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The Name Liam: The Irish Guardian

The name Liam has been in the top 3 most popular boys' names in the USA for years. On several occasions it has even occupied first place. In our SmartGenius statistics for the last 10 years Liam is therefore on the 2nd place, only very close behind Noah. Here's everything you need to know about this outstanding name.

The story of Liam

The name Liam was not always as popular in the USA as it is today. In fact, when George Washington became president, the name was completely unknown in this country. It was not until the mid-19th century, when many Irish fled the Great Famine and emigrated to America, that Liam became popular outside of Ireland. After that, it took until the 1990s for this beautiful-sounding short first name to go from rare to popular. But where does the name come from and what does it mean?

Liam derived as a short form of the name William, which is also very popular at the moment. It ranks third in our SmartGenius statistics. William comes from the Germanic name Willehelm, which is now known in German as Wilhelm. Other linguistic variations include the Dutch Willem, the French Guillaume, and the Spanish Guillermo. As you can see, the name has caught on in many parts of the world and is proving to be historically popular.

So far so good, but what does the name mean and how did it get to England and Ireland? Willehelm is composed of ‘willo’ for ‘will, desire’ and ‘helm’ for ‘helmet, protection’. The name Liam therefore also means ‘helmet of will’ or simply ‘guardian, protector’ as a modern form of Willehelm. When the Normans conquered England from France in 1066, the name spread across the island in the form ‘Willaume’. Only over the centuries did the people there adopt the foreign name as their own and develop the form known today as William. Liam was a special Irish form, an abbreviation of Uilliam, and, as described above, became world famous relatively late.

Celebrities called Liam

Since Liam is an Irish name, it is primarily Irish and, more recently, American and British people who bear this first name. However, in some cases, such as the actor Liam Neeson, who starred in Schindler’s List and is now an action star, Liam is just a short form of William. Liam Gallagher, lead singer of the band Oasis, is also called William. A real Liam is the Irish writer Liam O’Flaherty, who lived from 1896 to 1984 and wrote numerous novels and short stories. Hollywood made movies of some of his works, such as John Ford’s The Informer in 1935. Ford, by the way, was O’Flaherty’s cousin.

In the 1980s, the name Liam became very popular in Great Britain. The up-and-coming actor Liam Neeson, who had been called that since childhood, certainly played a big part in this. His early theater and film roles as well as his partnership with the famous Helen Mirren also contributed to his fame. The hype spilled over to the US and Australia, as evidenced by today’s well-known actors. Liam Aiken, Liam Hemsworth, Liam McIntyre and child actor Liam James all belong to the first wave of popularity. Then, from 2000, Liam really took off, reaching the top ten in the US for the first time in 2012 and the top spot in 2017.

Special facts

The name Liam occurs in every state in the USA. This makes it one of less than 400 male first names to reach this mark. It is noticeable that Liam is particularly common in the Northeast, in Florida and in the West of the country. The highest percentage of the population appears in the Silver State of Nevada. Both in glittering Las Vegas and in remote villages, Liam wins over young parents − not many first names manage that.

Liam‘s popularity in the USA has spread to other countries. Some of them are far away and otherwise not inclined to use English-language names with any frequency. Some examples are France, Poland, Sweden, Chile, Israel, and Croatia. This appreciation in many countries certainly contributed to the decision to name the Yahoo! mascot Liam. If you want to be more creative, you can choose one of the many spelling variations. These include Lian, Lien, and Leam.

Liam in the 21st century

In the 1990s, the Liam name began its rapid rise in the USA. While it was ranked 360th in 1994, it climbed to 240th a year later. In 2000, it reached 140th place and since then it has continued to climb at an even faster rate. Liam broke into the top ten in 2012, and a year later it was in the top three, where it has remained ever since. From 2017 to 2021, Liam even defended its number one spot as the most popular name ever in the US.

One in 300 boys aged 10 and under now has this name. Only the name Noah turns out to be more common in this age group. In total, nearly 300,000 Americans of all ages are now named Liam, or 0.08% of the total population! And it does not look like anything is going to stop this triumph. Liam enjoys a reputation as a simple, melodious, and strong name. That’s a lot of qualities that are hard to beat.