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.

Well, we don’t feel that way.  We think surname-names, ala the Southern custom, can be elegant and original on a girl and can impart a sense of gravity and tradition.  And yes, some of these names, like Bradley, are also male first names.

Some choices we think work well include:

























Which names like this have you heard?  Which work, in your opinion, and which don’t?

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46 Responses to “A Girl Named Ellis”

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anna.bliss Says:

June 11th, 2012 at 11:42 pm

I think surname last names are a great way to honor the other side of the family. My maiden name is Bliss and I really want to name one of our children (male or female)Bliss. I didn’t realize it was a Southern tradition. Thanks for the post!

EbonyEden Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 12:51 am

My surname is Ellis and I would love to pass it on to a future son or daughter! 🙂

Kate1986 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 1:15 am

My full name is Hollis Katherine, and my mom got the idea to name me her surname from the lovely southern lady in labor next to her.

I don’t know how many times in my 26 years that I’ve been called Holli’s though lol!

grackym Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 5:17 am

I don’t think I could use these names as a first name for a daughter! But maybe as a middle name if it was to honor family. My mums maiden name was Archer and I’d love to use it as a middle for a boy 🙂

limo1603 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 6:39 am

My maiden name is Chandler, and I had big plans to use it for a son or daughter. Unfortunately, my cousin beat me to it about 12 years ago. Chandler is her mother’s maiden name, which would be my aunt.

I’m from Louisiana, btw. :0)

Mego0801 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 6:56 am

Drury? That is so incredibly difficult to say, and sounds like dreary… Not to offend anyone with that last name, but I don’t think it would be a very good first name. I like most of the rest of them, but I am kinda against the boy-names-for-girls thing. It is so difficult to find boy’s names, and once they go firmly ‘girl’ they’re pretty much lost to the men.

vanessaaball Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 7:40 am

I’ve met little girls named Chandler, Tucker, Berkeley, Kirby, Fallon; all mother or grandma’s maiden name. These seem to be prevelent among the affluent families in my area.

Last week at the park, I heard a mother calling for her son, McLoud. It’s gotta be a family surname.

sarahrickard Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 7:52 am

My Great-Grandmother’s first name was Stuart. I can only assume it was a family name. It is also my Grandmother’s middle name, and my uncle’s first name (which makes a bit more sense, although cool for him to be named after his Grandma!)

nyxtynut Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 7:53 am

I have to honestly say I do not like boy’s names on girls. I think any of these can work in the middle, because pretty much anything goes with middle names. Think about when Randolph, Winston, or Carter appear on a school roster or submit resumes for a job. 90% of people would assume those were boys. I’d hate for my daughter to get a reaction like “Oh…you’re a girl!”

Danni Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 8:32 am

I find this trend attractive on both boys and girls, depending on the name itself. I live in upstate New York, and this trend seems alive and well here, too!

I know girls named Delaney, Murphy, Hayes, Anniston (family surname, not after Jennifer), and Spencer.

I know boys named McLean, Kim, Hallett, MacIver, Griffin, and Thompson.

lindseylikes Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 8:34 am

Those names could work, sure, but only (for me anyway) if they’re ACTUAL family names. Otherwise it just seems false…not a fan. Though as a born-and-raised Southerner now living up North, I am a fan of the tradition. I have multiple family members with family names as either their first, or as a middle, which they go by (lots of Mary ____), and one of my best friends as a kid was named Bennett, her mother’s maiden name.

chelseamae Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 8:45 am

I’ve been mistaken for a Chandler before! I think I secretly wish I could be a Chandler, I love the way it sounds!

Some other surname for girls that I love:
Frazier (One of my favorite names!)

Some others that I know:
Mccall (in her mid late 20s)
Pierson (5 year old)

I wish I had better surnames in my family…. we have Richter, Janowak, Flanigan and Strandlie…. on my S.O.’s side there’s Plummer

CatieLynn Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 8:50 am

My great-grandmother’s name was William Lynn. I’m named after her (middle name, thank goodness), and I’ve always felt that, while the custom of giving boys’ names to baby girls is charming, her family took it a little far by giving her a classic (and I feel strictly) male name. From this list, I personally love Ellison, Ellis, Hayden, and Parker for girls. Also I’ve heard: Emerson, Austin/Austen, Addison, Arden, Langley, and Presley.

Greyer Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 9:06 am

I met a little girl named Ellis at work the other day. I’ve always thought of Ellis as a girls’ name so the title of this blog really threw me for a loop!

