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Beau is a French word meaning handsome or attractive: it is the masculine form of belle, and both of these words are from the Latin bellus, meaning “beautiful, pretty, agreeable”. It is directly related to the English word beautiful, and is part of English surnames such as Beauregard (“beautiful view”) or Beaumont (“beautiful mountain”).
You can see Beau as a short form of such surnames, or as directly from the English word beau, which is old-fashioned slang for a man who is a well-dressed dandy, or for a woman’s lover or sweetheart. Both senses of the word go back to the Middle Ages, but it is rare to hear people using these slang terms in everyday modern life.
Some of the most famous namesakes were called Beau as a nickname, to indicate that they were at the very height of fashion. Richard “Beau” Nash was Master of Ceremonies in Bath and Tunbridge Wells in the 18th century, while George “Beau” Brummel was an arbiter of men’s fashions in Regency England, a friend of the future King George IV.
Beau Brummel was famous for his charisma and wit, and his name is synomous with style and masculine good looks. He changed men’s fashions from the wearing of bright colours, lace, jewels, and spangles to elegantly tailored dark clothing with a white shirt – it’s because of him that we consider it “good taste” for a man to dress in an expensively discreet suit.
Both the famous Beaus were middle-class men who had the confidence and personality to mix with the cream of society, and as a direct result, both died in debt (Beau Brummell died raving mad from syphilis, but this has not tarnished his image, just added a tinge of poignancy).
Beau Brummell has inspired several literary portraits, including as a character in Arthur Conan Doyle’s historical novel Rodney Stone. He was also in Georgette Heyer’s Regency Buck, and it became almost de rigeur to include him as a character in regency romances. Recently Beau Brummell has turned detective in a series by Rosemary Stevens, and taken part in homoerotic fiction written by Cecilia Ryan. Beau Brummel has also appeared on stage, radio plays, TV dramas, movies, and an operetta. The latest outing was probably on UK TV in This Charming Man, with James Purefoy as Beau.
The name Beau has been in use since the late 18th century, not long after the death of Beau Nash. Beau Nash was so severely mourned by his former mistress when he died that she supposedly lived in a hollowed out tree on a bale of straw for thirty or forty years: I haven’t the foggiest how that made her feel better, but presume the straw was changed from time to time.
Originally Beau was given fairly equally to boys and girls in Britain, but soon became overwhelmingly male as the name became more common in the United States. Interestingly, this pattern still holds true, as Beau is evenly unisex in the UK, but only charts for boys in the US. In Australia, Beau is usually considered a boy’s name, but you can still encounter the occasional girl named Beau.
In the US, Beau has been in the Top 1000 since the late 1960s. Its appearance then may have been because of the actor Lloyd “Beau” Bridges, the son of Lloyd Bridges. Beau Bridges received his nickname after Ashley Wilkes’ son in Gone With the Wind. During the 1960s Beau Bridges often appeared on his father’s TV show, The Lloyd Bridges Show, and gained parts in TV series such as The Fugitive and Bonanza.
Other 1960s influences were the rock band The Beau Brummells, Roger Moore playing Beau Maverick on the TV show Maverick, and the film Beau Geste, with Guy Stockwell in the title role as an American hero fighting for the French Foreign Legion – his nickname is from the French phrase beau geste, meaning “noble gesture”. In the US, the name Beau is currently #228 and rising.
In the UK, Beau has been in the Top 1000 for boys since at least 1996, and for girls since 2002. Currently Beau is #175 for boys and #169 for girls in the UK, but it is screeching up the charts for girls while staying stable for boys. Furthermore, if you include names like Bo, and double names like Beau-Lily, there are even more girls called Beau in the UK, so this seems to be in pink territory in Britain.
In Australia, Beau joined the charts in the 1970s at #261, and first joined the Top 100 in 1986 at #85. It made the Top 50 in 2011 and 2012 (at #50 and #40), but other than that has been steadily in the bottom half of the Top 100, or just below the Top 100. That makes it a good choice for someone who wants a name that is common, without ever having been highly popular.
Currently Beau is #80 nationally, #61 in New South Wales, #70 in Queensland, #88 in Tasmania, and #48 in the Australian Capital Territory. It has just dropped off the Top 100 in Victoria, and the Top 50 in Western Australia.
The name Beau is more popular in Australia than anywhere else in the world, although it is also Top 100 in New Zealand. Once of the factors in its success is probably the number of sportsmen named Beau, such as cricketer Beau Casson, AFL footballers Beau Maister and Beau Waters, and rugby union footballer Beau Robinson, who plays for the Queensland Reds.
However it is in rugby league that the name Beau really shines, boasting Beau Champion from the Parramatta Eels, Beau Falloon from the Gold Coast Titans, Beau Henry who has just left the Titans to play in the NSW Cup, Beau Scott from the Newcastle Knights, and Beau Ryan, who has retired from the Cronulla Sharks and become a comedian – his segment Beau Knows on the NRL Footy Show a reference to Nike’s Bo Knows ad campaign with American footballer Vincent “Bo” Jackson.
Non-sporting Australian Beaus include actor Beau Brady, who was on Home and Away for several years, and Beau Brooks, from online comedy group The Janoskians.
With Beau you get a simple no-fuss name with a very attractive meaning that is cute on a little boy and rather romantic or even sexy on a grown man. For centuries the name has been associated with masculine taste and style, and it sounds handsome and charming. Although unisex in other places, it is solidly masculine and even sporty in Australia, and has been in the Top 100 for decades without ever becoming highly popular. There is plenty to love about sweetheart Beau!
Thank you to Renee for suggesting Beau be featured on Waltzing More Than Matilda, a name she is considering using.
Beau received an approval rating of 72%. People saw the name Beau as adorable on a little boy and charming on a grown man (18%), and either cute or handsome (15%). However, 13% thought it was too nicknamey for a formal name. 5% found the connection to the old slang meanings of beau a turn off. Only one person thought the name Beau was too popular.
(Picture shows James Purefoy as Beau Brummell in This Charming Man)