Classic Surnames You've Overlooked

Jun 5th 2017

As Harrison and Kennedy continue to receive acclaim, parents are on the lookout for similar names with more personality and pizzazz. Timeless surnames with roots in the British Isles provide some great options for fans of this elegant style.

Combining a masculine sound with a polished vibe, these fifteen names are sure to offer the best of both worlds. Best of all, none currently ranks on the top 1000, so they’re sure to feel unique to your little one. 

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Montgomery. Part old Hollywood, part Southern gentleman, Montgomery is a vintage pick that’s just right for the modern age. While actor Clift is the most notable wearer, Montgomery’s appearance in a few contemporary television shows helps it feel more familiar than fusty.

Howell. Poetic and refined, Howell is a classic surname that sounds bolder when used as a first. Though nickname Howie adds an element of cuteness, the full form has a distinguished quality that works well for all kinds of personalities.

Thompson. There is, of course, the namesake factor - from Emma to Hunter S., creative Thompsons have been inspiring audiences across the globe throughout history. Still, Thompson’s simple vibe suggests friendliness over flashiness, especially when shortened to Tom or Sonny.

Fraser. The original Scottish spelling distances it a bit from TV’s Frasier Crane, but over time, this handsome choice will feel more unique. It's derived from the French word for “strawberry,” making Fraser’s fresh sound clear and strong.

Bingham. If you like the vibes of Bennett and Graham but want something less common, bright Bingham might be the choice for you. While Kate Hudson brought this name to light for her youngest son, Bingham already seems more affable than A-List.

Humphrey. The cobwebs are finally getting swept off this dashing choice. Humphrey merges the coolness of Bogart with a distinct literary style - both Shakespeare and Joyce used the name with gusto. While it’s growing in popularity in the UK, it’s been recorded less than 40 times in the last decade in the US.

Macallister. With Alistair finally cracking the top 1000, could merry Macallister find its footing as a first name? Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer thinks so - her son was given this playful surname in 2016, making it usable for the next generation of Millennial parents. 

Griffith. An illustrious alternative to Griffin, Griffith is a well-loved Welsh choice with some Hollywood connections: actors Andy and Melanie have brought fame to the name, and Griffith Park and Observatory are notable spots in Los Angeles. Strong and substantial, Griffith is bound to stand the test of time. 

Prescott. This dignified surname has been a favorite for generations of American leaders, from the revolutionary politicians to the Reagans and Bushes. Along with its remarkable history, Prescott could be a subtle honorific for a familial Scott these days.

Hughes. If Langston feels too specific, Hughes would be a dapper route to honoring the esteemed poet and luminary of the Harlem Renaissance. It ranks among the most popular surnames in the US and the UK, with namesakes and family connections aplenty.

Calloway. Darling and delightful, Calloway is a fabulous name with an excess of spirit. It fits in with other Irish favorites Kennedy and Sullivan, but stands out in its unparalleled personality. Calloway is a novel path to the nickname Cal, but the long form is simply melodious.

Sinclair. Mixing a high class sound with a scholarly pedigree, Sinclair is an uncommon choice that’s never ranked in the top 1000. It’s sophisticated and stylish but not too prim, with a religious etymology and pop culture associations to boot. 

Guthrie. Folksy and fun, Guthrie combines a sweet twang with a Scottish background. It fits in well with more popular picks like August or Grady, but has its own warm unique quality that’s hard to find. While singers Arlo and Woody have gotten Guthrie some attention, this name feels more versatile.

Hamilton. The musical and worldwide phenomenon has brought the name Hamilton to everyone’s lips, and just at the right time - it harmonizes with Harrison and Hudson without their meteoric popularity rankings. Already on the rise over the past few decades, the show is sure to inspire many parents to name their sons after the Founding Father.

Campbell. Kind and accessible, Campbell has long flown just under the radar of the top 1000, occasionally jumping on for a year or two. It’s a gorgeous alternative to Cameron or Camden, but feels more historically grounded. Might Campbell’s “-bell” sound make it the boy’s answer to Isabelle?


Read More66 Fresh Masculine-Sounding Surnames



June 5, 2017 11:29 AM

What's your definition of surname? A number of those you cite here (e.g., Humphrey, Griffith, Howell) are given names dating back to before there were surnames. Given names often come to be used as surnames (for example, Thomas, Bennett, Austin, James, and so on), but they are not surnames in the sense that occupational names (Porter, Taylor, Tyler), place names (London, Brooklyn), and patronyms (Jackson, Anderson, McKenzie) are, names which did not originate as given names, although many of these surnames have morphed into given names because of the custom of naming children with the surnames of their female forebears. It seems a bit strange to recommend using given names as given names in an article purportedly about using surnames as given names.



June 5, 2017 5:32 PM

Yeah, I'm kind of offended to see one of my favorite given names, Griffith, on a list of names purportedly of a style I heartily dislike, namely surnames-as-given-names. :)

June 6, 2017 3:52 PM

I think the fact that there's always been a lot of overlap between male given names and surnames is a big part of the reason that surnames-as-given names is such an easy transition.

My husband and his college roommate used to joke that they didn't have a single surname between them--or maybe that they didn't have a single first name--because all of their names, first, middle, and last were traditional given names that are also fairly common surnames (with one shared name). Think Douglas Todd Russell and Thomas Douglas James. You could mix-and-match any of their five names in any order and get a valid, traditional British-isles name.

The modern take on this, of course, would be roomates Jackson Braden Sawyer and Carter Jackson Beckett.