Surname Baby Names: Surfing for new inspiration

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.

BODIN/BOWDEN—Bodin is the Swedish form of Booth; Bowden is an English and Scottish place name–with either spelling, would fit right in with classmates like Holden and Colton.

BRANNIGANA possible update of Brandon, with the nutritious bran vibe plus a lively Irish lilt; there’s also the starstruck BRANDO.

BRISCO/BRISCOE—An energetic English place name with the great o-ending.  Lennie Briscoe was a long-running character on Law and Order played by Jerry Ohrbach. The Brisco spelling also relates to single-named American rapper Brisco, who was actually born with the first name British.

BROPHY—A hearty Irish surname that’s much more distinctive than Brody or Murphy.  And it has the pleasing rhyme with the word trophy.

CAFFERTY—Everybody loves Rafferty, so how about cousin Cafferty, the meaning of which relates to horses?

CALHOUNThere are several cool paths to the nickname Cal other than Calvin, including Calhoun, Calvino and Callahan.  John Calhoun was a historic 19th century US political figure; Noah Calhoun the character played by Ryan Gosling in the 2004 film The Notebook, based on the Nicholas Sparks novel.

CHEEVERA name with strong literary resonance via novelist and short story writer John, this cheery name also has subliminal ties to the desirable word ‘achiever.’

CRUSOE—Conjures up the adventurous image of Robinson from the 1719 novel and the numerous films, TV shows and opera based on him. (And Robinson‘s pretty good too.)

DENNISONA solid patronymic that could make an interest choice moving beyond the son of Dennis.

DUGANAn open, friendly Irish surname with the cheery ‘oo’ sound. 

DRYDENStrong, but also poetic, with its literary association to influential Restoration poet John.

ESSEXThe name of an English county and the Earl who had close ties to Queen Elizabeth I (portrayed in the film Elizabeth and Essex by the dashing Errol Flynn), it boasts the desirable ‘x’ factor.

FINNEY—Finn names are everywhere—Finn, Finlay/Finley, Finnian, Finnegan—and this one has a whimsical, nickname feel.

GRANGERAn occupational surname with an agricultural aura, much more cultivated than the rhyming Ranger.

HUTTON—Kind of a cross between Hudson and SuttonRemember that old advertising slogan, “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.” …? Also associated with heiress Barbara, hyperkinetic musical actress Betty and model Lauren.

IMBRY/IMBRY/EMBRYAll these names have a sweet feminine nickname feel. Liz Embry was the lady photographer in The Philadelphia Story.

KIMBERJust drop the ly from Kimberly and you have a much stronger, more modern-sounding unisex name.  Kimber is associated with a medieval convert to Christianity who founded a monastery and was venerated as a saint.

LORCA—Not completely undiscovered, this lovely Spanish name was used by singer/poet Leonard Cohen for his now grown daughter.  Lorca is a place name in the Spanish province of Navarre, but more famous as the surname of the eminent poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca—the direct inspiration for the name of Lorca Cohen.

QUAID/QUADEQuaid, as in the acting family of brothers, brings a perfectly usable first into the limited Q-field. The Aussies have been known to use the Quade spelling, inspired by rugby star Quade Cooper. Since it’s a Gaelic surname meaning “son of Walter,” there’s  also a subtle raison d’être right there.

TOLLIVERThis Scottish occupational surname—it was used for metal workers—makes for a lively extension of Oliver, with Tolly as a charming substitute for Ollie. Melba Tolliver is a barrier-breaking TV anchorwoman; Cy Tolliver was a character on Deadwood.

WHEELERWheeler definitely has the Whee! factor. It’s an appealing er-ending name that has hardly been heard since 1909 and has some historical cred via onetime US veep William Almon Wheeler.

Any of these appeal?  Do you have any undiscovered surnames you’d like to share?

