It started with presidents. Names like Tyler, Carter, Jackson and Madison struck a balance between fresh and familiar that felt right to thousands of parents. The -er and -son styles proved enduring and flexible, from the elegant (Chandler) to the vigorous (Ranger), the old-time (Jefferson) to the new-fangled (Dawson).
Suppose you're the type who is drawn to these names, but you feel they've become a little too ubiquitous. (If you're actually the type drawn to names like Ezekiel, Fernando, or Bob, just play along for kicks.) Is there a successor to the -ers and -sons in sight? Here's one candidate: -man.
The -man names are just as familiar but nobody's using them for baby names. More than 80 -er and -son surnames make the top-1000 baby name charts; the only -man names are Coleman and Norman. Most of the 'mans come from old English and German surnames based on personal descriptions or, like Tyler and Carter, occupations. (Not all of those occupations were romantically rugged, by the way. A "Spencer" was a pantry servant, while a "Harriman" was a servant to someone named Harry.)
Up until now, the -man names have been represented mostly by "soft" examples like Norman and Sherman. Use some crunchier consonants and you discover a font of contemporary machismo. The nicknames have particular promise. Some choices, like Jackman, are creative formal versions for popular nicknames. Others like Tillman and Beckman offer up whole new nicknames with a masculine punch.
In fact, the masculinity of the entire genre may appeal to parents wary of the androgyny of names like Addison and Taylor. (If you want to avoid an androgynous future, just steer clear of names that shorten to feminine-sounding nicknames: Holliman, Merriman.) Names like Spearman and Bowman rival the machismo of Ranger and Gunnar...and I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Rodman has no future as a girl's name.
So whadya say, surname lovers? Want to start a trend? Here's a starter list to spark some ideas:
Back in December, I invited you all to submit nominations for the Baby Name Wizard 2006 Name of the Year. I just chanced on the list of nominations again and something about them struck me funny. It was an image, a feeling...could it be the separate nominations of these three names?
You are growing sleepy...
It is the mid 1980s. The hottest genre on tv is "boy-girl" detective shows where the stars wallow in sexual tension as they capture criminals, defuse bombs, and fire off witty repartee....
If you too were an adolescent girl at that time, I dare you to suppress a nostalgic grin at titles like "Moonlighting," "Remington Steele" and even "Scarecrow and Mrs. King." Any chance that nostalgia is creeping into your baby name ideas? It was the suggestions of both Remington and Steele that really leapt out at me, but Bruce Willis' character on "Moonlighting" was most often called by his surname, Addison. As for Cybill Shepard's character, her impact on names was more immediate. The name Madeline, in all its spellings, had been languishing for decades until Madolyn "Maddie" Hayes hit the screen:
But not everybody back then was a "Moonlighting" fan. If your taste ran to a little less talk and a lot more action, you probably watched Fred Dreyer and Stepfanie Kramer in "Hunter." That graph looks much the same. The name Devon got a big boost from an '80s crime show too, and Colt was raised from obscurity overnight.
Do we have the makings of a micro-genre? It's a stretch, but oh-so tempting. Here's my top-10 list of less common baby names inspired by 1980s detective series. I've thrown in buddy shows and lone eagles as well as the boy-girl pairs. How many do you recognize?
Matlock (from two different series!)
My Baby Name Wizard Name of the Year choices are about baby names as cultural tokens. I look for trends, shifts, and reflections of the zeitgeist. But names are a broad topic. Two other "Name of the Year" winners show off very different concepts of what's new and notable in the wide world of names.
The American Name Society is a scholarly group devoted to onomastic research. Their Name of the Year (NOTY), crowned at the annual ANS conference, isn't limited to names of humans. It can be a place name, a name of a product or an event or a movement -- virtually anything that Society members consider interesting as a name-based phenomenon. Their 2006 selection: Pluto. That was the year when the celestial object Pluto was officially demoted from its longstanding position as a planet in our solar system. (It is now considered a mere "dwarf planet," subject to the derision of Uranus and Neptune.) The ANS president explained the NOTY designation: "Our members believe the great emotional reaction of the public to the demotion of Pluto shows the importance of Pluto as a name. We may no longer believe in the Roman god Pluto, but we still have a sense of personal connection with the former planet."
It's a provocative suggestion, that the public reaction to the "loss" of the planet was based on its name. Would a less attractively named planet not be missed? (See ya, Uranus?) Or perhaps it's simply the fact that the planet had a proper name at all. From that perspective, the choice of Pluto as NOTY could be seen as a statement on the fundamental power of naming. If that giant rock had just been "Planet #9," maybe its demotion wouldn't have left us feeling so unsettled by a world in which nothing is certain.
At the other end of the NOTY spectrum lies the Name of the Year Blog, a decidedly non-scholarly group devoted to the sport of name-ogling. Though that's probably not how they'd prefer to put it. In their own words, they aim "to discover, verify, nominate, elect, and disseminate great names." Their definition of great can be seen in past years' winners such as Crescent Dragonwagon, Tokyo Sexwale, and Nimrod Weiselfish. This NOTY competition is a long-running game, opened to the public for the first time this year. If you want to make your voice heard, fill out their ballot by March 31.