Literary Namesakes: Last names first
Names most familiar as surnames are now prevalent in the Top 100; popular examples include Mason, Parker, Lincoln, and Madison. While the concept certainly isn’t new, surnames as first names are becoming increasingly fashionable, and parents are making more adventurous choices.
While digging through the family tree is one way to find a meaningful surname to use, culturally significant figures could serve as another source for namesakes. Here, I’ve sifted through the surnames names of some of the most famous and beloved writers to find those most wearable as first names. Though several of these names would make very unique choices, they still incorporate the popular sounds found in many other trending surnames. Choosing the surname of a favorite storyteller or poet also provides an opportunity to embed meaning and personal significance into a child’s name.
This group offers quite a broad range of styles to choose from. Parents who seek a meaningful name but prefer a more subtle reference might choose Austen, Conrad, Hugo, Eliot, or Hughes. Bolder options that scream their origins include Bronte, Kipling, and Tennyson.
Alcott– Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, would make an admirable namesake, and her strong-sounding surname would be a stylish choice for either gender. The sweet, classic Allie or vintage Lottie could work as nicknames.
Angelou– The great Dr. Maya Angelou is another truly worthy namesake. Born Marguerite Annie Johnson, she authored many famous and beloved works, including I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou is a unique smoosh of familiar sounds, and therefore seems perfectly on trend to me.
Austen– Jane Austen’s widely read novels include Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. Due to the familiarity of Austin, the name Austen could easily be used to subtly honor a literary great without standing out. I also think Austen could be unisex.
Bronte– English sisters Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte were all accomplished writers. At first, they published under the pen names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, but, once their anonymity ended, they helped pave the way for female writers. The name Bronte would make a unique but not outlandish girl’s name, and would pay homage a truly impressive trio.
Conrad– The stories of Polish novelist Joseph Conrad (born Józef Teodor Konrad Korzeniowski) often took place in exotic settings, and were frequently derived from his own experiences as a member of the British merchant marine. The strong, masculine Conrad is familiar, as it’s hovered within the Top 1000 but far outside the Top 100 for decades. I’d argue it’s ripe for revival.
Eliot**–** While T.S. Eliot was an American writer known for his poems, including The Waste Land, George Eliot is actually the pen name of Mary Ann Evans, the English novelist who gave us Silas Marner and Middlemarch. With Elliot’s familiarity as a boy’s name (it’s increasing for girls, too!), the Eliot spelling can serve as a subtle tribute. Eli would make a cool nickname.
Fenimore- James Fenimore Cooper was known for his historical novels, which include The Last of the Mohicans. As a boy’s name, Fenimore’s formal sound could be countered by the nickname Fen, which would fit in perfectly with the popular Finn and Flynn. For a more subtle reference, Cooper could be used instead.
Fitzgerald– F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novels, which include The Great Gatsby, are widely read and admired. Formal and sophisticated, Fitzgerald is certainly a daring choice, but I think Fitz and Gerry would make cute nicknames.
Frost– Poet Robert Frost’s works won a total of four Pulitzer Prizes, and his famous poems include the much-loved “The Road Not Taken.” While it is a bold choice, I think Frost is also sleek and cool (pun intended). The dual role as a nature name makes Frost very wearable, and it doesn’t scream its origin as loudly as, say, the name Shakespeare might.
Hughes– Langston Hughes is an American writer known for his role in the Harlem Renaissance and his portrayal of the struggles of many African Americans in his day. His famous and influential poems include “Dreams” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers.” I think the name Hughes is a perfect example of a wearable surname; it’s short, stylish, and versatile.
Kipling– Rudyard Kipling, the English writer who penned The Jungle Book, has an altogether unique and sophisticated-sounding full name. I think Kipling could certainly be usable with the spunky nickname Kip.
Rand– Born Alisa Rosenbaum, Ayn Rand is best known for her novels The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged. The name Rand would fit right in with other sleek, one syllable boys’ names such as Finn, Cash, and Reed.
Tennyson– Alfred Lord Tennyson, the first Baron Tennyson, was a popular British poet who lived during the reign of Queen Victoria, and whose work the Queen particularly favored. Considering the popularity of “-son” names, Tennyson seems like a fresh take on a well established trend. Russell Crowe and singer Danielle Spencer named their son Tennyson in 2006.
Twain– Mark Twain is the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, author of novels including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Because of his similarity to the familiar Wayne, Twain could easily work as a boy’s name.
Verne– Jules Verne is most famous for his adventure novels including Journey to the Center of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days. Though short and simple, Verne as a first name seems appropriately adventurous.
Wilde- Admirers of Oscar Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, might consider the delightfully daring Wilde. Though the writer’s full name (Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde) was a mouthful, Wilde itself is sleek, and I think it would sound great with a long surname.
Wilder– Laura Ingalls Wilder is best known for Little House on the Prairie, which relayed her experiences growing up in an American pioneer family. Her surname has already gotten some attention as a boy’s name, as it has been chosen for Goldie Hawn’s grandson and by actor Simon Helberg for his son. I think Wilder is a fresh update on popular -er ending names like Parker and Cooper.
Yeats– The renowned works of Irish poet and Nobel laureate William Butler Yeats include The Tower and The Winding Stair and Other Poems. As a boy’s name, Yeats would fit in well with the climbing Brooks and other surnames.
Zola- Influential French writer Emile Zola is recognized for his twenty novels known as Les Rougon-Macquart, which often reflected his political attitudes. His surname is also a recognizable girls’ name. To me, Zola is the perfect combination of sweetness and vivacity.