Family Names and How to Modernize Them

Family names was the subject of a recent nameberry poll, in which you voted overwhelmingly –70%–in favor of using family names for your baby.  Where to look for great family names? In your own family records, of course, as well as in nameberry for ideas of historic names that sound appropriate for modern life. Another great idea:  you can hunt for original family names through genealogy sources — and build a family tree for your baby in the process.

The largest number of people who took our poll–46%–were comfortable with taking lots of liberties with Grandpa Wilbur or Grandma Enid‘s name to make them more  modern-baby friendly.  We’re happy to help.  The following are some possible updates  for those fusty, musty family names.

Agnes –>  ANAIS

Alvin –> ALDO

April –>  MAY

Arnold –>  ARNO

Bertha –> EARTHA

Beverly –> EVERLY

Blossom –> POPPY

Brian –>  ORION

Bruce –> SPRUCE

Diane –> DIANTHA

Donald –>  DONALL

Douglas –> DOUGAL

Edgar –> EDMUND

Edna –> EDEN

Elmer  –> ELM

Enid –> ENYA

Estelle –> ESTELLA

Ethel –> ESME

Gertrude –> TRUE

Hubert –> HUGH

Irma –> ISLA

Irving –>  VING

Julius –> JUDE

Julie –>  JULIET

Lester –> DEXTER

Lois –>  LOLA

Lori –> STORY

Luther –> LUCA

Malva –>  MALIA

Marion –> MARIN

Mildred –> MILLIE

Milton –>  MILO

Morris –>  MORRISON

Myra –>  MYA

Norman –>  NORTH

Phyllis–> FELICITY

Roland –>  ROMAN

Ronald –>  RONAN

Shirley –> SHILOH

Teresa–> TESSA

Thelma –> THEA

Viola –> VIOLET

Weston –>  EASTON

Wilbur –>  WILLEM

Wilma –>  WILLA

How have YOU modernized a family name for your child?  Tell us here!

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17 Responses to “Family Names and How to Modernize Them”

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Jaime Says:

January 16th, 2009 at 12:57 pm

If I’m going to use a family name, I’m going to use the family name in its original form…otherwise, what’s the point? It doesn’t seem to honor family if you update the name.

Elisabeth@YCCII Says:

January 16th, 2009 at 2:54 pm

Great idea and I like a lot of these switches. But I wouldn’t want to change a thing about Julius, Bruce, Estelle, Marion, or Viola, and would be charmed to meet a baby Beverly, Enid, or Diane.

When I am honoring, I prefer to keep the names etymologically related, rather than just related by sound: Douglas to Dougal rather than Lester to Dexter. Lester is a hard one though!

April Says:

January 16th, 2009 at 3:37 pm

My name is old and musty? Really? I’m still in my 20s and most of the Aprils I’ve met are younger than I am!

Lola Says:

January 16th, 2009 at 5:48 pm

There’s a handful or so up there I’d use as-is, but most of these are pretty neat! 🙂
In the instance of Luther/Luca, I find Luther almost sexy and solid, Luca feels nicknamey (I know it’s not) and it’s one I’ve seen being suggested for a girl on several websites I browse (won’t post, too trendy, I’d never fit in!). So in Luther’s case, I’d hug his mom for being brave & shake his pop’s hand for being cool (or vice versa) !

lyndsay jenness Says:

January 17th, 2009 at 12:36 pm

Generally I don’t see the point in calling it honoring if you don’t use the original name. However, I’m trying to figure out how to honor my dad (and the men in his family a few generations back) but hate the name Earl, and so does he. So I just realized I could use Pearl to honor him! Right? I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch, and I love Pearl!

Corrie Says:

January 17th, 2009 at 2:52 pm

I agree with several others who think it’s a little strange to update a name in this way. We searched through our family tree in order to find names we like. For example, we used a last name as a middle name in order to honor a grandmother, which meant a lot to my husband’s dad as well.

susan Says:

January 17th, 2009 at 11:12 pm

I think if you’re going to honor a relative, the name needs to be pretty close. Pearl to honor Earl makes sense to me because you just add a “p” and the original name is intact. But Bruce to Spruce just doesn’t seem like the same name at all. Of course if you had a relative named Bruce and he agreed that Spruce would honor him, then that would be great. If the names mean the same and basically are the same name in different languages then that seems like it would be the way to honor a relative. But to me Estelle and Estella are both very cool. And April, I don’t think your name is musty. Your time is coming soon I bet. And even if some people think April is musty, sometimes those musty names are just about to hit the hipster list and become white hot cool. April makes me think of Paris and gentle rain and flowers. Remember a few years ago when we thought June was musty?