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32 Responses to “Surname Baby Names: Surfing for new inspiration”

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namesage Says:

March 11th, 2013 at 11:29 pm

Granger, Embry, and Quade are on my long list! I could also get behind Hutton. Love the sound, but I had a supervisor whose last name was Hutton so it might be weird to use it. I like several of the others as well. Great list!

anelson100 Says:

March 11th, 2013 at 11:35 pm

Larkin is on my short list!

dovah Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 1:06 am

I’m not generally a fan of the more obvious surname names, but Embry is nice from this list.

I’m not sure I would use Dennison. It sounds a lot like denizen to me.

dancingwithdad Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 7:05 am

I have been liking Kimber. I like the name Ember, but feel it might become trendy. Kimber has the same sound and I have a dear friend named Kiimberly.

littlemissmariss Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 9:44 am

I tend to love surname names, but most these aren’t my style unfortunately 🙁 Calhoun, Embry, and Granger are kinda nice though, names I would enjoy on someone elses kiddo 🙂

klcalder2 Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 10:07 am

Brophy sounds more like a stereotypical fraternity’s trophy to me. “You win at xbox and drinking beer! Here’s your brophy!”

charlieandperry1 Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 10:24 am

Quite like Lorca from this list. And Gilbert is my current name crush, though it’s a bit more well known.

Had a laugh at Essex! It’s just a county btw, not yet a country 😉 And it doesn’t have the greatest public image over here. I always cringe when I see some English place names used for baby names- Bristol, Carlisle, Brighton, Essex… :s

UselessKitty Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 10:28 am

Some aren’t too bad, but most are not my cup of tea. I really like Calhoun, but would never use it because I love The Notebook and when I hear the name it makes me think of Ryan Gosling who is SUPER HOT… not an association I want for my children. It would be kind of weird… lol.

I really don’t like Johnson. Might as well name your child Dick…

maggiemary Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 10:55 am

Not Essex, never Essex, the county doesn’t have the best image over in the UK!

BritishAmerican Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 11:22 am

I know a baby girl called Kimber. I didn’t know that it is a saint’s name.

alphabetdem Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 11:35 am

Embry is masculine to me, for some reason. I could get used to it on a boy and it could grow on me.

Kimber isn’t bad, might even be cute.

These as a whole aren’t great for me. Brophy is especially terrible.

LuMary Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 12:36 pm

The list is endless when considering English, Irish, and Scotch surnames alone: Gulliver, Tully, Cates, Brookings, McIntyre, McElwain, Collins, Wilkins, Wilkes, Wickes,Robertson,Mulligan, Banner, Addams,Brooksby, Ashdown…

jaxem08 Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 12:56 pm

To add to your list, we named our daughter Emerson. We love it because it is different enough so there aren’t a lot of them, but “normal” enough to not sound too far out there.

EmilyVA Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 1:47 pm

I agree with KlCalder2 about Brophy. I can’t quite place but I am sure there is a How I Met Your Mother episode with that exact joke. I do not want my kids to turn out like anyone that show so no Brophy for me.
Dryden really? I think it would be broken up into it’s parts Dry and den. I wouldn’t use it and I have strong reasons for using it (family name).
Tolliver is the only one I sort of like and now all I can think of is Tollhouse cookies. hmm… maybe not a bad association!

LuMary Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 2:32 pm

I recall learning some years ago of a die-hard Cubs fan couple in Chicago that named their three sons after the surname-named streets surrounding Wrigley Field: Addison, Clark, and Sheffield. The youngest child, a girl, was named Ivy for the famed ivy that covers the outfield wall. As a White Sox fan, I would counter with Shields and Wentworth to begin.

namesage Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 3:23 pm

I meant to add a few other of my favorites to my original post! I also love Baylor, Brenner, Connelly/Donnelly, Crosby, Gibson, Langdon, Pike, Ramsey, and Thatcher. Hmmm…I guess I like these types of names more than I realized!

catreynolds Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 4:11 pm

Brophy and Cheever sound TERRIBLE to me. I wouldn’t use most of the others, but I don’t hate any of them.

wildebeth Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 7:06 pm

Kimber makes me think of the crazy adult film star character on Nip/Tuck. I’d still be willing to use it, though, if my husband’s ex wasn’t a Kimberly. Alas.

