All the Fins in the Sea

Feb 10th 2009

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.


By Guest (not verified)
February 11, 2009 9:32 PM

Here you go - I accidentally cut it off when I posted before:

February 11, 2009 10:41 PM

Before seeing the official spelling of McCai, I thought it might be Makayah (I can't find the right spelling online but I'm thinking of the youngest Duggar's middle name, which I think is also a middle Eastern name). Seems to fit with the others' names. Or like Mekhi, like Mekhi Phifer. I kind of thought mom was of middle Eastern ancestry but not sure.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 11, 2009 10:55 PM

Joni-I was opining that you were from the Midwest, but now I remember that you're in the Seattle area.
Are you actually in the city?
We're near Tacoma, and we don't know Any Annikas. Another interesting urban/suburban thing!

Prarie Dawn-I vote for Jonas. I think it has the same effortless cool as Lucia. I know we discuss it on here a lot, but I've yet to meet any irl. Of course, my circles are not cutting edge (see above-LOL).

I also love Wesley. It's our Jack's mn, which we chose to honor my stepfather.
It's grown on me in its own right, though, and I think the ending is going to keep it from ever being super big. Weston, maybe...

We do know multiple Elis, but I believe they're mostly Elijahs.

Alex is a bit "vanilla," to me somehow, but I think it may have peaked. Most that I know are school age or teenagers. I think the little ones are all being called Xander!

It's hard to say if Desmond will get a Lost bump. I do like it with Des as the nn, but I can't separate Desi from a few memorable girls I knew who were Desiree/Desis.
As to the Lucy issue, I don't think your kids will hear about it much, but I bet You will. Only you can decide if that's a big deal.
Could I interest you in Declan or Dermot?

Eo-Really, I'm starting to think someone in the front office has it in for you!
Most schools hate getting an earful from moms, and I'd think by now they'd have everyone in that place on board with Banks's name.
Maybe you can try standing next to the dp's desk while he/she personally corrects and saves the database.

February 11, 2009 11:35 PM

Back to the last post's topic . . . but I just heard of a woman named Season.

So if you can't decide between Winter or Summer or Autumn, you could just go with Season and cover all your bases. :)

February 11, 2009 11:40 PM

Eo - I can see (though don't get) how they could make Benjamin Ben. But Moore into Morrow. That is just not even right. Sloppy book keeping!!! Technically your darlkn does not even exist on their records. I don't get it.
( I think I would call and ask to speak to Ben Morrow and see who they give you. Maybe it's another kid)

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
February 11, 2009 11:42 PM

I have really enjoyed reading everyone's comments on our prospective boy names.. thanks! Feel free to keep em coming. I have a feeling that we won't make our final decision until the baby is born and we lay eyes on the little guy (or girl-- I'll post my girl short list soon!). With our dd, we didn't choose a name until she was born and I gave my dh the final choice. Of course I had already narrowed it down to just two names, so he didn't have many to choose from. But he didn't seem to mind and *we* chose the perfect name for her, imo.

As for your suggestions, I like Alistair, but it always reminds me of a character on the old Canadian TV show You Can't Do That on Television, and for some odd reason, this is a problem. (Anyone remember that show? Barf burgers and green slime?) Dustin, Declan and Dermot were also suggested-- nice names all, but nms.

Someone commented about the Jonas Brothers-- I have wondered if they will have an impact on the use of Jonas as a fn, but I'm hoping they are just a passing boy band fad. Of course, I've never heard their music or seen them perform. Maybe they are really talented? I heard that Malia and Sasha Obama are crazy about them, so who knows?

By Kristin (not verified)
February 11, 2009 11:52 PM

Prairie - I used to have a crush on that Alistair kid on You Can't Do That on Television. Maybe that's why I have good associations and named my cat Alistair? :)

Zoerhenne - I do have an association with the city Charleston. We went there on our honeymoon and again last year, and it's one of our favorite places. Still ... I'm not such a fan of -ton endings. Can't get past the fact it means "town."

February 12, 2009 12:21 AM

name-talk from Jon Stewart: he was talking about the Israel election, referred to the candidates as Bebe and Zippy/Tzippi, and joked that their names sounded like that of children's party clowns.

Prairie Dawn: Oh, I just remembered that I know a woman with a Jonas who said if he were a girl, he would've been a Lucia. I think it had to do with Swedish heritage.

By Patricia/Nana (not verified)
February 12, 2009 12:45 AM

Guest, thanks for the link with the 14 Suleman/Solomon children's names.

