Photography Names Are Picture-Perfect
Photography baby names, like the entire set of artistic baby names, express creativity through connections to notable namesakes and subtle references to the artform (and some not-so-subtle — photographer Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe and tennis player Arthur Ashe named their daughter Camera in 1986).
The history of photography only dates back a couple of centuries, but there are dozens upon dozens of stylish names already in the canon.
Here, portraits of our favorite names inspired by iconic photographers past and present.
Ansel Adams, known for his black-and-white photographs of the expansive American West, was named after his uncle, Ansel Easton. His name has always been a rarity in the US, even at the turn of the 20th century, when Adams was born. Ansel peaked on the charts in 1893 when it reached Number 540, however it was used for only 13 baby boys that year.
In raw numbers, Ansel is more popular than ever before, with a high point in 2018 when it was given to 169 baby boys. We could see Ansel continuing to rise in popularity, especially as similarly soft boy names break into the Top 1000, including Ambrose and Amias.
Legendary photographer Richard Avedon was renowned for his ability to capture movement in fashion, dance, and theater photography. He was of Russian Jewish descent, giving his surname mysterious origins. It is possibly an Anglicization of a Russian surname, or else an ornamental surname. As one of the last ethnic groups to adopt surnames, Ashkenazi Jewish people were often assigned surnames by government officials without consideration to family history.
French surrealist artist Lucy Renee Mathilde Schwob intentionally adopted a gender-ambiguous pseudonym — Claude Cahun — to suit her self-described “neuter” identity. Cahun’s photographs, often self-portraits, explored gender and sexuality. Suzanne Malherbe, fellow photographer and Cahun’s romantic and artistic partner, also changed her name, but to the more overtly masculine Marcel Moore.
Claude is a viable vintage revival for either sex, but we especially love it on a girl, as a fresh alternative to Claudia. Like Cahun’s original intent in the 1910s, Claude could be an excellent choice for those in search of a unisex name with strong history.
Dorothea Lange was one of the most iconic photographers of the 20th century, best known for her evocative images documenting the Great Depression. She was born in 1895, during a Dorothea upswing before its peak in 1912. These days, Dorothea is poised for a comeback, especially since its inverse, Theodora, recently reentered the Top 1000 in 2019.
Dorothea is a clunky-cool traditional name rich with nickname possibilities, including rising star Thea and quirky Dot. It will likely be propelled back into fashion in the coming decade, but considering it was only given to 57 girls last year, now’s your chance to get in on the ground floor.
German-born Ilse Bing was an avant-garde photographer who produced work in Paris and New York from the 1930s through the 1950s. Ilse, a German and Dutch short form of Elisabeth, was among the top names in Germany when she was born in 1899 and would reach Number 1 in 1920.
Ilse is still waiting for its comeback in Germany but remains well-used in the Netherlands and is on the rise in Sweden. It was only given to 31 American baby girls in 2020 but could be the perfect fit for those who love Elsa but wish to avoid any Frozen associations. Ilsa is the phonetic spelling, but in this case, one that could cause more confusion due to its similar look to trendy Isla.
Imogen Cunningham was an an early 20th century artist based in the Pacific Northwest, whose notable works include botanical and nude photography. Despite her American roots, she was given a thoroughly British name. Her parents named her after the Imogen of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline — she was one of fewer than five baby girls named Imogen in 1883. Cunningham and husband Roi Partridge were adventurous namers themselves, and had sons named Gryffyd, Rondal, and Padriac.
Imogen retains its distinctive British flair today. Although past its peak in the UK, it is still among the Top 50, and has never cracked the Top 1000 in the US. However, it’s rising quickly and according to our predictions, should make its debut within the next few years.
Bauhaus artist and professor László Moholy-Nagy was born in Hungary, where László is the name of a saint and several historic royals. Moholy-Nagy practiced many types of art, photography among them, and believed that the camera allowed one to see the world gave one a New Vision in which to see the world.
László is consistently popular in Hungary today, and has been in the Top 25 for over 15 years. In the US, where it is more commonly spelled Laszlo, without the accents, it is considered a brave hipster choice, and has never been given to more than 40 babies in a single year. But with its cool O ending and dynamic Z, Laszlo will one day soon head upwards in popularity, along with the similarly energetic Cosmo and Renzo.
Méret Oppenheim, Swiss-German Surrealist photographer (and muse of May Ray) was given an obscure literary name from the 1855 book Der grüne Heinrich (Green Henry) by Gottfried Keller. It was taken from a fiercely independent and complicated character named Meretlein, who lived in the woods and ultimately died an early death. Oppenheim, however, was said to appreciate her mysterious namesake.
Meret originated as a nickname for Margarethe, the German translation of Margaret. The German pronunciation is closer to MAIR-reht, but English speakers would be inclined to pronounce it like “merit,” a rising word name, particularly among girls.
Irving Penn, influential fashion photographer, was known for his simple yet striking work at Vogue. Born to a Russian Jewish family, they carried the last name Penn, typically considered an English surname, but in this case likely an Anglicization of Russian surname beginning with Pen-, such as Penkovitch.
Penn makes for a stylish, tailored, and preppy first name. It’s currently on the rise among American babies, but recently peaked in 2013, the year after the original Gossip Girl finale — with young actor Penn Badgley in a lead role.
One of the best-known photographers of the 20th century, Edward Weston captured images of natural objects in innovative and captivating ways. He was born outside of Chicago to a family of English descent — their surname, Weston, means “from the western town.”
Weston currently sits right outside the Top 1000 in the US. It caught on in the early aughts, alongside another directional name, Easton. It’s a solidly American choice with cowboy swagger and sophistication.
Wolfgang Tillmans is one of the most awarded contemporary photographers — the first photographer to receive the prestigious Turner Prize awarded by the Tate. He was born and raised in Germany, where he still lives today, and where Wolfgang is a much more familiar name. Tillmans was born in 1968, when Wolfgang was well past its peak in Germany — it was the top boy name in 1951.
These days it’s no longer on the German charts, but Wolfgang — and the more streamlined Wolf — feel ready for consideration in the US. Each reached a peak in 2019, with 146 and 86 uses, respectively, but despite a small decrease in uses in 2020, are likely to rebound and then some.
Zanele Muholi is a practicing photographer from South Africa. Their work explores themes of race, gender, and sexuality, with a particular focus on Black lesbian, gay, transgender, and intersex people. Zanele is a traditional Zulu name meaning “they are enough,” implying there are enough children (typically daughters) in the family. Muholi is the last child of eight.
Their name is totally unique in the US and has never been recorded on the charts. Pronounced zah-NEH-lay, this is a namesake name ripe for discovery in the US.
More Photographer Names
Take inspiration from your favorite photographer’s name or browse more choices below.
For those committed to the craft, a name inspired by a favorite camera brand or the processes and techniques of photography may appeal.