Chicago: the windy city, my kind of town, that toddlin’ town. This major metropolitan city in the heart of the U.S. has a rich history of people, culture, food, and community. We’ve asked two Chicago born-and-bred writers to put together this list of Chicago-inspired baby names for your little one.
Chicago’s bright city lights can make it a challenge to see stars at night. That’s never a problem for 500,000 visitors a year who go inside Chicago’s Adler Planetarium. Max Adler, a successful Chicago businessman, paid for the construction of the domed building, along with the Zeiss Projector and the Mensing Collection of astronomical instruments inside. The Adler Planetarium was the first of its kind in the western hemisphere when it opened in 1930.
Addison and Clark
If someone suggests meeting at Addison and Clark, you might want to check a baseball schedule. That intersection is the busiest corner in Chicago when the Chicago Cubs are home at Wrigley Field. According to the book Streetwise Chicago: A History of Chicago Street Names, Addison Street is named for Thomas Addison, the English doctor who discovered Addison’s Disease. Clark Street is named for Revolutionary War Soldier George Rogers Clark who led the Illinois campaign to force out the British.
Chicago is the “city of neighborhoods” and Andersonville, so-named partially in jest, is the traditional Swedish neighborhood on the city’s North Side. Now a vibrant social center in the larger Uptown neighborhood, Andersonville is the home to the nationally renowned Swedish-American Museum. Anderson means “son of Anders” in several Scandinavian languages.
Archer Avenue, one of Chicago’s important street “diagonals,” heads southwest out of the city’s Chinatown and runs through Bridgeport and all the way to Lockport, Illinois. It follows the original Chicago Portage (from the city’s old fur-trading route heritage) between the Chicago and Des Plaines rivers. The major surface artery is named for the first commissioner of the Illinois & Michigan Canal, William Beatty Archer.
The ultimate address in the city’s wealthy Gold Coast, Astor Street is only a couple blocks long but always conjures an image of prestige and value. Astor St. was named after wealthy New Yorker (!!) John Jacob Astor to create real estate luster as the Chicago’s wealthy began to move to the north side following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
We can’t construct a list of names without Chicago’s favorite son, Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States! The Obamas maintain a residence in the south side’s Kenwood neighborhood, a short hop from the University of Chicago. Chicago’s Jackson Park will be the future home of the Barack Obama Presidential Center. Barack is a name of Arabic origin and means “blessed.”
Not just for the Cobains anymore. Internationally renowned sculptor Anish Kapoor was commissioned to create “Cloud Gate,” an impressive, welcoming, interactive sculpture as the centerpiece for Chicago’s newly completed Millennium Park. However, the locals couldn’t help but notice it resembled a 42-foot high, polished chrome kidney bean. Since its unveiling in 2006, the $11.5 million landmark has been affectionately called The Bean, as in, “Meet me at the bean!”
A great name for a kid you intend to wrestle with, and perfect for a family of Chicago sports fans. The storied Chicago Bears NFL franchise was founded by George S. Halas in 1920 as the Decatur (Ill.) Staleys and moved up to the City of Big Shoulders the following year. Note: If your neighbors have a kid named Packer, beware!
Or do your Chicago sports tastes tend more toward basketball and the Chicago Bulls? Of course, there’s Michael and Jordan, or Scottie… but rather than just “Bull,” why not choose Benny, after Benny the Bull, the team’s high-flying mascot since 1969!
Brook or Brookfield
Another great Chicago-area cultural institution is the Brookfield Zoo, opened in 1934 in the suburb of, yes, Brookfield. Though 12 miles west of the city proper, Chicagoans still embrace the zoo as their own. Originally named Grossdale, after village founder Samuel Eberly Gross, the village of Brookfield got its current name in 1905 when residents became disenchanted with Gross and held a naming contest—clearly there was no babynames.com at the time.