Robyn T, according to a well-documented wikipedia article, Nadya Suleman has said she's "a half Arab, half Lithuanian Protestant".

February 12, 2009 3:18 AM

Capucine - there was a lttle French girl in my son's class called Capucine and the mother said it was a flower name - honeysuckle in English. I suppose the flowers do look like monks' cowls.

February 12, 2009 3:39 AM

Capucine is another name for the nasturtium (capucine cress). It was named presumably for some resemblance to the Capuchin habit.

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
February 12, 2009 9:36 AM

RobynT-- part of the appeal of the name Jonas to us is the Swedish link. Neither my dh nor I are Swedish but we live in a heavily Scandinavian community, which also influenced our choice of our Lucia's name. We like the idea of naming our kids with a nod to location--where we were living at the time of their births. It helps that Lucia is one of those names that travels well and has international appeal. I don't know if Jonas is as versaitile culturally.

By hyz
February 12, 2009 10:16 AM

Oooh, Prairie Dawn, with the Scandinavian connection I like Jonas even more. Just saying...

Miriam, thanks for the information on Bear Grylls and family--shows how in touch I am--I didn't even know he was famous. I actually thought Marmaduke was the most... remarkable of that set. I kind of like Huckleberry, in a "it's totally cute but I'd never ever use it" kind of way.

Capucine is fun. There was an actress by that name (a stage name, I believe) in the Pink Panther. I wonder if Capucines in America get a lot of pronunciation headaches, though. Those who've known Capucines here--did they pronounce it more or less like kah-poo-SEEN? Seems that there's a bit of teasing potential with that one, too (monkey, coffee, "poo"...).

By Eo (not verified)
February 12, 2009 10:37 AM

Great suggestion, Jessica!

I don't think it's malice on their part, J&H's Mom, more like a combo of good old human error and plain old not-really-caring-all-that-much!

Spotted sibling group on TV: William, Amelia, Chloe and Chase

The parents, an adorable, traditional Midwestern couple. At first the collection of names seemed a bit "split" to me. "William" and "Amelia", classic and perfect for now, and yet stepping right out of other centuries-- they could be characters out of Dickens or Thackeray.

"Chloe and "Chase" have much more of that trendy feeling... Wonder if one spouse named the first two, and another the second two?

Of course, you COULD argue that Amelia fits the trendy category too, now that it seems to be appealing to the same parents who would have embraced "Emily" a couple of decades ago...

By Joni
February 12, 2009 1:03 PM

J&H's Mom, yes,I am the one who knows all the Annikas. I am from the Seattle area - Kent area. We don't have a particularly strong Scandinavian population here - well, unless you are talking about Ballard, which I am not. ;)

Of the Annikas that I know, one has Dutch family, her great-grandmother (herself an Annika, and the one for whom the child was named) being an immigrant, and her grandmother too, as a child.

The grandmother's name is Wieja - or maybe Weije, I don't remember the spelling. Pronounced 'wee-sha'. Anyone know anything about that name? I can't find anything in English on them except Weija as a ln.

February 12, 2009 1:53 PM

My husband is an avid watcher of Bear Grylls' television show, Man vs. Wild. Last week, after hearing about his children, I started calling him (Bear Grylls, not my husband) "Huckleberry and Marmaduke's dad" instead of by his name. Eventually, my husband got annoyed and told me that he isn't defined by the fact that he gave his kids crazy names.

So my plan was to bring up these names to this board and get everyone's opinions. But I have had so little time to go online recently and I see someone beat me to it.

So my question is, do we, as name enthusiasts, tend to define people by what they name their kids? Someone, in an earlier post, admitted that she was dismayed when her friends named their son Brayden. Which is a reaction I'm forced to admit I had when friends of mine gave that same name to their son. Then I realize that perhaps I do think too much about who names their kids what.

By Caruso Confer (not verified)
February 12, 2009 2:14 PM

I think "what other people name their kids" is in the same category for me as "what people wear" or "what people read"--I certainly have formed ideas about what styles go together with what personalities, but the fun of life is having those preconceptions challenged! If you could guess everything about someone's tastes by their address or surname or job title, that would be a pretty boring world.

I don't have to like the choices other people make. If they want to explain the process, fine, sometimes the story is lovely or interesting, but I don't need to know (and I always worry that they're feeling a need to justify their choices, which makes me sad).

