Unfairly Dated Names: Peter

Unfairly Dated Names are a subset of Spotlight Names most people don’t consider old-enough to recycle. Most of these names peaked around 15-60 years ago and are often typecast as parent and grandparent names. But their timeless and sometimes modern attributes make them stylish stand-outs for modern children. At one point these names were ahead of the trends, and likely will be again.

Unfairly Dated Name: Peter

Who was your favorite Brady? Peter was my favorite Brady. Greg and Bobby weren’t nearly as cute. Peter aged better than his brothers. Yes I had a crush on Peter Brady.

Let’s get something out-of-the-way. At 13 I wasn’t crushing on the then 30-something actor Christopher Knight who portrayed Peter Brady. I was crushing on the fictional Peter Brady in syndication. Yes, I know Peter Brady never aged, but Christopher Knight aged. I can only assume Peter Brady would have aged like Christopher Knight. Ahem. Now on to Peter, the name.

Peter is charming. Peter is a non-religious Biblical name that after years of common use has lost most of its Biblical connection. The diminutive Pete embodies quaint masculinity just like other classic diminutives, Jake and Hank. Peter is everyman.

Like its counterparts John, Paul, and Mark, Peter blends into the background, overlooked by most contemporary parents. For this very reason, Peter is unlike names of the moment. For those who want a different, yet classic name, this makes Peter a treasure.

Last year, Peter ranked at #197, its lowest rank ever, and has been steadily declining since its peak in the upper 30s / low 40s over half a century ago. Interestingly, Peter never really hit a dramatic peak, but rather just started to decline over the past three decades.

Before the 1980s, Peter was consistently popular, never reaching the top 30, but barely leaving the top 60* until 1987. (1880 is the first year data is available.) These numbers suggest Peter is a consistent performer with staying power.

Like George, Peter has become a part of our cultural lexicon. There is the nursery rhyme, “Peter, Peter pumpkin eater”. There is the exclamation, “For Pete’s sake!” The name is also a children’s book staple, appearing on Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.

Considering Peter’s solid history, Peter’s meaning is fitting, derived from “petros”, Greek for “stone” or “rock”. In the New Testament, Peter is a translation of “Cephas” meaning “stone” in Aramaic. Cephas was the name Jesus had given Saint Peter, who was originally named Simon. Besides the Apostle, Peter was the name of a couple of other Saints and Russian tsar, Peter the Great.

Like other ancient names such as John and Elizabeth, Peter has several forms, in several languages. These foreign variations may hold more appeal to the modern parent.

There is the Greek Petros; the Latin Petrus or the Basque Petri (for those who can overlook the petri dish association). There is also, of course, the French Pierre, which is exotic, yet familiar to most Americans. There is a feminine form, Petra, also the name of an ancient city.

Peter is very similar to the now stylish Porter, an occupational surname revival name. Peter still ranked higher than Porter last year, which ranked at #450 but while Peter is gradually trending down, Porter is trending up. Porter’s usage history is a lot more dramatic than Peter’s. Porter peaked over a century ago just outside the top 200s, declined to its lowest point mid-century (outside the top 1000) and is positioned to reclaim, possibly surpass, its former popularity.

Peter has a similar sound to Porter, but has a less volatile usage history, its recent decline notwithstanding. While Peter is not an occupational surname, it shares the -er ending found in many other fashionable occupational surnames, such as Carter, Fletcher, and Miller. Peter is the perfect unfairly dated name because it’s trend-proof and also happens to be more unique than it has ever been – usage-wise. These qualities make Peter a great choice in 2012, a pleasant surprise on a newborn boy.

The only legitimate drawback, in my opinion is the unflattering slang connotation for Peter, but I still feel that term isn’t nearly as unfortunate as that nickname for Richard. Anyone concerned about suggestive slang, can use the diminutive Pete on its own. Some days I actually prefer Pete as a given name as a fresher alternative to Jack.

*Note: Peter was at #62 in 1904 & 1905 and #61 in 1934.

Readers: Which form of Peter do you like the best?

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  1. I adore Peter! Peter Pan is what does it for me.

  2. I really like Peter too and think Pete is charming. No surprise that I like it though since I have a Paul, Mark, and a James.

  3. Pete Doxtader says:

    My name is Peter, and I hated it when I was a kid. But as I get older (i’m 47 now), and the name becomes seemingly more unique (and I find that I don’t care so much about the slang connotation), I like it more and more. To my friends, I’m Pete. But to my family I suppose I will always be Peter.


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