As far as the passing of surnames on as first names, I really like the idea, but my maiden name only really goes well on a boy, and even then I’d only put it in the middle. But there are some family names (Dodge, Spaulding, Kenyon, and King) that I would use as a middle name on either gender. With the exception of King maybe.

Flick Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 9:08 am

I find this entire list to be rather awful. Randolph? Stuart? Really? Come on nameberry…..

I live in Georgia – I’ve seen this tradition in action a handful of times and I don’t find it the least bit charming. I get the idea of naming for family – I’m a big advocate of family names, but surnames for a girl are just so manly and unbecoming. If you must – put it in the middle or better yet – save it for a boy.

If it’s not actually a family name, it feels very tacky and forced. Why bother if you don’t actually have a connection to it? O-o

sophiekihm Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 9:23 am

The only Ellis I know is a girl, and it has always struck me as incredibly female, perhaps because of the El- prefix. I also know girls named Hayden, Keegan, Parker, and Walker, which are great on either gender.

dannic Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 9:38 am

I’ve seen Sheridan used for a few girls and love it. I like Ellis, too, but many of the names listed I don’t really prefer for girls…

Saracita00 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 9:57 am

This concept only makes sense if an actual family name is used. Furthermore, it only makes sense in a culture where a woman takes on her husband’s name at marriage.

Otherwise, what’s the point? There aren’t really many names being “lost” when women keep their father’s surname or hyphenate.

Naming a girl Randolph Marie Smith-Jones just because you like it makes her sound like a walking law firm and nothing more. And there is nothing charming about law firms.

tavn Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 10:20 am

I guess I just assumed Ellis was already being placed on a bunch of little girls.

For anyone that watches Grey’s Anatomy, a woman named Ellis is not a strange thing. Ellis Grey was the mother of Meredith Grey, who the show is named after. I haven’t quite figured if the show was intended to be named after Ellis or Meredith, but either way, Ellis plays a large role in the show…even when she’s not there.

jpruitt76 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 10:23 am

I would probably only use a family surname in the mn spot for a girl if it had a distinctly masculine feel. My maiden name is Stuart and I’d absolutely use it for a girl middle if it didn’t clash so badly with my married surname. I just don’t think it makes sense when parents use a random, non-family, surname for their child (male or female).

Today I met a little girl named Burke (her preschool teacher confessed to having a hard time not calling her Brooke). I don’t dislike it but I hope it’s a family name. And my niece is friends with two little girls named Parker and Adler.

I also have a friend with a girl named Campbell – she’s Southern and the name has family significance. She often goes by Cam as a nn though.

Ellis seems a better fit for a girl to me anyway. I’d like to suggest Clancy as well.

fieldspring Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 10:43 am

There was a young woman named Ellis Wylie, from Illinois, who was a contestant on the first season of “The Glee Project.”

daisy451 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 11:27 am

I normally can’t stand masculine names on girls, even surnames, but I do make exceptions if the name really is a family name. I think it’s nice to carry it on like that. However, I think you have to be reasonable- Mary Ellis is fantastic, but Stuart and Randolph as first names? They just seem like they’re asking for trouble. I also don’t like patronymic surames for girls, like Mackenzie and Addison. I just can’t get over the “son of” thing.

AmyB2 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 11:31 am

I don’t mind this trend so long as it is an actual family name. Some of them, though (Brooks, Randolph, Stuart, Winston)strike me as such masculine-sounding names that I would personally hesitate to use them for a daughter.

I am from the South and some names that fit this category that I’ve come across include Sheldon, Lander, Landrum, Sims, and Carlisle.

AmyB2 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 11:33 am

I also find it interesting that this trend is mainly seen with Anglo-Saxon last names. Would you ever see a Polish last name as a first name? Maybe, but probably not as likely.

diana_m Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 1:20 pm

I like the idea of using surnames as first names more for boys than girls. I was excited to see the name Bradley made your list. This is my brother’s name and I definitely plan to incorporate into my child’s name if I ever have a boy.

namelover77 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 1:26 pm

I think Oakley is kinda cute, and has a feminine vibe because of Annie Oakley. I also think Penrose is a pretty surname for girls.

kashed22 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 1:40 pm

My name is my mother’s maiden name and I am very proud of it’s meaning and history. My mother didn’t have a brother just sisters, so it is a way to keep it alive, especially since her father was an immigrant. I am glad though it is a family names and not part of a trend.

agirlinred Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 1:43 pm

The idea is to use a FAMILY surname, not a random surname you have NO CONNECTION to. Using random surnames on a daughter is NOT a Southern tradition. Until recently, maiden names were almost always given to sons. You may find a handful of girls back in the day with maiden names as MIDDLE names, but very, very rarely as first names.

