By Linda Rosenkrantz
Parents have been plucking more and more baby name ideas from the worlds of pop and rock music—from Jagger to Lennon to Hendrix to Bowie—but there’s a whole universe of classic and modern jazz names that’s also rich with possibility. These include first names, surnames, and even a few totally cool nickname names.
He was born Leon Bismark Beiderbecke, but went down in jazz history as Bix, a nickname he shared with his father, whose first name was Bismark. One of the most influential soloists of the 1920s, he was a cornet and piano virtuoso. Bix is a perfect baby name for a 2016 boy—short and snazzy, with that stylish x-ending.
Cabell “Cab” Calloway III was an incredibly dynamic, jivey jazz singer and bandleader, known as the “Dean of American Jive.” He was associated with Harlem’s Cotton Club and with such timeless tunes as “Minnie the Moocher” and “Hi-De-Ho,” often dressed elegantly in white tie and tails. His animated three-syllable Irish surname embodies his jaunty persona, and comes with the readymade nickname Cal.
Cedar Anthony Walton, Jr—another sharer of his father’s name—was a highly respected hard bop jazz pianist, bandleader and composer. Cedar is (along with Maple) one of my favorite tree names, with more substance and warmth than Oak, Pine and Ash. It also boasts some biblical reference and we’re happy to report that it’s already been chosen by one Berry for her son.
As cool and charismatic as his name, Dexter Gordon was a top jazz tenor sax player who had a long career,and was also nominated for a best actor Oscar in the film Round Midnight in 1986. The name Dexter has survived his TV serial killer rep and risen to Number 411 in popularity (73 in England), thanks in part to its sexy X middle and nickname Dex. Hip couple Elvis Costello and Diana Krall used it for one of their twin boys.
Born in Belgium in 1910, Jean ‘Django’ Reinhardt was a great, influential French guitarist and composer with Romani roots: his nickname means ‘I awake’ in Romani, and his sons and grandson were called Lousson, Babik and Lulo. With its silent D and jazzy J beginning and o-ending, Django, which became more familiar via the Tarantino movie Django Unchained, would make a daring and dynamic choice for any jazz lover.
Edward Kennedy Ellington rates two entries on here—for his nickname and his surname. A jazz giant, renowned as composer, pianist and bandleader, as well as for the elegant, sophisticated persona that earned him his nickname while still a child. Duke is one of the aristocratic titles being embraced by American parents, most notably TV’s Giuliana and Bill Rancic, Diane Keaton and Justine Bateman. It currently ranks at Number 603, and 289 on Nameberrry!
And the Duke’s surname carries his jazzy image along with it—it’s a three-syllable family name that is now also occasionally used for girls (nn Ellie). Cynthia Nixon picked Ellington as the middle name for her son Max.
Kai Cresten Winding , one of the best trombonists of the bebop era, was born in Denmark, emigrating to the US when he was 12. Kai—a name heard in several cultures– is one of the new, somewhat exotic names rapidly climbing in popularity: it’s currently at Number 145 for boys. Occasionally used for girls, it’s worn by one of Donald Trump’s granddaughters.
(Alfred) McCoy Tyner is an accomplished jazz pianist known for his work with John Coltrane, and is still performing. Cracks about the Real McCoy not withstanding, this Irish variation of McKay is one of the most usable of the Mac-prefix surnames
One of the coolest, jazziest names thanks to the acclaimed genius trumpeter, bandleader and composer, Miles Dewey Davis III. This sleek, lustrous name is now enjoying its highest popularity ever, ranking at Number 107 nationally and 30 on Nameberry. Celebs who’ve chosen Miles include Mayim Bialik, Elisabeth Shue and My Chemical Romance’s Frank Iero.
Noble Sissle was an early jazz composer, lyricist, bandleader, singer and playwright, whose most famous composition is “I’m Just Wild About Harry.” The male virtue name Noble has resurfaced in recent years—it was actually on the Social Security list until 1954, reaching as high as 312 in 1901—and makes a strong and laudable choice.
Legendary pianist Thelonious Sphere Monk is another jazz great who inherited his quasi-unique name from his father. Anyone choosing this Latin-sounding German name would immediately identify themself as a Monk fan. You might be surprised to note that the Berries have placed it at Number 397.
Some other cool jazz names to consider: