Surname Baby Names: Surfing for new inspiration

March 11, 2013 Linda Rosenkrantz

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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