Kerri Says:

January 18th, 2009 at 4:36 pm

I wouldn’t mind honoring some family members on my side of the family, because we did with our first born on my husband’s side — but my family doesn’t have great names…
How would you update, Norma Jean? We’ve thought of Norah, but…not sure that I like it.

The other names would be Martha…

Anne Says:

January 18th, 2009 at 4:38 pm

I need advice! I would like to give my boy a family middle name, Hutchison. But it appears Hutchinson with an “n”– is the more common spelling. I looked up a bit of our family history on a genealogy website, it appears it could have even been spelled Hutcheson further back, as all three spellings are variations of the same name. I hate the idea of a name that is going to be easily misspelled, and I thought Hutchinson with an “n” sounded better with his first name Austin. But then again, perhaps it is better to honor my grandmother with the way she spelled it, without the “n”. Any thoughts??

realpraise Says:

January 18th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

You don’t have to go with the first name. Use a nickname: Rae for Rachel; middle name: well, there isn’t much possibility there; surname: as in Egbert Fletcher. Honestly, which would you use?
Get a little creative. I’m not sure about some of the names being updated, but hey, they’re just suggestions.
And, yes, June is still musty, but we can dust it off and get it fresh again!
Update for Norma Jean: Jane is back, Roman is an acronym (for a boy), and so is Manor (one word name I think is beautiful but am not sure about the usage thereof).

Davena Says:

January 19th, 2009 at 3:43 am

I have a great Aunt Myrtle that I’d love to honour, but I’ve got no idea where to go to from there. Most of the names I pick my partner thinks are ‘old fashioned’ but Myrtle is just a little too dusty… even for me.

pam Says:

January 19th, 2009 at 9:49 am

Hi everyone — I think on a family surname as a middle name, you should go with the original version as it is used in your family. Hutcheson, Hutchison and Hutchinson are all basically the same name so you should go with your authentic version as the point is to hand down a family legacy.

On Myrtle, that’s a tough one, as that Mer- sound — as in Mervin and Myrna — does sound kind of terminally dusty. You could try just choosing another M name or another botanical name, such as Ivy.

Some of the clever nameberry mavens may have some other great ideas, like the acronym one that realpraise suggested. Myrtle updates, anyone??

Davena Says:

January 20th, 2009 at 3:20 am

Myrtle is too tough! LOL I win.

I’ve actually been telling my partner that I want a ‘flower’ name… Daisy is the cutest (as an aside I LOVE Maisie, but is Maisie too random to say it’s after my Great Aunt Myrtle?). I also like Iris and Violet, but my partner says these are too ‘old sounding’.

Lori Says:

January 25th, 2009 at 4:47 pm

I’m sad but not surprised my name is in the list that needs updating, but if someone ever named their kid “Story” and said it was to honor me, I would laugh. They’re not the same at all! Why not Lorena, or Lola, or even Lorraine, which is my grandmother’s name and the inspiration for mine?

linda Says:

January 26th, 2009 at 2:35 am

To April and Lori–just remember that this is a site about baby names, and your names just aren’t given all that much to babies these days–but I can see how you wouldn’t like to be grouped in with the Mildreds and Gertrudes, so sorry about that!

lulu Says:

April 10th, 2009 at 2:39 am

I have a grandfather Cole or Colin and I’m not a big fan of this name but I would still like to honour him, so I did a bit of research and found Colin was a derivative of Nicholas which is a much more age appropriate name, in my mind, but do you think that is too far fetched, just as I would like to honour my grandmother Margaret with daisy?? Will they get it or just think find it an insult that their names are not as cool as the ones I use instead??

Roy Says:

March 20th, 2010 at 7:13 am

If you are lucky enough to be a genealogist, you are lucky enough.

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