made parts from their bicycle shop.  It can still be seen in the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum.

He lacks the verve of Jett, but Wilbur is a name that flies high.

Wilbur: Animal Instincts

Arthur and Caleb and lots of names have animal meanings.  Gentle Wilbur comes from the Middle English for wild boar, and started out as a surname.

It’s a different kind of swine that comes to mind for most us, though.

In E.B. White’s enduring story Charlotte’s Web, little Fern Arable saves the runt of the litter, and names her new pig Wilbur.  He’s eventually sent to live at the farm owned by Fern’s uncle, but poor Wilbur is a misfit.  At least until he meets Charlotte, a wise spider, who starts a web-based PR campaign to spare the friendly pig from slaughter.

It works, and the celebrated pig lives happily ever after.

Or maybe you think of another barnyard name: talking horse Mister Ed was owned by Wilbur Post.

Wilbur: Ready for Revival?

Wilbur left the US Top 1000 after the 1980s, and has continued to slip.  Just 20 boys were given the name in 2013.  That’s pretty close to obscurity.

On the plus side:

  • In 1990, William Joyce wrote children’s book A Day with Wilbur Robinson.  Disney adapted it as Meet the Robinsons in 2007.  The quirky Robinson clan has great names – Tallulah, Cornelius, Laszlo.  The time-travelling tale puts a fresh spin on Wilbur.
  • It’s also the name of the baby on Nip/Tuck, though the storyline isn’t exactly a fairytale, and he’s sometimes called Gabriel.

There’s also the possibility of short form Wil.  With British parents rediscovering Wilfred, and the continuing popularity of William, it’s not a complete stretch.

If you’re all about names like Opal and Earl, Wilbur might deserve a place on your shortlist.

Do you think Wilbur could make a comeback?

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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What do you think?


  1. I like this name, it seems gentle and refined to me. I don’t know if it would work as a first name just yet but I think it would make a lovely middle, especially when teamed with a classic first – James Wilbur, Edward Wilbur, etc.

    On another note, happy birthday Alex!

  2. I love Wilbur. I knew a little Wilbur in high school, the surprise younger brother of a friend. He went by Willie.

    Alas, it was also my family’s cat growing up, so it won’t be making a reappearance on any little boys in my family this generation. But it’s a great name.

  3. its not Wilbur but I have a friend who named their little boy Wright. I think they may be a distant relation to the Wright brothers.

  4. So long as Charlotte’s Web remains popular, I can’t really see any parent dooming their child to a life-time of pig jokes.