Some Surprising Surnames to Consider

Some Surprising Surnames to Consider

A few years ago, I spent much of the 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 last names as first names with unexpected origins:

Surnames With Surprising Meanings


Deriving from the Latin amicus, which means “friend,” Ames would make an interesting given name with a great meaning.


Bartholomew’s a big name to wear, but this surname that originated as its diminutive can make great nicknames or given names on their own. Bates feels familiar via the Downton Abbey character.


Though Owen is currently at its peak of popularity, it’s always been a Top 500 name, so you might be interested to learn that Bowen means “son of Owen.”


Many of you may know that Cole can be a nickname for Nicholas, or a given name deriving from it; Coleson takes it one step further as it was sometimes bestowed on sons of Nicholas.


I was really surprised to see this name listed as a contraction of MacCiarain (sic), which means “son of Ciaran”!


A little bit of Jack, a little bit of Darwin, Dacken is said to have originated as a pet form of David.


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 Number 183.


Though Eason ends in “son,” I didn’t peg it for a “son of name,” and I never would have guess it means “son of Adam” — such an interesting discovery!


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.


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.


Hitch is an old pet form of Richard, and I think it works really well as either a nickname for Richard, or even an offbeat given name.


This double diminutive of Hugh brings rugged appeal to an otherwise reserved and gentlemanly name.


Everyone loves James for both boys and girls these days, so perhaps something like Jemmett could be the next big thing — it’s a diminutive of Jem, an alternate shortened form of James to Jim.


Interestingly, Jessop is said to be a pronunciation of Joseph!


Though Jolyon is generally thought of as a variant of Julian, Reaney and Wilson argue that it’s a contraction of “Jolly-jan,” where Jan refers to John.


Former Cowboys QB Tony Romo and his wife recently named their third son Jones, though whether they knew it’s a variant of John is unknown.


Janis might be the first name to come to mind when hearing Joplin, but its origin as a double diminutive of Job is what caught my attention.


I love that Jory is presented as a diminutive of a French form of George.


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.


Maurice isn’t to everyone’s taste, but the variant Merrick — by way of the Welsh form of Maurice, Meuric — might be just the way to honor Grandpa Maurice.


Ozanne was a medieval name for Palm Sunday because of the “Hosannas” (Latin form of the Hebrew “Osanna”) sung on that day. It was perhaps given to babies born on Palm Sunday.


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.”


A double diminutive of Patrick, Patton 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.


I love this short, brisk name — it’s a pet form of Peter! While it would be perfect for a boy, I also happen to know a woman named Pell.


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!).


There are a lot of Stephens in my family, so discovering that Stennet(t) is a diminutive of Sten, a short form of Stephen, opens up some interesting possibilities.


Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick used Wilkie for their son’s middle name in 2002, 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?

This post is edited from a piece by Katherine Morna Towne, originally published in October 2017.