Before “Cloud Gate” (see Bean above), the place to meet up downtown was Grant Park’s Buckingham Fountain, dedicated in 1927 and designed by the lakefront’s premier architect Daniel Burnham. The fountain, one of the world’s largest, fires up every hour with a light show and a water jet that shoots 150 feet into the air. BONUS: Your parents may remember a Chicago-based sunshine pop group from the 1960s called, you guessed it, The Buckinghams.
Do you love Chicago? A lot? Why not name your child Chicago! I mean, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West did… Taken by the area’s first French inhabitants from the Indigenous Miami-Illinois word shikaakwa, meaning “smelly onion,” Chicago has come to stand for strength, Midwestern values and a can-do attitude.
Located in Comiskey Park, in the South Side’s Bridgeport neighborhood, Chicago’s “other” Major League Baseball team, the White Sox, doesn’t get the national attention their North Side counterparts get. Yet, South Siders to this day are fierce in their support. Charles Comiskey, co-founder of the American League and the original owner of the Sox, built the team’s stadium at 35th St. and Shields Ave. and named it after himself. GO SOX!
The quintessential Chicago political dynasty. Richard J. Daley ruled Chicago for 21 years, a feat eclipsed only by his son, Richard M. Daley. Proud of their Irish Catholic heritage, the Daleys hail from a modest brick house in Bridgeport on the South Side, where Richard Sr. resided even as mayor. Controversial figures both, the Daleys may have been regaled and reviled, but never forgotten when talking about Chicago history.
A great street on which to tour the neighborhoods of Chicago. Damen Avenue passes through many diverse neighborhoods, from Ravenswood to Wicker Park, past the United Center on the West Side and well into the South Side. It was originally called Robey Street, but was renamed Damen in the 1920s after Fr. Arnold Damen, a Jesuit priest and founder of what is now Loyola University Chicago.
Charles Gates Dawes, Republican Vice-President, WWI General, financier, and Nobel Peace Prize awardee, resided in Chicago’s nearest neighbor to the north, Evanston, Illinois. His family’s beautiful mansion, the Dawes House is now a cultural landmark and home of the Evanston History Center, located by the scenic lakefront and Northwestern University.
Chicago names its federal expressways after local luminaries—”the Kennedy” and “the Eisenhower” are obvious examples. The Edens expressway (U.S. 94, completed in 1951) was originally the Edens Parkway, named after William G. Edens, an early advocate of paved roads in Chicagoland. Who doesn’t love paved roads?
El / Elle / Ellie
The public transit elevated trains, known as the “El” or just the “L,” are central to Chicago’s civic identity. If you’ve ever been to the city, you’ve taken the El. Even the parts that go underground are called the El. 241 miles of track link all sides of the city, including its two airports, to the downtown “Loop” where the tracks loop around and head back out. Probably the best way to tour the city for the cheapest price.
Planned as a grid of thoroughfares, Chicago’s diagonal streets carry a special meaning for local residents, as they were the quickest way into town by car (or horse) before the U.S. expressways were built in the 1950s and ’60s. Elston Avenue is named for English immigrant Daniel Elston, who acquired lots of nearby land in the early 1800s. Other diagonal streets to consider for naming your baby are Clark, Archer, Lincoln, and Ogden, but Clybourn or Milwaukee may be a bit of a stretch….
Ernie Banks, also known as Mr. Cub, is the North Siders’ ultimate baseball icon, from his arrival in 1953 as the franchise’s first African American player, and well beyond his 1971 retirement. Ernie’s Hall of Fame skills, his 512 lifetime homeruns, and his sunny disposition (despite the Cubs never taking him to the playoffs) made him near and dear to the hearts of all Chicagoans. He’s nationally famous for his love for the game—his most famous saying: “Let’s play two!”
Evie or Evan
Evanston, Illinois arose around the same time as Chicago but didn’t grow as rapidly, becoming a fiercely independent suburb, located just to the north. Home to Northwestern University, racially diverse, inventor of the ice cream sundae, and dry (of alcohol) until the 1980s, Evanston has a distinct personality and natives and residents are passionately loyal.
