By Laura Booher
For me, there’s always been something fascinating about family history. Maybe it’s because my own family tells so many stories about relatives and times long past. And maybe it’s also because I love travel, and I like to imagine where my ancestors came from and what they were like. In any event, I’ve explored my genealogy on and off over the years and one thing that I found most interesting is the variety of names I discovered there.
Unfortunately, most of the first names that appear in my family tree are either repeated a thousand times, or are so unusual that I’d hesitate to give them to my child. I found it was the surnames that provided the better source of names that I would consider as a future first or middle name. So, without further ado, here are my top five family surnames that are candidates for a future child.
This has, of course long been a fairly popular first name, particularly for girls’—it was the 10th most popular name in 1977–but is also a possibility for boys. In my family, it has moved between surname and given name and also switched genders. Kelly was my great-grandmother’s maiden name. My grandfather chose Kelly for my uncle’s middle name after his mother and her beloved brother, and my uncle in turn gifted it as a first name to his oldest daughter. Being a multiple-generation tradition from the Irish part of my family, I’d love to continue this tradition someday by giving it as a middle name to a child of either gender. Everyone is familiar with it, but it would have special familial meaning for a child of mine.
This name is currently popular, with options for either gender. Since it was the surname of a great-great-grandmother who was German, I was a bit surprised when I searched it in the Nameberry database and discovered that it has Welsh roots as well. Even though it brings to mind Reese Witherspoon for most people, I always think of the Reeses as the source of our 200-year-old family land. I probably wouldn’t use it as a first name (because of the celebrity association), but I’d definitely think about it for a middle. It has a solid, comforting feel for me, with the Welsh meaning of “ardor” (passion). Definitely a quality I would want my son or daughter to have.
Although there is no first name connected to this particular ancestor, I love her surname, Poe. It’s rather old fashioned and literary (think Edgar Allan), but is also becoming somewhat trendy—though not yet in the Top 1000. I actually prefer it for a girl, especially since this particular ancestor was a woman, but it would work for a boy too. I would definitely use it as a middle name if I chose it, as I wouldn’t want my child’s first name so actively linked with an author who scared me as a teenager.
I found this one while exploring my mid-1800s family tree. Even though Somer, Sommers, and Summer are already in the Nameberry database, Somers has a decidedly different look to me. Winters is already a possibility for boys, so why not Somers? — the “s” on the end feels more masculine, distinguished and old-fashioned, so I would probably use it for a boy.
I think this one is my favorite. The last name of an ancestor on my mom’s side, it isn’t in the Nameberry database, but sounds like it should be. Since it shares the ending of names like Ashley and Bailey, I would definitely use it for a girl. The best aspect of the name, however, is its derivation: it’s a German name that originated as a nickname for Denis or Nicholas. This could be a perfect way to name a little girl after a male with one of those names, instead of the more usual Denise or Nicole. For me, this is an ideal blending of the two sides of my family. It’s a family name from my mom’s side, but my father’s name is Dennis. One of my nieces already has my mom’s name, so I would love to add Nissley as a middle to honor my father with a little girls’ name.
Do you have a unique or interesting last name that came from your family tree? Tell us about it in the comment section!
Intern Laura Booher Gearhart is a lover of all things language-related and is currently studying to become a Spanish translator/interpreter. She has been fascinated by languages and names since childhood, especially as they relate to other countries and cultures. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with family and friends (especially her nieces), learning new languages, reading, cooking, and crafting. She and her new husband Jake live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where they often discuss what to name their future ferrets and dogs.