Some Surprising Surnames to Consider
I spent much of last winter devouring a book called A Dictionary of English Surnames, by Reaney and Wilson, which presents family names used and recorded in England dating from back to when surnames first started being documented there (after the Norman Conquest in the eleventh century) up to the present day.
I was surprised and delighted by the meanings and/or origins of so many of the entries, several of which seem to cater neatly to the modern desire for creative first names, interesting nicknames, and offbeat ways of honoring relatives or other important people. In addition, their deep roots and historic usage give them a gravitas that other unusual names sometimes lack.
Here are some of my favorites:
Ames: Deriving from the Latin amicus, which means “friend,” Ames would make an interesting given name with a great meaning.
Bates, Batten: Bartholomew’s a big name to wear, but these surnames that originated as its diminutives can make great nicknames or given names on their own. Bates feels familiar via the Downton Abbey character.
Dawson: This is another “son of” (patronymic) name—this time, for David, for which Daw is an old nickname. It could be a cool way to name David’s son after himself without Junioring him. Familiar from Dawson’s Creek, Dawson currently ranks at #217.
Faver: I really like the idea of this surname for a first name because of its meaning—it’s from the Old French for “help, mercy, beauty” and its spelling (different from “favor”) makes it seem more possible as a given name.
Garrison: I love it when an alternate form of a name has a totally different feel than the original. Such is the case with Garrison, which means “Gerard’s son,” and offers a new possibility for honoring a Gerard.
Mace: With Mason at its height of popularity, I wouldn’t be surprised if parents might be interested in the similar but trimmer and far less popular Mace, which is thought to be a shortened form of either Thomas or Matthew. Though it does have some negative associations.
Parry: I see Perry considered from time to time by expectant parents, which Reaney and Wilson say means “dweller by the pear tree,” but the similar Parry has extra significance as it means “son of Harry.”
Pat(t)on: A double diminutive of Patrick, Pat(t)on can be used as a nickname for it, or as a given name honoring the saint or a relative in an interesting way. A current bearer is comedian Patton Oswalt.
Quilliam: It’s probably not difficult to figure out what name Quilliam derives from! With the current popularity of William and Liam, this Manx name meaning “son of William” might appeal to parents who want something similar but different (and how cool is the nickname Quill!).
Wilkie, Wilkin: Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick used Wilkie for their son’s middle name fifteen years ago, and Wilkin has a similar meaning: they’re both diminutives of William and can make great nicknames or unusual honor names.
Do you agree that these fit in easily with other names being bestowed on children today? Which ones are your favorites from this list? Would you name a child with one of them, or have you?
About the author
Katherine Morna Towne
View all of 's articles
You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
on October 24th, 2017 at 7:40 am
Jory is the Cornish form of George. It’s the name of my cousin’s boyfriend, who is a proud Cornishman!
on October 24th, 2017 at 9:22 am
I’ve had Quilliam ‘Quill’ on my list for a while, so glad to see it in a blog post! I like a lot of these ideas – Ames especially!
on October 24th, 2017 at 12:57 pm
I like Hitch, but it reminds me of trailer hitch rather than an actual name. I would use it as a nn for Richard, though.
Jessop is the last name of one of the major FDLS families. Out west where I live, it would be assumed that that’s who the baby was named for, so I wouldn’t use it.
on October 24th, 2017 at 1:14 pm
I’d add Hawthorne, Walden, Rourke, Burke, Kearney, Landry, Keane, Raleigh, Hayes, Crosby, Heston, Sumner, Sutton, Whittaker, Wheeler, Quaide, Fraser, Dayton, Dallin, Greyer, Stanton, Jennings, Jenson, Jenkins, Sullivan, Beckett, Ballou, Doniphan, Benson, Anderson, Russo, Benton, Harmon, Booker, Reins
on October 24th, 2017 at 1:18 pm
Quilliam is interesting and whimsical. Reminds me of Squidward from SpongeBob Squarepants
on October 24th, 2017 at 1:30 pm
Ames immediately reminded me of Ames, Iowa and it’s straw poll of primary presidential candidates.. It could be a fun pick for political junkies; though I imagine it would be frequently misheard as James.
on October 25th, 2017 at 7:31 pm
In traditional Welsh naming practices, ab & ap meant “son of.” Over the centuries the words have been run together to produce Breese (ab Rhys, or son of Reece), Bowen (ab Owen, or son of Owen), Price, (ap Rhys, or son of Reece), etc.
The following is a bit of doggerel from the archives of RootsWeb/Powys: How Welsh Surnames Came to Be
The following is a comical 19th century poem about an English Judge trying to
sort out Welsh surnames as part of the ‘anglicization’ process ….
Then strove the judge with main and might
The surrounding consonants to write,
But when the day was almost gone
He found his work not nearly done.
His ears assailed most woefully
With names like Rhys ap Griffith Ddu,
Aneirin, Iorweth, Ieuan Goch,
And Llwyarch Hen o Abersoch,
Taleiesin ap Llewelyn Fawr
And Llun ap Arthur bach y Cawr.
Until at length, in sheer despair,
He doffed his wig and tore his hair, ….
And said he would no longer stand
The surnames of ‘our native land’.
“Take ten,” he said, “and call them Rice.”
“Take another ten and call them Price.”
“Take fifty others, call them Pughs.”
“A hundred more, …. I’ll dub them Hughes.”
“Now Roberts name some hundred score.”
“And Williams name a legion more!”
…. “And call,” he said, in disdained tones,
“Call the remaining thousands …. Jones!”
As someone who has at least two lines of Joneses in my ancestry (as well as Price & Breese), I can relate to this. 🙂
on October 26th, 2017 at 12:45 am
What do y’all think about the name Downey for a boy? It isn’t originally a surname, but I love it. I can’t find it on her though😕
on October 26th, 2017 at 12:46 am
on October 27th, 2017 at 9:01 am
My favorite surname names:
Pascoe (family name)
Ferris (another family name)
leave a reply
You must be logged in to post a comment.