Bueller? Bueller? Anybody? Ferris Bueller famously plays hooky in the 1986 classic John Hughes movie, giving viewers a hilarious tour of all the Chicago landmarks, including the Von Steuben Day Parade. But the name is a reference on a reference! The first Ferris wheel—AKA Chicago wheel—was built on the Midway Plaisance (59th St.) by George Washington Gale Ferris Jr. for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. Ferris: Double Chicago!
I say “Chicago,” you say “Deep-dish pizza!” Giordano’s stuffed pizza (slightly different than deep dish, but that’s another story) was first offered on Chicago’s South Side in 1974 and has been on everybody’s Best Pizza list ever since. Giordano is the Italian version of Jordan; the name derives its ancient meaning from the Jordan River.
Chicago’s version of the old joke, “Who’s buried in Grant’s Tomb?” is “Whose statue is in Grant Park?” Chicago and its surrounds came of age after the Civil War and Ulysses S. Grant, victorious leader of the Union Army and the 18th President of the United States, was very front-of-mind for city planners. Grant Park, at 313 downtown acres is intended as a centerpiece of the city, much like New York City’s Central Park.
Beloved baseball announcer for the South Side White Sox (1971-1981) AND the North Side Cubs (1982-1997), Harry Caray has been a fixture in Chicago lore well beyond his passing in 1998. Larger than life, with a bubbly personality and distinctive black-framed glasses, Harry could enjoy a cold beer (or three) and deliver a mean rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” A bronze statue of Harry stands outside of Wrigley Field in tribute.
Hef / Hefner
A Chicago who’s-who of corporate titans and philanthropists would not be complete without “Hef,” Playboy publisher and editor-in-chief Hugh Hefner. Playboy Enterprises occupied a prestigious Michigan Avenue address from 1965 to 2012. The original Gold Coast Playboy Mansion—Hef’s swanky residence from 1959 to 1974—has since been donated to the School of the Art Institute for student residences.
Hyde Park, on the city’s South Side, was named after the famed London district and has been the illustrious home of great Chicago institutions such as the University of Chicago, the Museum of Science and Industry, and 1893’s World’s Columbian Exposition. Famous Hyde Parkers include Clarence Darrow, Saul Bellow, and Muhammad Ali.
Ida B. Wells was a journalist, civil rights activist, and arguably the most famous Black woman of her day. Ida was a founder of the NAACP and her investigative journalism spread the word against lynching and other cruelties of the Jim Crow south. She received a posthumous Pulitzer in 2020 and, in 2019, the city of Chicago renamed one of its most important roads, Congress Parkway after her, the new Ida B. Wells Drive. “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”—Ida B. Wells, 1892
The Eisenhower Expressway (U.S. 290) is an everyday reality of life on the West Side, as well as in every radio traffic report—but it has WAY too many syllables. Chicagoans have therefore shortened it to Dwight D. Eisenhower’s own nickname, Ike, as in, “traffic is bumper-to-bumper on the inbound Ike.”
Irving is the name of TWO storied North Side neighborhoods in Chicago and a major street. Irving Park, so named for the large park within its boundaries, and Old Irving Park are both named after American author, Washington Irving, popular in the early days of Chicagoland. In fact, before it was annexed to the city, founders wanted to call the area Irvington, but settled on Irving Park. Irving Park Road is one of only a few major east-west streets on the North Side that can handle truck traffic.
Mayor of Chicago is historically a supremely powerful position in city, county and state politics. In fact, Republicans looking for scapegoats in Richard Nixon’s 1960 presidential loss accused the mayor-of-all-mayors Richard J. Daley of creating fraudulent Democratic votes to push John F. Kennedy over the top. From the Daley to Ed Kelly to “Big Bill” Thompson, the mayoralty was a complete boys club until 1979 (hi there, ’70s feminism!) when Jane Byrne toppled the Democratic Machine to become Chicago’s first woman mayor!