I do not have a problem with family surnames on girls. I have a few family surnames on my own shortlist for a girl. However, it blows my mind that Pam and Linda would recommend Randolph, Stuart, or Winston for girl. Randolph is ELEGANT on a girl? Really? Would YOU feel elegant with the clunky, dated MAN’S name Randolph.

I am 100% against the idea of eliminating gender from names. Several members of this site seem to advocate just that, but what is ironic is that these same people think girls can have boys’ names… but boys can’t have girl’s name. Here on Nameberry Arthur and Randolph are listed as girl’s names, yet Madison and Ashley come with “STAY AWAY” warnings for boys. Very strange.

Aurora Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 2:37 pm

I don’t understand the sentiment that people shouldn’t use surnames as first names if they’re not family names. To me, that’s like saying people shouldn’t be using names like Chloe or Daphne if they’re not of Greek heritage. It’s silly and narrow-minded.

go_veg Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 3:00 pm

agirlinred–I think Madison and Ashley are perfectly fine for a boy. In my ideal world, all names would be gender neutral but traditions that in some cases have been around for thousands of years don’t change easily. A woman can wear what at one time was considered men’s clothing and no one will think twice but the reverse cannot be said. That same thinking applies to why many people think it’s acceptable for a girl to have what is usually thought of as a boy’s name but not vice verse. Your daughter probably won’t have as many issues if you name her Mason or Ellis as your son would if you name him Katherine or Mary. It’s a double standard and it may not be fair but that’s where society is at now 🙁 That said, I think it’s pretty silly to think that we will somehow run out of names for boys because people are names their daughters Eliot or Ryan. The number of names in existence pretty much unlimited. I am definitely open to naming my children gender neutral names.

Flick Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 3:12 pm

@agirlinred: I agree – I think names should be genderless, but their not – people only seem to advocate males names for females, not the other way around. If people were going both ways with it, I wouldn’t care, but it seems really sexist and not a double standard that I am comfortable with.

I have Emerson, Avery and Morgan on my boy’s list and people often comment on how “feminine” they are….*eyeroll*.

June1070 Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 5:42 pm

I am Southern and I know a Brooks, a Chandler, and a Walker that are all girls. I like their names, but this isn’t a tradition I would personally use. I like more feminine names.

moxielove Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 6:45 pm

I know a little girl who was fiven her mother’s maiden name Miller. She goes by Millie. It’s great.

I second all those who say this is a great idea but only if you use a name from your immediate family.

And I agree that there seems to be a general acceptance on nameberry at giving girls names that are traditionally more masculine but aaversion to doing the same for boys.

ksheja Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 7:02 pm

I think it’s wonderful to pass down a family name to a girl, but most of them (I think) are better as middle names because the sound is just so masculine. Out of this list, I think these are awful on a girl:


I wouldn’t use these, but I don’t think they are as bad on girls:

I’m not against all unisex names, but there’s nothing wrong with most names being clearly masculine or feminine.

On my mother’s side of the family going back several generations, family surnames were commonly used as middle names for both boys and girls (but not as first names).

My grandmother’s middle name was Ashbey (her grandmother’s mn), (this could work as a first name for girls – sounds like Ashley). Her sister’s middle name was Alden (her father’s mn). Saunders, Rathbun and Briggs are other names in my family but I think they’d be awful as first names for girls.

littlebrownpony Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 7:18 pm

I think this trend works for girls if the name has a softer sound to it, ie Spencer, Mason, Ashby, Sawyer, Finley, Ellis, Rooney. One syllable names or names with stronger consonant sounds don’t seem to work as well, IMO (Brooks, Stuart, Walker, Randolph.)

Gingersnap Says:

June 12th, 2012 at 9:51 pm

The only Ellis I know is a girl, as another poster also said. I like some of these surnames for girls, but not others – like anything ending in -son. And that includes Addison, Madison, Allison. Why would anyone name a girl something that means “son of?” Really.

tarynkay Says:

June 13th, 2012 at 9:36 am

I agree that the proper way to do this in the South is to use a family surname- not just some random one. I like the Mary ____ and Elizabeth____ tradition. My grandmother is Mary Thornton, for instance, I love that. I generally agree about the no -son names for girls, but I think that with the double name, this isn’t a problem. Like Mary Madison Lastname would be very cute, for example. One of my husband’s grandfather’s names was Chandler, but note that this is pronounced more like “Kanla” in the South. It took me a long time to figure out what people were calling him, but it’s very pretty said this way. Seems like it would be hard to get people to do, though.

