What’s in a Name – The UK’s Top 5 Names for Baby Boys

A recent survey of birth records by Ancestry.co.uk shows that a number of once popular boys names are now effectively “extinct”. In 2012 not a single baby boy was named Willie, Cecil or Rowland, whilst names like Horace, Leslie and Norman have almost died out. These names were very common 100 years ago, but times are changing and the likelihood of meeting a “Cecil” in the school playground over the next few years is rare to say the least.

Between 1900 and 1930 names like Cecil and Norman held the top spots, so what names are replacing them now that they have fallen from favour? The last records from the Office for National Statistics put “Harry” as the number one most popular name for baby boys in England, followed by “Oliver”, “Jack”, “Charlie” & “Jacob”, supplanting earlier favourites like “Thomas”, “William” and “Alfie”.

So where have these names come from and what do they mean?

1: HARRY

A diminutive or pet form of Henry, Harry has become an increasingly popular boy’s name since the mid nineteen-nineties … Prince Harry and young Harry Potter may have added to the popularity of the name and recent celebrities like Harry Styles from One Direction have probably helped maintain the number one position for the last few years.

Henry was originally a Germanic name for a leader – “Heimrich” – where “heim” means “home” and “rich” which means “ruler, leader or power” …. So Henry and Harry are regal names. The Normans introduced the name in the 11th century and by 1547 England had had eight kings named Henry.

One celebrity “Harry” you might struggle to name is the Prince of Pop himself, Cliff Richard, whose real name is Harry Webb.

Other diminutives include: Hal & Hank
Foreign alternatives: Heinrich, Enrique, Henny, Henning, Enzo & Harri

2: OLIVER

Oliver is the Norman French form of the Norse name “Olaf”. Because of its resemblance to the Latin word for olive tree, “oliva”, the name Oliver has come to be associated with peacemakers (the olive branch) and fruitfulness. The religious and cultural importance of the olive in the ancient and biblical worlds has also imbued the name Oliver with a spiritual strength coupled with a reliable and supportive nature.

The popularity of “Oliver” has been mixed over the last few centuries in the UK. During the Medieval period the name was popularised in “The Song of Roland”, an epic poem in which Olivier played the reliable and sensible foil to Roland’s impetuous and impulsive character. Following the English Civil War, the Commonwealth and the Protectorate of Cromwell in the mid 17th century, Oliver became increasingly unpopular. Oliver Cromwell didn’t receive a great press for many years after The Restoration and the name suffered as a result. It was only in Victorian times that the name saw a resurgence, during which time Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” brought the name back into the public eye.

In 1970, heart-throb Ryan O’Neal played the lead character “Oliver” in a romantic weepy called “Love Story”. The movie played to an audience of millions of swooning teenage girls, so it should come as no surprise that “Oliver” became an increasingly popular name for baby boys born in the following two decades.

Other diminutives include: Ollie, Oli
Foreign alternatives: Alvaro, Olaf, Olivier

3: JACK

“Jack” is another diminutive or pet form, this time of the name “John”, that was derived from the old English name “Jankin” (or Jackin). Whilst John has its origins in Hebrew and close associations with the saints John the Baptist and the Apostle John, Jack is a much more down to earth name. It was so popular in the Middle Ages, that Jack simply became another word for a man … hence “Jack of all Trades”, “Lumberjack” and even the “Jack” in a pack of cards. In nursery rhymes and stories he appears again and again: Jack & the Beanstalk, Jack & Jill, Jack Sprat and Little Jack Horner. And, unfortunately, the name also became a generic pseudonym for an unidentified man such as “Jack the Ripper”.

As far as famous Jacks go, children today are probably most aware of the pirate Jack Sparrow, but anyone who can remember November 22nd 1963 will know that President John F Kennedy was called Jack by friends and family.

Other diminutives include: Jake, Jackie
Foreign alternatives: Jock, Jocky

4: CHARLIE

Derived from the Germanic name “Karl”, Charlie is a diminutive form of “Charles” and can also be used as a girls name. Originally meaning “man” or “free man” in old German languages, the name Charles was adopted by many European royal families after the rule of Charles the Great (Charlemagne) and the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. The name only found prominence in England after the Stuart kings Charles I and Charles II came to the throne in the 17th century.

Because it is a diminutive, pet name, Charlie is always seen as friendly and fun-loving. Many of the Charlies you can think of are light-hearted and fun: Charlie Brown, Charlie Chaplin, Charlie Higson, Charlie Parker and Charlie Watts. Probably the best known Charlie in the world is Charlie Davies-Carr …. does the name ring a bell? Over 700 million people have seen this Charlie’s 56 second video on YouTube … yes, he stars in “Charlie Bit My Finger”.

Other diminutives include: Chaz, Chip, Chuck
Foreign alternatives: Karl, Kalle, Carlitos, Carlos

5: Jacob

The fifth most popular baby boy’s name in England is Jacob. It is the most popular name in the USA.

Up until The Reformation in the 16th century, the name Jacob was mainly used in Jewish culture. This is understandable since Jacob was the third patriarch and the father of the tribes of Israel. The recent popularity of Jacob is not so easy to explain. This Hebrew name means “supplanter” or “usurper” – Jacob cheated his older twin brother out of his birthright and deceived his blind father into blessing him instead of his brother Esau. But Jacob, later named “Israel”, found redemption and forgiveness and the name today is associated with honesty, truthfulness and a warm heart.

Strangely enough, the recent popularity of Stephenie Meyer’s series of “Twilight” books has given the name Jacob added support for a few more years – the enigmatic and brooding character of Jacob Black has grabbed the imagination of many teenage readers who will be parents naming baby boys in a few years time.

Other diminutives include: Jake, Jacko
Foreign alternatives: Jakob, Jago, Iago, Giacomo

So, what for the future? Well, names to keep an eye on include: Hugo (up 51 places), Kayden (up 662 places), Dexter (up 327 places), Ollie (up 306 places) and Jenson (up 242 places). The engravers at CHRISTENINGsilver have got their money on “George” and “Louis” making a big showing over the next few years …. I wonder why?

Don’t forget once you have settled on a name, we have a fantastic range of christening gifts for boys available on our website here, many of which can also be engraved with the chosen name.

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