Chicago’s population and reputation benefited from the Great Migration of African Americans northward between 1915 and 1970. One of those benefits was the city’s establishment as a “jazz capital” starting around 1920 when certified musical geniuses “King” Oliver and Louis Armstrong came up from New Orleans to make Chicago their home. Since then, such luminaries as Benny Goodman, Ramsey Lewis, Dinah Washington, Gene Krupa, and hundreds of others have home-based in Chicago.
This is the sneakier way to name your child after one of Chicago’s prestigious museums. An early leader of Sears Roebuck & Co., Julius Rosenwald also founded the city’s world-famous Museum of Science and Industry—but refused to let it be named after him, as the Field, Shedd and Adler institutions were named for their benefactors. Now you can honor Rosenwald’s legacy instead! Julius was also a prolific philanthropist, giving much of his fortune in support of African American children in the rural South.
Deep cut! Meigs Field, named after publisher and aviation fan Merrill C. Meigs, was a teeny-tiny airport located on Northerly Island in Lake Michigan. It was in operation from 1946 until 2003, when it was unceremoniously bulldozed on the orders of the second Mayor Daley, Richard M., when he needed to strongarm political adversaries into returning the island to parkland. Meigs Field is also the default runway for Microsoft’s popular Flight Simulator game.
One member of Chicago’s long tradition of instigating journalists was Mike Royko, columnist for the Daily News, the Sun-Times, and finally, the Chicago Tribune. Royko was a proud thorn in the side of Chicago’s notorious political machine and titled his 1971 best-seller about powerful Mayor Richard J. Daley, appropriately, Boss.
Kenwood is a neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side filled with huge single-family homes. The first resident to settle there was John A. Kennicott. He named his home Kenwood to honor his Scottish heritage. Today, you can catch a glimpse of the exterior of the very well protected home of Kenwood’s best-known residents, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.
For more than 50 years, music lovers have been treated to a heaping serving of the Chicago Blues at Chicago’s Kingston Mines. The Lincoln Park-based music hall is the largest and oldest continuously operating blues club in the city. It has played host to hundreds of famous Chicago Blues legends from Koko Taylor to Junior Wells.
Rarely will you hear a Chicagoan refer to the massive fresh-water source that abuts Chicago as Lake Michigan. It is simply known as, “The Lake.” Beaches and parks and a beautiful roadway, Lake Shore Drive, line up along the shoreline, thanks to the foresight of designer Daniel Burnham and his Chicago Plan.
Lake Street runs 34 miles from West Suburban Elgin through Chicago. It almost reaches Lake Michigan, but it ends abruptly a couple of blocks west of the lake.
Lincoln Park, the largest of Chicago’s parks, is named in memory of the 16th President, Abraham Lincoln. The upscale Lincoln Park neighborhood is home to the Lincoln Park Zoo, the Lincoln Park Conservatory, the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the popular North Avenue Beach, a variety of theatres including the Theatre on the Lake and music venues such as the Kingston Mines.
Just three miles northwest of Chicago’s Lincoln Park, you’ll find the richly diverse Logan Square neighborhood. Logan Square is named for John Alexander Logan, a soldier and politician, who led the drive to recognize Memorial Day as an official holiday. Logan is one of only three people mentioned by name in the state song, “Illinois.” Logan Square’s public green space holds the Illinois Centennial Monument, a 70-foot marble column designed by the creator of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Chicagoans love their deep-dish pizza. A deep-dish pizza layers the dough, then the mozzarella cheese, then the ingredients and finally the thick tomato sauce. Using a recipe that his grandfather helped to create nearly 30 years earlier, Lou Malnati opened his first pizzeria in North suburban Lincolnwood in 1971. This year marks Lou Malnati’s 50th Anniversary. His descendants now run the pizza empire in 68 restaurants in four states.
