Not-Quite Surnames

Dec 7th 2017

The lure of surnames as baby names is that they can be fresh and familiar at the same time. A name like Harlow, Anderson or Landry comes with built-in roots and culture – and established spelling – even if you've never met anyone by that name. You couldn't just make up a new name in the surname style. Or could you?

In fact, we're seeing more and more new names that take their style cues straight from surnames. Take, for example, the -axton names. Paxton and Braxton are both well-known surnames with famous bearers (e.g. actor Bill Paxton and singer Toni Braxton), and both have become hit baby names. As they've risen, the names Jaxton and Daxton have followed in their wake. They're not well-known surnames, but are clearly built on the surname model. Both now rank among the top 500 names for boys.

Or consider Lakely. The surname Blakely has become an overnight hit for girls, encouraging parents to create this near neighbor. Then there are Brentley and Dentley, on the model of Bentley and Brantley. Treston, a la Preston. Kyson, a la Tyson. Brixley; Aceton; Rylan; Averley; Huckston; Kaylor.

Some of these names surely exist as last names, but they're very rare and have no prominent standard bearers. As baby names, they're not surname transfers. They're surname-inspired, names that couldn't exist if the surname style weren't so popular. We recognize that style in the names, even as we fail to recognize the names themselves.

Somehow, the style that's built off of familiarity still holds together when you strip the familiarity away. Could this work for other transfer name styles as well? Could we, say, invent new place names that aren't places? (Lennington?) Virtue names that aren't virtues? (Vality?)

It's just one more reminder that names are much more than their literal origins. Sometimes, style is meaning.




December 7, 2017 5:44 PM

Ha! One of the not-surname examples is my actual surname! It's actually really nice as a surname because its pronunciation is easily recognizable even though the name itself isn't particularly common. I imagine those qualities are also appealing to parents choosing it as a given name.

December 9, 2017 11:47 PM

I’m curious to ask if there’s a place in the country this style is particularly a trend. (?) If I would have to guess, I would pick Utah or maybe Tennessee... it seems like there might be a keen level of appeal I can think of anecdotally.