March Madness: Winning basketball surnames

March Madness: Winning basketball surnames

By John Kelly

March Madness makes for some of the most exciting weeks in all of sports, which got us here at Nameberry excited about…yep, their connection to baby names. After sizing up the bench, we found some inspiration in the surnames of some of the NBA and WNBA’s greatest players. (Don’t worry, Jordan, you’re still #1—and probably inspired the most namesakes of any athlete.)


Marking its 20th anniversary, the WNBA included the Minnesota Lynx’s Seimone Augustus as one of the 20 best players in its history. Her surname, Augustus, is certainly apt—and historic, an honorific meaning “venerable” in Latin and bestowed on Ancient Rome’s first emperor, Octavian. But the name isn’t just a thing of the past. In 2016, Augustus reached #457 on the boys’ charts, and 80 on Nameberry, perhaps boosted by a growing trend of celebrity-baby Augustuses, including sons of actors Jeffrey Dean Morgan and David Arquette. Both Dads have embraced its charming short form, Gus.


There can really only be one Kobe, the NBA all-star who defined the LA Lakers, and so much of men’s basketball, in the 2000s. But we think there can be plenty of Bryants, and indeed there are in professional sports, with Bryant Kevin Dunston, Jr. on the basketball court and Bryant McFadden on the football field. At #587 in 2016, Bryant is a less common but “noble”-sounding variant of the Irish Brian (#204). Make Bryant bi-coastal and pick it in of honor of both LA’s Kobe and NYC’s famed Bryant Park.


Since the 2000s, we’ve seen a real Cash explosion, from actress Annabeth Gish naming her boy Cash in 2007 to Lady Antebellum’s Dave Heywood following suit in 2014. The latter suggests a nod to country-music legend Johnny Cash, but we’d like to add Swintayla Cash to the inspiration bank. Cash had an all-star career on various WNBA teams before retiring in 2016. While her first name is Swahili for “astounding woman,” her surname could be occupational in origin, a box-maker, related to the word case. Cash is an increasingly popular choice, hitting #253 in 2016, but if it sounds just too on the money for you, try out Cashel, still not heard too often outside its homeland, Ireland, used by Daniel DayLewis for his son.


Playful and personable, Cooper, an English occupational surname for a barrel-maker, has been steadily rising since the late 1980s, now sitting in the 79th most popular spot for boys. Cooper, though, is slowly starting to jump over into the girl column—with the wonderfully named Cooper London (daughter of actor Jason) an early instance in 1996. Perhaps Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, familiarly called Cynthia Cooper, could help to accelerate the trend. Now coaching, Cooper is a WNBA hall-of-famer widely considered one of the greatest female basketball players, and overall athletes, of all time.


It’s hard not to love Curry, and no, we don’t mean the delicious Indian sauce and spice. We mean the irresistibly likeable Stephen Curry. He’s pretty darn good at basketball, too, helping his Golden State Warriors win several championships. As a given name, Curry is definitely a zesty choice for a girl or even boy—and a very original one, as it’s nowhere on the charts. If you like Curry as a different take on Carrie or Cory but are having a tough time shaking its food associations, remember Curry is a proud and respectable Scots-Irish surname that has nothing to do with the kitchen.


For sports fans, Garnett means Kevin Garnett, deified in the basketball pantheon. Long-time lovers of Garnett or the Minnesota Timberwolves, where he played for most of his career, might consider his French-rooted surname as a distinctive namesake. For everyone else, Garnett conjures up garnet, the “pomegranate”-hued precious stone that could sparkle as an alternative to Rudy, Emerald, Jade, or Diamond. A distinctive alternative to Garrett.


As far as NBA players go, Allen Iverson was short, stacking up to just 6’0”, but we think his last name has some room to grow as a boy’s name, especially with its inner-V. And we’re not alone: 64 parents named their new-born boys Iverson in 2016. The surname Iverson is Scandinavian, meaning “son of Ivar,” itself a Top 100 name in Sweden if you’re seeking a Nordic angle.


There’s nary an award Candace Parker hasn’t already won in her time on the hardwood for the LA Sparks. And her surname, from the English occupation of “park keeper,” certainly has a lot of spark. Just edged out by Cooper, Parker was 2016’s 87th most popular boy’s name. For girls, however, Parker is definitely giving Cooper a run for its money. She’s been steadily rising since actor Parker Posey put it on the map in the 1990s, now coming in at all-time high of #217 in 2016.


Malone has been a huge presence in men’s basketball, with Karl “the Mailman” Malone and Moses Malone being two giants of the game. As a given name, Malone makes a handsome and confident statement—and a rare one, too, as its principal use is as an Irish surname, where it doesn’t mean “mailman” but “devotee of St. John.” One notable exception, though, is the daughter of Mia Farrow, Dylan Farrow, who has at times gone by Malone, making us wonder if the name has some untapped potential for girls. There’s also literary cred via the Samuel Beckett novel Malone.


Three-time champ Dwayne Wade is still a top player in the NBA—and Wade is still a top player in boys’ names. With a long history as an Anglo-Saxon surname meaning “ford” or “river crossing,” Wade was a Top 300 name for most of the 20th century. It’s sitting comfortably now right around #400. Assured yet unpretentious, Wade is a cool choice that’s not trying too hard with its long monosyllable and appealing initial W.

About the Author

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz

Linda Rosenkrantz is the co-founder of Nameberry, and co-author with Pamela Redmond of the ten baby naming books acknowledged to have revolutionized American baby naming. You can follow her personally at InstagramTwitter and Facebook. She is also the author of the highly acclaimed New York Review Books Classics novel Talk and a number of other books.