Chicago’s Loyola University honors Ignatius of Loyola, a Spanish priest who founded the Jesuit order. Today, the ever-expanding main campus sits in the Northside Rogers Park neighborhood between Lake Michigan and the winding Sheridan Road. There are four other campuses around Chicagoland.
In 2018, Loyola gained national attention during the Ramblers men’s basketball team’s improbable run in the NCAA Tournament. The then 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean, became a media darling.
Once upon a time, Marshall Field’s was a Chicago department store famous for its animated holiday window displays, Walnut Room restaurant, and exclusive Frango Mint candies. Marshall Field himself was known for his philanthropy which supported Chicago’s Art Institute, the Museum of Science and Industry and the Shedd Aquarium. The Field Museum of Natural History was renamed for him. People still meet under the Marshall Field’s clock at State and Randolph Streets even though Macy’s acquired Marshall Field’s in 2006.
Chicago has a lot of sports stars, but none as supernova bright as Michael Jordan. MJ is considered professional basketball’s G.O.A.T. – the Greatest of All Time. His Airness led the Bulls to win six NBA championships – the repeat three-peat. Jordan also played professional baseball for the Chicago White Sox. His commercial endorsements still bring in millions, and he gives away millions in support of organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
North (Northwestern, Near North)
Northwestern University in North Suburban Evanston was started in the 1850’s to help serve people living in what was then the Northwest Territory. Today, NU’s well respect undergraduate and graduate programs include schools of business, journalism, law, medicine and music. Northwestern Athletes are part of the Big Ten Conference. Famous alumni include Stephen Colbert, Pharrell Williams and Megan, Duchess of Sussex.
Ogden Avenue stretches along a diagonal from Chicago’s West Side to West Suburban Naperville. It is named for Chicago’s first mayor, William B. Ogden. The one-term Ogden pushed for taxes to help pay for new roads, sidewalks and bridges. He talked the talk and walked the walk: Mayor Ogden used some of his own wealth to help pay for Chicago infrastructure improvements.
O’Hare Airport, the one-time ‘Busiest Airport in the World,’ is named for World War II Naval Aviator Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare. The Medal of Honor recipient single handedly shot down a squadron of Japanese bombers preparing to attack the USS Lexington. He died a year later when his plane was shot down during a night mission. While he never lived in Chicago, O’Hare’s father did. Edward J. “Easy Eddie” O’Hare was gangster Al Capone’s lawyer. The elder O’Hare testified against the mobster at Capone’s tax evasion trial.
Oscar Mayer isn’t just a brand of cold cuts. Oscar Mayer was a real Chicagoan. He and his brother Gottfried started their bratwurst and liverwurst empire in Chicago in the late 1800’s. They later expanded their offerings to ham, bacon, hot dogs and b-o-l-o-g-n-a.
Over the years, Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel was the site of thousands of engagements and weddings. That is appropriate because the first Palmer House was a wedding gift from Potter Palmer to his bride, Bertha Honore. Thirteen days after it opened, it burned to the ground in the Great Chicago Fire. It was rebuilt twice, but today, its doors are closed due to Covid-19 and a looming foreclosure.
Friends and fans called Walter Payton, “Sweetness.” The beloved running back spent his entire 13-year career with the Chicago Bears. Number 34’s signature move was called the stutter-step. This irregularly paced run confused the other team and allowed him to rush for 16,726 yards. He was part of the 1985 Chicago Bears team that won Superbowl XX. Tragically, Payton died of a rare liver disease at the age of 45.
Ravenswood is a Northside Chicago neighborhood that is part of the Lincoln Square community. It gets its name from the forest and the birds that inhabited it. In 1868, the Ravenswood Land Company investors planned to create the first commuter suburb there. It surrounded the Lawrence Avenue station stop on the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad. Today, that stop is still part of the Metra rail system.
If you know anything about the Chicago River you know that a Black settler named Jean Baptiste Point DuSable and his family had the first permanent home on the Chicago River. You also know the 156-mile river has three major branches. And you know that Lake Michigan runs into the Chicago River through a series of locks to keep the polluted river waters out of the fresh-water lake.
