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Category: surname names




If you look at the list of popular boys’ names—and some girls’ too—you start to feel that almost every conceivable surname has become a first.  Occupational names like Mason and Sawyer, patronymics like Jackson and Addison, Irish surnames Nolan and Quinn, Old Hollywood glamour last names such as Harlow…the list goes on.

Of course the ideal scenario for coming up with a fresher choice would be to discover some surname surprise on your own family true, but that isn’t always possible.

So are there any more original choices in this category of surname baby names still to be discovered?  Of course there are…in all the above modes and beyond.  Here are a few ideas to get you started; some have been lightly used over the years, but they all rate consideration for wider use.

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For the Nameberry 9 newsiest names of this week, Abby Sandel of Appellation Mountain  highlights some unisex baby names, interesting surname names and other novel choices.

By now, you’ve almost certainly heard about Blaer Bjarkardottir.

She’s just won the legal right to use her name.  Fifteen years ago, Blaer’s mom unknowingly gave her daughter a name that does not appear on the official list of 1,853 names permitted for baby girls in Iceland.  The mistake was discovered only after Blaer’s baptism.

A Nobel Prize-winning novelist had used the name for a female character.  Plus, Blaer’s mom knew another woman with the name – it’s where she got the idea in the first place.

It turns out that even in a country with official lists, things can be a little bit fuzzy.

There are no official lists in the U.S., but plenty of us might like to impose them.

Trouble is, even if there were rules at a given moment, they’re always subject to change.  What was true in 1960 – or 1860 – won’t hold in 2013.

This brings us to a great quote from Swistle: “Names, like colors and toys, are given to male/female babies according to fashion, not according to stone tablets.”

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A Girl Named Ellis

unisex names

On a recent trip through the South, I met two young sisters charmingly named Mason and Ellis.  Surname-names for girls are characteristic of the traditional South, where family last names have long been passed down as firsts to girls as well as boys.

Little girls might well have a conventional first name like Mary or Elizabeth, but their full name is Mary Ellis (say) and they’re known as Ellis.  The Mary or the Elizabeth might be mom and/or grandmother’s name; it’s the Ellis part that makes the name distinct.

Of course, surname-names are used for girls in many places beyond the American South these days, though not everyone likes the practice.  Boys’ names should be left to the boys, some feel, and girls’ names should be decidedly feminine, and unisex names are all-around unappealing.

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If you’ve spent any time on Nameberry recently or if you get our newsletter, you’ve seen the ads for my new novel, The Possibility of You.  The story of three women at three key moments of the past century dealing with unplanned pregnancies and questions of motherhood, the book required me to spend a lot of time researching the fashion and music, home decoration and child-rearing practices of 1916.  And of course, while I was at it, I couldn’t resist digging up information about names.

One of the most fascinating sources I found was the 1916 Social Register, which listed everybody who was anybody in New York.  It took both money and social standing to get your name in the Social Register, and so it was a window into upper class naming practices at the time.

One notable trend in evidence, mostly with male names but occasionally with female ones too, was last names used in first place.  Long a practice in moneyed families looking to cement ties between fortunes, these surnames are not the faux Coopers and Parkers that rose up over the past few decades but the genuine article: wealthy Great Aunt Fanny‘s maiden name, for instance, or maternal grandfather’s surname.

Of course, if you’re interested in using a surname as a first for your child, it’s best to use one from your own family, honoring someone you love even if you don’t expect them to leave you a million bucks.  But failing that, there’s no reason you can’t steal one of these choices. If you like the whole last names as first style, these sound fresher and more interesting than Taylor or Logan.

Choices from the 1916 Social Register:


Averell (an appealing April update)





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Occupation names: A Labor Day celebration


It’s Labor Day weekend, and so time once more to turn our attention to the original, pre-barbecue significance of the holiday and celebrate some hard-working occupational names.

We’re focusing on the more uncommon, fresher sounding examples, and those with less obvious meanings, so no Archer, Shepherd or Baker.  The er-ending trade names have continued their popularity run, with some individual examples rising (Ryder, Sawyer, Tucker) and others falling (Cooper, Carter, Hunter, Tanner).

Here are some examples of occupational surname names that still seem fresh enough to consider, together with the sometimes surprising trades they originally represented—even if it was so long ago that many don’t have much meaning in today’s world:

The er-ending brigade:

Banner– flag bearer

Barker –stripper of bark from trees for tanning

Baxter– a baker, usually female

Beamer — trumpet player

Booker — scribe

BouvierFrench for herdsman

Boyer — bow maker, cattle herder

Brenner — charcoal burner

Brewster — brewer of beer

Bridger — builder of bridges

Carver — sculptor

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