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Auto Pioneer Baby Names: Ford, Nash, Hudson & Tucker

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By Nick Turner

If you’re like me, your favorite baby names are ones that peaked at least 100 years ago. But I always seem to have an easier time finding great “century names” for girls than boys. (When we named our kids, my female list was much longer than my male one.)

So I was excited to discover a rich source of vintage boys’ names: the early auto industry.

Automobile pioneers were active in the late 1800s and early 1900s, which means they have fabulous names. (There’s not much in the way of girls’ choices here, but we can all take solace in the fact that the auto industry is less sexist than it used to be. America‘s largest automaker, General Motors, is currently run by a woman.)

I was reading about the origins of Detroit as the Motor City and came across quite a few possibilities. First, let’s start with the obvious: Henry Ford. Henry peaked in the 1880s and is currently staging a comeback (it cracked the top 40 last year for the first time since World War II). Ford is a perfectly serviceable first name too. On the Henry front, there’s also Henry Leland, who founded Cadillac and Lincoln. Leland can work as a first name as well.

But it gets more interesting as you start to dig deeper. How about Ransom Olds, the founder of Oldsmobile? “Ransom” has to be one of the coolest names ever, and yet it’s no longer in the top 1,000.

I imagine many parents are put off by a name that’s associated with kidnapping. But Ransom has an older, more beautiful meaning. It stems from the Latin word for redemption, and it used to mean deliverance or atonement.

Plus, let’s face it: Ransom just sounds bad-ass. You’ll have the coolest kid on the playground.

Let’s look at some other possibilities. Hugh Chalmers founded Chalmers Motor Car Co., which ultimately became part of Chrylser. Hugh has been climbing the charts in recent years, though it still only ranked 915th last year.

Joseph Hudson and Roy Chapin, meanwhile, started the Hudson Motor Car Co. — a precursor to American Motors. Between them, there are four potential names there.

Charles Nash was a president of GM who went on to found Nash Motors. Again, both first and last names are solid, though “Nash Bridges” may have brought some baggage to that name. Horace Elgin and John Francis Dodge were the men behind the Dodge Brothers Co. “Elgin” had a brief spike in the 1910s as a first name before fading back into obscurity.

David Dunbar Buick incorporated the Buick Motor Co. in 1903 and later allied himself with future GM founder William Durant. Walter Chrysler started that company in 1925 when the Maxwell Motor Co. was reorganized. (Jonathan Dixon Maxwell founded the original firm.)

Alanson Partridge Brush founded the Brush Motor Car Co. and later formed the United States Motor Co. with brothers Benjamin and Frank Briscoe.

Last but not least, there’s Preston Tucker.

Tucker, immortalized by Jeff Bridges in the 1988 film, is famous for the Tucker Torpedo — a model that helped bring many modern features to cars, even though it was itself a failure.

The man’s name also was ahead of its time. Preston climbed the baby-name charts in the 1980s and 1990s and peaked in the 2000s. It ranked 148 nationwide last year, above Brian, Patrick and Mark. In fact, it’s higher now than when Preston Tucker was born in 1903.

The name Tucker, meanwhile, is a more recent phenomenon, part of the surnames-as-first-names craze. It essentially didn’t exist as a given name until the 1980s but now ranks 180 (and shows no sign of peaking yet).

Melissa Joan Hart gave the name a boost in 2012 when she chose it for her third son. Lest you think this was a quirky celebrity pick, consider that Tucker is more popular right now than Peter, Abraham or Stephen.

Here’s a list of the names, along with when they last peaked in popularity.

Alanson (never ranked; Alan peaked in the ’50s)

Benjamin (peaking now)

Chapin (never ranked in the top 1,000)

Charles (1920s)

David (1960s)

Dixon (never ranked)

Elgin (1910s)

Ford (1910s)

Francis (1910s)

Frank (1880s)

Henry (1880s)

Horace (1890s)

Hudson (peaking now)

Hugh (1880s)

John (1910s)

Joseph (1910s)

Leland (1920s)

Maxwell (peaking now)

Nash (peaking now)

Preston (2000s)

Ransom (1880s)

Roy (1890s)

Tucker (peakng now)

Walter (1910s)

William (1910s)

Happy motoring!

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About the author

Nick

Nick Turner is a writer and editor living in New York City (by way of San Francisco). He and his wife have successfully named three kids. Follow him on Twitter at @SFNick.
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