February 12, 2009 3:36 PM

nikki-Your question reminded me of something I forgot to post last week. I went to see the play Avenue Q. It's a play about a recent college graduate who has to now figure out his "purpose" in life and consequently deal with the challenges of "the real world". The play is done with puppets in a Sesame Street kind-of way although it is in no way affiliated with them.
Anyway, the characters have wonderfully defining stereo-typed names.
Princeton-the college graduate
Brian-an out of work comic-wanna-be
He's engaged to Christmas Eve-an Asian psychotherapist
Kate Monster-young average white girl who befriends Princeton
Ms. Thistletwat-the older Kindergarten teacher Kate works for her
Lucy-the tramp
Trekkie Monster-a monster who likes porn

So of course, Princeton is a great name for a recent college grad. He's white, dresses in button down shirt with vest, wants to get a job and make a difference, etc. Now many other names would work of course but Princeton just seemed to be perfect for him. Same with Kate-regular girl, non-descript name. And the same with the rest of them. Lucy not so much but I think they might have been attempting to match it to its homonym of loose.Christmas Eve being an Asian kind of threw me but I think they were trying to give her a name that would be both trendy, easy to remember, help her fit-in and not seem so Asian, etc. She was hysterical on her wedding day when she wore a dress that lit up like a Christmas tree!
Also, the play makes fun of itself right up front and sings "Everyone's a Little Bit Racist". It's hysterical but also true. As much as we don't like to admit it, many of us judge people on their cars, houses, clothing, hair, physique, names, etc. So as long as we all admit that it is also part of who we are and don't add it as a judging factor then I think we are free to continue discussing whether someone has made a bizarre choice such as Huckleberry + Marmaduke (which makes me think of the comic strip dog) or a perfectly wonderful choice (insert name of choice here).

February 12, 2009 3:49 PM

zoerhenne- Oh I love Avenue Q! I hadn't ever really thought much about the names though, but now that you say it... I would only add that I took Christmas Eve to be making fun of the stereotype that immigrants choose words they think sound nice and use them as names without knowing the meaning. Anyone ever heard of the urban legend (I think!) of someone named Tablesandchairs for that reason? They really do make fun of everything including themselves and the audience in that show.

As for judging names I think we do it a bit much, but at the same time I know lots of non-NE's who judge people's names too, just for different reasons. I'm much more likely to judge a parent using Braedyn, but most people I know think Agnes sounds impossibly old and lame (but on this blog it's considered pretty great!).

And a question, isn't Marmaduke something? Did I miss what this child is named after?

By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 12, 2009 7:49 PM

New Baby Reports:

Max (brother to Sophie and Anna)
Emma Leigh (called Emma; sister to Benjamin)
Clara Dayton (will try to get "scoop," on Dayton)
Van Vincent (Vincent is a family name)

River otters at zoo: Miles, Sadie, and Gus.
Talk about trend-on! Fess up: Which one of you is an otter keeper?

February 12, 2009 8:59 PM

I second Jenny L3igh's reading of Christmas Eve's name in Avenue Q.

February 12, 2009 10:03 PM

Robyn and Jenny-I never thought about it that way but I guess you're right. There are a lot of urban legends (or maybe true cause I've been told some by friends whom I believe actually read these names off files at work and stuff). Maybe Laura could do a post on those-that would be a funny read. Some I am familiar with:
Lemonjello + Oranjello
Family=pron Fah-mah-lay
Shithead=pron Shah-tay-uh I think there's an accent mark somewhere

Also reminds me of the post that she did write a few months back about words that might make good names if they weren't just words.

By Caruso Confer (not verified)
February 12, 2009 10:56 PM

Laura did this post on Lemonjello, Oranjello, Shithead, and all the other imaginaries....

Now watch for the string of comments like "no, really, my cousin works in a hospital and she met a Lemonjello..."

By Caruso Confer (not verified)
February 12, 2009 10:59 PM

Here's the one from last year, on the same subject:

By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 12, 2009 11:29 PM

Here's a link to a quiz on the top 40 baby names in the US in 1975. (20 boys, 20 girls)

Sadly I only got 26 the first time...I'm slightly ashamed!

By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 12, 2009 11:36 PM

Actually, I looked at the quiz in the other window again, and it was only 21. Even worse...

February 13, 2009 12:42 AM

Hey thanks, Anne! It was harder than I thought because I'm from the UK, but I did get 27, which I thought wasn't bad! Some of the top names, particularly for girls, were not very popular at all in the UK so I didn't get them. I would name them here, but then that would give the game away!

February 13, 2009 12:45 AM

Anne with an E-
Waa I only got 18 total-fun quiz. More boys than girls- but it is late and time for bed.

