The baby name Wilder straddles the line between buttoned-up and, well … wild.

Thanks to Miranda for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.

SURNAME NAME

There’s more than one way to explain Wilder.

It could be a surname given to someone who lived on the fringes, near uncultivated land – the wild.

There’s also an Old English word for an animal trap – wil – that might have inspired the surname.

Maybe it was given to someone with a daring, unpredictable character – a wild man. Or maybe the person was of moderate disposition, but was a foreigner – a stranger to the town, and thus earned the nickname.

CREATIVE POWERHOUSE

When we think of Wilders, they’re a powerfully creative bunch.

There’s Thornton Wilder, the winner of three Pulitzer Prizes for his plays, as well as a National Book Award.

Laura Ingalls Wilder might be the best known, thanks to her Little House on the Prairie books and the successful television adaptation.

There’s also filmmaker Billy Wilder, one of the mainstays of Hollywood’s Golden Age. He was the first person to win the producer, director, and screenwriter Oscars for a single film. (1960’s The Apartment, as it happens.)

Even if you’re not a movie buff, you probably recognize his titles: Some Like it Hot; Sabrina; The Seven Year Itch.

Actor Gene Wilder was born Jerome Silberman and has played many an enduring role, including Willy Wonka in the 1971 adaptation of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Back in 2002, a young Ryan Reynolds got his start starring in National Lampoons’ Van Wilder, about a perpetual college student who eventually does the right thing. Mostly.

PREPPY HELLRAISER

Buttoned-up surname names dot the current US Top 100. Once bestowed by families to preserve a mother’s maiden name, these names scream Southern and genteel, or preppy New Englander.

Some of that cachet decreased as the names became more popular. Today parents choosing Carter, Parker, Bennett, and Brooks are likely to be choosing stylish names for their sons, not handing down a tradition. Some names in this category, like Tyler, have already peaked and are trending downwards now.

Wilder has a split personality.

Along with Briggs and Thatcher, Wilder is the heir to Carter and company. It feels like the kind of name you could find in the graduating class of Phillips Exeter or Dalton.

And yet Wilder is undeniably wild, a hellraiser name for a kid who gets called to the principal’s office. Or maybe one who takes up BMX bike racing or competes in the X Games.

It’s a great compromise name when one parent is thinking Ryder and the other favors James.

Wilder could short to Wiley or Wil, both names that soften the name’s image.

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BY the NUMBERS

Over the last few years, the baby name Wilder has transitioned from out-there possibility to established favorite.

So how popular is the baby name Wilder?

Back in 2013, an early version of this post reported that 119 boys were given the name – a new high. As of 2023, Wilder was given to 752 boys, translating to #421 on the US popularity charts.

In fact, Wilder has decreased in use over the last two years. It peaked at #367 in 2021.

That doesn’t mean Wilder’s time in the sun is over. Instead, it’s simply gone from bold and surprising to another popular option.

There’s a boldness to Wilder, a creative and high-energy spirit. And yet it’s traditional, too, making this a great name for parents balancing those qualities in their son’s name – it’s more than William, less than Danger, a wearable, oh-so-current choice for a son.

What do you think of the baby name Wilder?

First published on March 18, 2015, this post was revised on June 5, 2024.

Wilder

polished & daring

Wilder balances an untamed, outdoorsy boldness with the polish of an old school family surname name.

Popularity

#421 in the US as of 2023

Trend

declining in use

Origin

Surname for someone who lived on the edge of town, or possibly someone with a wild, untamed nature.

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?

16 Comments

    1. It has potential, but I think there are plenty of names vying for the title of next Ashley … it’s an interesting Q, though, and I’ll ask it on Facebook/Insta/Twitter later this week. Will be curious to hear others’ guesses!

  1. My dad, born in 1922, was named Wilder. The story behind his name is that Laura Ingalls Wilder stayed in my great grandmother’s boarding house while traveling. My sister’s first name is also Wilder, born in 1943. My son’s and nephew’s middle names are also Wilder to carry on the tradition. It is a great name and I love the outdoorsy link to the meaning.

  2. My fourteen-year-old is named Wilder. In our case, it was after a character in Don Delillo’s novel, White Noise. Wilder is the silent heart of that amazing book. Meanwhile, we’ve bumped into two other Wilders over the years.

    1. Oh, and we’ve had dozens of people say that they might name their kid Wilder, so I suspect you’re right about it’s popularity!

    2. David, I read White Noise years ago – but I haven’t thought about it in years, and I completely forgot about Wilder! Thanks for the reminder … adding it to my to-reread list for the summer! Great name.

  3. Friend of a friend has a daughter named Wilder. I love the idea of this name for a girl. If only I hadn’t already gone with Wiley for my son, lol 🙂

  4. Wilder is my top choice if we have a boy. I love how different and “Wild” it is. Plus it’s a family name on my paternal grandmother’s side

  5. My teen son Henry was very nearly a Wilder. Henry won out over Wilder and Wyatt, and it’s interesting to see now many years later how Henry has risen so much in popularity, and that both Wilder and Wyatt are really catching on.