All the Fins in the Sea
Here's a stylish name: Finn. It's swift, simple, and traditional, and its popularity is rising fast. In the Nordic lands, Finn stems from the Old Norse Finnr (wanderer). In Ireland, Finn comes from Fionn meaning white or fair. It's associated with the legendary hero Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill), who in various legends had either pale blond or prematurely white hair.
There's no question that Finn is a "legitimate" full name. But here in America, one syllable somehow isn't full enough. American parents often get squeamish about short names, finding them too informal or insubstantial for a legal birth certificate. Not to worry, though. Both origins of Finn offer multisyllabic solutions. If you lean toward the Nordic, you could go with the Icelandic form Finnur which, like much of Icelandic naming, hews close to the old Norse roots. Finn also works as a combining element to produce names like Finnbjørn, Torfinn and Dagfinn. On the Irish side you'll find more names built off of the Fionn element, including Finbar and Fintan. Problem solved...right?
OK, back to reality. Your local playground isn't hopping with Finbars and Finnbjørns. Those names are too big a fashion leap for most American parents. The trick is to extend the name without straying too far from the sweet spot of current style. The most popular solution: Surnames.
Just as Gray became Grayson and Colt became Colton, Finn is growing suffixes that lend it a new surname style. Take a look at the boys' names beginning with FIN in the NameVoyager. Finn first hit the top 1000 in the year 2000; Finley and Finnegan followed a few years' later.
Finlay is actually a classic given name in Scotland, the Anglicized form of Fionnlagh. It's currently the 13th most popular name for Scottish boys. In the U.S., though, Finlay/Finley has always been more familiar as a surname. Looking U.S. census records, surname-Finleys have consistently outnumbered firstname-Finleys by a ratio of 6 to 1. That surname association is reflected in our spelling preference, too. We go with the "e" version Finley, which traditionally is much more standard for a last name than a first.
Finnegan, in contrast, is unambiguously a surname. Many parents find its length and heft appealingly formal. (Ironically, it actually comes from a diminutive of Finn; think of it as Gaelic for "little Finny.") To many parents, Finnegan has another big advantage over Finley, too. If we're squeamish about a boy's name that sounds like a nickname, we positively quail at a boy's name that sounds like a girl. Take a look now at the NameVoyager graph of girl's names starting with Fin. Like Bailey, Kelsey, Shelby, and so many other -y surnames, Finley is becoming a baby-girl magnet. So don't be surprised to see plenty of little boy Finnegans in America's future. Or if you're pondering options for your own little Finn, just trust the name and take it straight.