Caruso- Yes, I remembered that Laura did do a post on those once now that you mention it. So, since we've already covered this we should move on. Sorry.

By Cathie (not verified)
February 13, 2009 2:02 AM

Corazon, we have friends that named their daughter Adah. I really like that! To me, it gives the name more heft and makes it less nicknamey. I have a great aunt Ada, short for Adele.

Prairie Dawn, I like Jonas best by far! I agree that it has the same "effortless" cool feel of Lucia.

To the person who needed a Michael variant, I have a friend Mishko which I think is cool! (Czech nn for Michael).

Another Canadian here that could not imagine using Finnegan as a name. It's definitely a dog puppet with an androgenous friend. LOL!

By Joni
February 13, 2009 2:51 AM

Anne with an E that was a fun game! I shared it with my name nerd friends. I got 28 but I am sure that has to do with the fact that I was looking at the top names for girls in 1974 just a few days ago. The lists are very similar. I might have even gotten them all if there was no time limit. Never would have guessed all the boy's names though...

By Anna (not verified)
February 13, 2009 5:01 AM

Interestingly, to me at least, the name Finn is very-very-very UNCOOL as a babyname in Scandinavia these days. Most Finns are 50-60 years old and the name is therefore another 20-30 years from a possible cool-old-names-revival.

Statistics for Norway and Denmark:

February 13, 2009 9:44 AM

Caruso Confer- Thanks for the posts, I know I read all the archives when I discovered the site and have read ever since... apparently that doesn't make it stick though! On the plus side we'll never run out of things to talk about if we can talk about things over again:).

Who posted the girl named Season, I thought that was interesting and forgot to comment earlier!

February 13, 2009 10:04 AM

Anne with an E-
Thanks for the link to that game! I got 35/40, but I was born just two years later. So I pretty much put the names of my classmates in and was good to go. I was shocked to discover that Andrew was not a top 20 name in 1975. I must have known a half-dozen of them!

By Amy3
February 13, 2009 10:17 AM

Anne with an E, that was great fun. I got 27, and I couldn't believe some of the ones I missed. Angela??? Kevin??? I was born in '68 so these names aren't measurably different from the ones that were popular with my classmates.

Prairie Dawn, I vote for Jonas, too.

By Amy3
February 13, 2009 10:18 AM

Oh, and I forgot to add, my daughter and I visited her old daycare yesterday. One of the current kids? Finn.

By cileag (not verified)
February 13, 2009 11:10 AM

Here's a question for the NE. We're pregnant and have loved the name Ruby Louise for quite some time. Recently, though I've fallen in love with Phoebe as well--as a more sophisticated version almost. Kneejerk reactions, Phoebe or Ruby?

February 13, 2009 11:31 AM

cileag-Ruby Louises flows nicely. I think Phoebe is a bit fresher than Ruby. Though Phoebe Louise is a bit vowel-laden.

By Guest (not verified)
February 13, 2009 12:00 PM

Finlayson is a surname that would make a good boy's firstname in the spirit of Jackson and Grayson. Nickname could be Finn, as it is for the men in my ex's family. I must say I always liked it for a first name.

Finn Carter is an actress, in case that wasn't brought up earlier. I think it still works well for a boy or a girl, but Finlayson is a more masculine version than Finley and sounds stronger. (Pronounced with a long A, not as if it an E.) Good name for Scottish descent and isn't overused yet, like Cameron.

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
February 13, 2009 12:04 PM

cileag-- I really like Phoebe Louise. It sounds both fresh and classic. Ruby is one of those names that I think might become "suddenly everywhere", if that matters to you.

Off topic: Anyone ever look at the names in their Spam mail? They are almost always interesting and kr38tiv. A sampling of recent Spam names from my email account:

Katerine Candis
Genna Lourdes
Thomasine Breann
Raachele Rosina

I hate Spam (who doesn't) but sometimes it's fun to check out the names!

February 13, 2009 12:28 PM

I was looking at's beautiful baby search and the list the baby's first name in each picture. One of the girls is Finley!

cileag- I like Ruby better than Phoebe, but that's just because I always think of Friends when I think of Phoebe which makes it feel very 90's to me... I also just love Ruby! But I think either way would be fine.

By Amy3
February 13, 2009 12:42 PM

cileag -- I like Phoebe slightly better than Ruby, although they're both great names. I think either pairs nicely with Louise.

By jennifer h (not verified)
February 13, 2009 1:38 PM

@cileag - Phoebe. Something about Ruby I just don't care for...I can't quite pin it though.

