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?