Essex is just a bad idea all around, for the reasons mentioned and for the obvious “sex” that makes up most of the name’s sound. That’s just asking for it.

MoonlightSonata26 Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 7:19 pm

I agree about Brophy and Cheever. Sadly, when I see the name Cheever I keep thinking about cheese. 😛 I have a friend James Kilburn, so it isn’t that strange to me.

MoonlightSonata26 Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 7:22 pm

I mean Kimber. So sorry!

mmquinn Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 9:48 pm

I desperately want to use the name Crusoe (I just yelled at my husband that “my” name has been discovered!) but our last name ends in ‘o’ and I’m really on the fence about this.

calou Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 10:24 pm

Kimber, for me, will always be Jem/Jerrica’s scarlet-haired kid sister, and is all the better for it. I think I’d go for Tulliver over Tolliver, nn. Tully.

And yeah, Essex wouldn’t really fly over here. A US analogy would be naming your daughter Jersey. You might be picking it for the sound, but some people are going to assume it’s because you love structured reality shows about orange people.

MerMaiden6 Says:

March 12th, 2013 at 10:47 pm

Some of these I just can’t get behind — Brophy being the worst offender — but others I find so completely charming! Calhoun, Brannigan, Embry, and Wheeler are faves.

I’m so glad I’m not the only one who has the Jem association for Kimber. Kimber will always be a redheaded, animated keyboard player to me.

LuMary, that idea those Cubs fans had about the street names is brilliant. I love cool names with not-so-obvious but personally significant associations/meanings!

SuzeL Says:

March 13th, 2013 at 1:56 am

We nearly named our 2nd son Bowden and would have shortened it to Bow or Bowie. Also had Quade and Cooper on our short list. I am from Essex (live in Oz now) and its embarrassing enough to admit that I grew up there, I can not imagine how anyone could name their child it!

katybug Says:

March 13th, 2013 at 12:46 pm

I have a friend from college who is a III; his baby boy is the IV and they call him Quade. I thought that was a great nickname and doable as a stand-alone name!

MelodyKatherine Says:

March 13th, 2013 at 9:00 pm

Not very fond of names ending in -son for girls; but that’s just me. One of my ancestors had the last name of Darrah, I always thought that would be a good girl’s name. Courtland is a last name I like, would work for either a boy or a girl.

tori101 Says:

March 14th, 2013 at 3:03 pm

I dislike a lot of these choices unfortunately. When I read Essex it made me laugh so much, as a Brit the idea of using Essex is ridiculous considering how famous the area has become with being associated with tango colour fake tan, false lashes, big cars and the phrase ‘shut up’. Essex is infamous/famous with many famous Brits coming from the county. So that’s a defo no!! I do like Kimber, Wheeler and Lorca.


ninkynonk Says:

March 21st, 2013 at 10:19 pm

We just named our son Jarvis, which is both a legit first name and surname. We love that it’s rare and has a long, illustrious history. This should have made the list!

MFBerry Says:

August 19th, 2013 at 12:41 am

I love the sound of Kimber Essex!.. but I wouldn’t use it.

nycpaperdoll83 Says:

June 7th, 2014 at 6:45 am

I agree…. I love surnames but not these.
My favorites are:
Astor, Barron, Bennett, Bellamy, Campbell, Carver, Colton, Coster, Darby, Draper, Ellery, Foster, Ford, Hayes, Keaton, Lawson, Rogan, Sadler, Shepard, Sumner, Thatcher

nycpaperdoll83 Says:

June 7th, 2014 at 6:45 am

I agree…. I love surnames but not these.
My favorites are:
Astor, Barron, Bennett, Bellamy, Campbell, Carver, Colton, Coster, Darby, Draper, Ellery, Foster, Ford, Hayes, Keaton, Lawson, Rogan, Sadler, Shepard, Sumner, Thatcher

Dadtwobe Says:

February 28th, 2019 at 7:25 pm

I also like the surname, Claery, which means “one who flows beautifully” as a first name. It has a nice meaning and is ever so subtly Italian. (Claery is an anglicized version of the Italian surname Caliri.)

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