I met a Finley about two years ago. She was around 1 at the time and I loved it. We ended up having a boy so I couldn't use it (and couldn't get dh to agree to it because there was some pro wrestler that went by Fit Finley...he remembers everything sports related and it was very difficult to pick out a name because he would always be saying "oh this basketball player is named that").

Regarding judging people's name choices, I have to admit I tend to do that and it is a knee-jerk reaction I try to reign in. I know someone who has a Deryck another person who has an Isla Briley but goes by Briley and I'm thinking just spell it normally for the first and use Isla since it is just a beautiful name for the second.

But then I have a Carter and I know some people put Carter in the same bucket as Brayden (though I would disagree, of course ;) I think even using more traditional names is starting to be it's own trend too right? So in 10 years, people will be thinking Hazel and Amelia are so trendy because they are of the "old is new" line. I guess it just depends on which trends you subscribe to.

February 13, 2009 2:25 PM

As the mum of a Phoebe I'm biassed in its favour - great name, feminine yet with grace and dignity too.
Ruby - I love it too, but the potential for embarrassing nn would put me off. Phoebe gets shortened to Phoebs or Fee which is OK, Ruby though would be shortened to Rubes, which has two unfortunate rhymes. That might put me off.

By Anne with an E (not verified)
February 13, 2009 3:02 PM

Glad to see that other people had similar results to me on the name quiz! It's also nice to have my addiction to trivia games link in with my addiction to baby names for once!

@cileag--I prefer Phoebe Louise.

@jennifer h--It's funny what you mention about Carter. That was on my probable boys lists a few months ago, but the more I read these baby name blogs and their comments, the more I feel like I need something less 'trendy'!

February 13, 2009 3:52 PM

I would like to solicit your comments on a baby boy name.

RIGEL. Like the bright star.

So, do you think its fine as a name, like Nigel only with a cuter nickname Ri, similar to up-and-comer Orion? Or is it a totally geeky out there name like Jupiter?

Hit me with your worst! :)

By sme (not verified)
February 13, 2009 3:44 PM

Celebrity baby name alert:

A baby boy for Kevin Costner named Hayes Logan Costner

From recently told the Associated Press that the name Hayes was "a cowboy character" in a Western movie he soon plans to make, and that it is "a great Western name."

By cileag (not verified)
February 13, 2009 4:25 PM

Thanks for the comments on Phoebe vs. Ruby. It's a tough choice. :)

Tirzah, I'm a big constellation groupie and really like Rigel. I think it's similar enough to other names, and it has enough of a history to give it some weight. The only complication I can see is that many people with mispronounce it. Ry-gel, Ry-gell (hard g), Ri-gell etc.

February 13, 2009 4:29 PM

Tirzah: I actually know a Rigel! He is about 30. I always thought his mother was a very unique namer. His sister's name is Aric@. I thought both their names, despite being quite unusual had pretty intuitive spelling and pronunciation. Like, you might not guess it right the first time, but it was easy to learn and remember after that.

Oh actually there was a guy named Jupiter at my high school too. I think he was a few years ahead of me. His sister's name is Ai1een. Go figure. I am pretty sure this is his birth name as I heard of him from the time we were in elementary school and I still hear of him from time to time. (So I swear this is not one of those Lemonjello stories.)

I think Rigel is way less "out there" than Jupiter. Yeah, similar to Orion I guess. I don't think it's geeky at all. I think most people wouldn't know it was a star.

February 13, 2009 4:31 PM

@Eo - Chloe and Chase DO seem so different in feeling than William and Amelia. If Amelia strikes some as getting too trendy, what are your thoughts on Amelie? And BTW, does Amelia/Amelie really mean "rival"?

@cileag - Phoebe just seems (grasping for the right word here..) much more intellectual a name than cute little Ruby. Maybe because I'm thinking of the old (country?) song "Ruby, Ruby, Ruby, will you be mi-iiinneee?!"

@Tirzah - Any fan of the original "Star Trek" will immediately think of the Rigel colonies. Not a bad reference at all, though I must admit Rigel is rather geeky and out-there (it takes one to know one!).

By sme (not verified)
February 13, 2009 5:23 PM

cileag- It seems that I am in the minority here and prefer Ruby over Phoebe. As another poster mentioned, I immediately think of the show Friends when I hear Phoebe. I also think of cats for some reason. I don't have any associations with Ruby that are a turn off for me, so that is probably why I prefer it over Phoebe. But either way you decide, your daughter will have a great name!