Roger (Rogers Park)
Rogers Park is as far north as you can go in Chicago. Its northern boundary is the city of Evanston and its eastern boundary is Lake Michigan. High lake waters are testing the nerves of Rogers Park homeowners along the lake as they watch the lake erode more and more land. Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Red and Purple train lines intersect the community, which is also the home base of the main campus of Loyola University.
Another Northside area is Roscoe Village which is referred to as a pocket neighborhood in the larger North Center. The area came to life when the Riverview Amusement Park opened in 1903. After some years of decline when Riverview closed, Roscoe Village is in the midst of a revitalization.
During the 60’s and 70’s, Rush Street resembled a non-stop college fraternity party. Today the area is more upscale with luxury shopping and hotels. Rush Street was named for Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of four physicians who signed the Declaration of Independence.
Ryan Field is Northwestern University’s home football field. The stadium was originally named Dyche Stadium in 1926 for former Evanston mayor William Dyche. It was renamed in 1997 for Aon Corporation Founder Patrick Ryan for his financial contributions to NU.
Slammin’ Sammy Sosa, the one-time outfielder for the Chicago Cubs, revitalized interest in baseball during the summer of 1998. That’s when Sosa and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals chased and surpassed Roger Maris’ home run record. Memories of that summer were tarnished years later with allegations of steroid use.
More than 32,000 animals inhabit Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium and more than two million human visitors come to see them each year. John G. Shedd was the main benefactor of the museum on the lake, along with his mentor, Marshall Field.
Sheridan Road is a major Chicago street that runs 60 miles along Lake Michigan from the Lincoln Park neighborhood in Chicago and through the Northern Suburbs before coming to an end in Racine, WI. The winding road is named in honor of Civil War General Philip Henry Sheridan. General Sheridan was responsible for coordinating Chicago’s military relief efforts during the time after the Great Chicago Fire.
Streeterville is named for George Wellington “Cap” Streeter, an eccentric boat captain who ran his ship aground on a Lake Michigan sandbar. He refused to move it and then laid claim to the area. In the late 20th Century, the Streeterville neighborhood transformed from empty lots and abandoned warehouses into skyscrapers and tourist attractions such as Navy Pier.
Wicker Park is an area just west of the Kennedy Expressway that is known for its artists, restaurants and hipsters – lots and lots of hipsters. Chicago Alderman Charles Wicker purchased land right around the time of the Great Chicago Fire. Like Streeterville, Wicker Park had fallen on hard times, but was revitalized by artists attracted to cheap loft space and easy access to the Chicago Loop.
Sorry, no. No self-respecting Chicagoan can allow you to name your child Willis. Though it is Chicago’s tallest building, the Willis Tower will always be remembered locally, and with pride, as the Sears Tower, completed in 1974 and the tallest building in the world for 25 years. Then, British insurance company Wills Group Holdings (boring!) were given the naming rights in 2009 and the rest is ignoble history. HOWEVER, if the name Willis brings back fond memories of the TV show Diff’rent Strokes and diminutive actor Gary Coleman’s famous line, “What you talkin’ about, Willis!?” know that Coleman was indeed born in suburban Zion, Illinois, and was featured in many local Chicago commercials before making it big in Diff’rent Strokes. If you want to name your baby Willis for THAT reason, then okay.
Make no mistake, Chicago is very windy. With flat topography, a northern latitude, and a giant lake next door, the wind blows through so hard sometimes it even has its own nickname—Hawkins, or The Hawk. But the city’s ubiquitous nickname, The Windy City, actually comes from its reputation for being led by political and commercial blowhards. Outrageous!
If you’ve ever chewed a piece of gum, the name Wrigley might be right at the tip of your tongue. The famous Wrigley Field was named by its one-time owner, Chicago gum manufacturer William Wrigley, Jr. and the name stuck! Wrigley Field is the home of the Major League baseball team, The Cubs.
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