Scrambledmegs Says:

June 13th, 2012 at 11:07 am

Maybe it’s because I absolutely HATE frilly girl names (like Isabell-UGH, it’s just too much!) and don’t understand why so many people keep mentioning a double standard with male names that I don’t see. I’ve met some very manly Lorens, Kellys, and Ashleys. A charming male Addison. None of these made me feel sorry for the men, they don’t need my sympathy. Their names are wonderful and they made them their own.

I would love to have a daughter named Douglas. Or Clyde. Or Graham, loving that for a daughter right now! I don’t think a daughter named Mason takes away from the thousands of little boys wearing the name right now. Why would it? If a hiring professional makes assumptions about gender based on the name listed, they shouldn’t. You know what they say about assume, it makes an @$$ out of you and me.

I’ve been thinking about Meredith or Lindsay for a son. I don’t think we need to limit ourselves or be judgemental, or teach our children to be judgemental. But I suppose some people like to live in small boxes…

In my own family, maiden names were given as male middle names. So my brothers’ middle names are Steele and Oakes. Mine is unrelated, which is upsetting. DH and I decided we would want to use family names if we could agree on them because they have meaning to us, and we’re very close with our family and their history. That’s just how we are. I would still recommend the name Parker for our daughter, even though we have no familiar history with that name. I like it. I think that’s all that matters.

nat108 Says:

June 15th, 2012 at 4:20 am

As a Southerner I love the tradition but as others have said, only if it’s a family name. If you name your daughter Harris but nobody in your family has the surname Harris, then it’s just another boy name on a girl which I despise

clairels Says:

June 16th, 2012 at 12:25 am

I’m sure I’m in the minority here, but most of the time when I consider a surname used as a first, I think it goes better on a girl. Carlisle, Sawyer, Lennox and Dempsey are just a few that come to mind right away, that besides being surnames are just a few of my favorite names, period. I even think Sullivan could work. It just seems like girls’ names can get away with being more daring; it’s not fair, but there it is.

mlbrooks Says:

July 3rd, 2012 at 11:05 am

I’m from Texas and my family uses surnames as middle names quite often. First and middle names are often passed down as well. In fact I have no less than 4 cousins all bearing pieces of my great-grandfather’s name. John Power became Jacob Power, John Caleb, Johnny Wayne, and Johna Maylinn.
Many of my family members’ entire names are hand-me-downs, patchworked from different ancestors.

Lunaaah Says:

July 12th, 2012 at 4:15 am

I’ve always thought of Ellis as a girls name and I LOVE it for girls. I think it’s nice on boys too, but to me it’s very feminine actually. I’m surprised every time someone tells me that they think Ellis sounds too masculine for a girl. Where I live we have a flower called Bellis and I think I immediately thought of that flower when I heard the name Ellis. Because it’s a flower I thought it was girly. At least I THINK that’s why Ellis is feminine to me.

froggy8451 Says:

September 22nd, 2012 at 12:09 am

I know girls named Austin, Graham, Tyson and Walker and LOVE LOVE them. They are all sisters and all the names are family names. Austin is a gpas middle name, Graham is her mom maiden name, Tyson n Walker are middle names of gpas. Frankie is a middle name of mom. Yea I may be weird just LOVE these especially Austin and Graham

Austin Frankie Jade
Graham Passion Faith
Tyson Frankie Gabriellea
Walker Frankie Mae

aubreemccurdy Says:

September 29th, 2012 at 7:56 pm

We are having a little girl in January. My maiden name is Hayes. We love the name Hayes for her name. We were wantin to use it as her first name but cannot come up with something that flows with it… Suggestions?

Ashley42584 Says:

May 31st, 2013 at 10:13 pm

Love using boy names for girls but only to an extent. Oakleigh is actually our #1 pick when my hubby and I decide to have kids. Names like Burke or William and Bradley and Randolph are way to far over the line. I do like:


It is all opinion though. I grew up in the south mainly from Louisiana and it is very common for me.

emilybk Says:

June 7th, 2013 at 2:18 pm

I’m a Southerner, and I agree with previous posters – surnames as first or middle names is only traditional if you use a family surname. Random surnames are not traditional.

My husband and I followed this tradition by naming our daughter Cates Margaret – one great-grandmother’s maiden name and another great-grandmother’s first name. We figured Cates is feminine-sounding enough because it’s similar to Cate, and if she really hates it when she gets older, she can go by Cate or Catie if she wants to. But I hope she doesn’t – I love her name!

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