12 British Names That Are So Stuffy, They're Cool!
The English have a certain knack for olde-school cool, so they're pretty much pros in the classic-yet-catchy baby names department. Check out our favorite anglo-saxon imports for your little Anglophile.
Hovering solidly around the 800th spot in the US top 1,000 since the 1990s—Duncan clocked in at #835 in 2012—this name has a royal history in Scotland, and a British literary one in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. (It’s currently the 200th most popular boy’s name in England.) Here in the States, it makes for a charming and unusual—but not experimental—choice.
Cora’s been on a steady climb in recent years, jumping 121 spots, to #155, since 2010. Not coincidentally, this burst has corresponded with Downton Abbey’s premier on American public television; Cora is the name of the series’ American-born countess. A refreshing alternative to the even-more-popular Nora (#107), Cora is simple, sweet and dignified, but still a little bit different.
A royal name in England, Humphrey of course belonged to American Hollywood royalty, too; Humphrey Bogart is the first namesake that comes to mind on US shores. Whether you’re a Bogart fan or a British literary buff (Humphrey also appeared in Shakespeare’s Henry IV) or just looking for a delightful old-man name for your little boy, Humphrey is a solid and super-cute pick.
Meaning “red-haired” in Latin, Rufus was the English King William’s childhood nickname, and remains popular there. In the US, this playful, yet masculine, moniker recently appeared as the first name of a Gossip Girl character. It also has solid music chops; singer Rufus Wainwright wears it well, and James Taylor chose it for one of his sons.
The Gaelic version of Alexander, this name appeared almost exclusively in Scotland (under the spelling Alasdair), where it belonged to three kings and countless countrymen before making its way to England in the 19th and 20th centuries. Soft yet strong and unusual-sounding, Alistair is now primed for cool-name status in the States. Proof? Rod Stewart chose it for his son.
Soft and sweet with a touch of sass (thanks to that “x” on the end), this name belonged to Peter Rabbit’s British creator, Beatrix Potter. More recently, it was the name of the main female protagonist in the edgy, action-packed Kill Bill saga. Always a sign of impending revival, Beatrix is gaining popularity among American celebs; designer Kate Spade chose it as a middle name for her daughter. It’s still a safe distance from even the top 1,000 here, however, unlike its close cousin Beatrice, which comes with a lot less punch. Nickname Bea is ultra-adorbs.
Originally belonging to the French-born Emperor Charlemagne, aka Charles the Great, this distinguished moniker went British Royal in the 17th century when it was bestowed upon King Charles I and II; it now belongs to the Prince of Wales. Celebs like Jodie Foster are bringing it back in vogue here in the States by choosing Charles for their baby boys; the name ranks solidly in the top 100, and climbed one spot between 2011 and 2012, from #63 to #62.
The name of several British kings through the centuries, Edward is experiencing a recent revival in the US thanks to the wildly popular Twilight series’ character Edward Cullen. (Actor Edward Norton certainly hasn’t done the moniker’s reputation any harm over the past decade, either.) Eddie makes for an ever-adorable nickname option.
Another Arthurian, originally Welsh name, Enid was revived by the British poet Alfred Tennyson’s Idylls of the King in the 19th century. Meaning “soul” or “spirit,” it’s also the name of a Barenaked Ladies song, and a well-known Williamsburg, Brooklyn brunch spot. (Read: Enid is bona fide hipster parent fodder.) The moniker peaked in popularity in the states back in 1921 at #418, so it’s perfect for parents looking for something classic and yet unexpected.
Merlin’s wife in Arthurian legend, this is the English variant of the Welsh moniker Gwendolen. Meaning “white ring,” or “Goddess of the moon,” this name is just right for fantasy fans, but also fits in with suddenly-hip, old-fashioned names like Alice, Frances, and Hazel. Nicknames Gwen or Wyn give it a different twist, too.
Harriet has been long popular in Britain, yet also has a strong American past—think Tubman and Beecher Stowe. It’s yet to gain major footing here, though; Harriet hasn’t been in the US top 100 for over half a century. If you’re looking for an unusual, ear-catching, cute and classic name, however, we tip our hats to the British on this one as an all-around winner.
Margaret’s making a comeback as an alternative to other classic girl names like Katherine, and its strong, regal roots give it staying power. It’s considered the national name of Scotland, but has also belonged to British royalty aplenty since the 11th century, as well as to the first female British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. If the name in full sounds a bit too formal for your little lady, cute nickname options abound, from well-known Meg and Maggie to more daring Mago.
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