Why is Addison now a girl's name while Harrison is still all male? The answer is in the nicknames. Addison trims down to girlish Addie, Harrison to boyish Harry.
In the new unisex world of surname baby names, a name's root can be destiny. Names like Jefferson and Finnegan are anchored to the male side by the familiar nicknames Jeff and Finn. Even without nicknames, a hard-edged start can make a name like Braxton distinctly male.
If you like surnames with a classically masculine sound, check out the names below. All are familiar as surnames but uncommon as baby names, and are built off roots that signal "boy." Those roots set the names' style for today, and make them likely bets to keep that style for the long term.
Clark Kent baby names: nickname as alter ego
Can you sum up a baby naming era in a single pair of names? Let's give it a try: Donald and Betty. Gary and Deborah. Austin and Alexis. None of those names ever hit #1 on the popularity charts, but they were the most characteristic baby names of 1930, 1953 and 1996 respectively.
I've identified the characteristic names of every year since 1900 -- the names most distinctively popular at that time compared to other eras. Some of the names did become #1 hits, but many others defined their fashion times without ever reaching the top spot. Each year's boy/girl name pair represents a moment in American culture.
Scroll through the name style timeline below. I think you'll feel time itself scrolling along with with you.
American parents love Celtic names. We've adopted scores of Irish, Scottish and Welsh favorites across the generations. Think of Douglas and Eileen, Brian and Bridget, Ryan and Megan, Liam and Riley. But how many hit names can you think of from Cornwall, Brittany or the Isle of Man?
Cornish, Breton and Manx are the "other" Celtic languages, mostly neglected in the baby name hunt. Even the massive triumph of the Cornish-ish name Jennifer didn't turn the tide. It's not surprising, given the greater size and influence of the other three traditions. More than 30 million Americans claim Irish ancestry, while the total population of the Isle of Man is just 87,545.
Style is a factor too. Breton names often sound French rather than Celtic to American ears, and some Cornish and Manx names can frankly sound like off-brand Lord of the Rings characters. ("I Can't Believe It's Not Tolkien: The Manx Adventures of Gilno and Sandulf!")
Don't give up yet, though. The very unfamiliarity and otherworldliness of these names can work to their advantage. I've scoured the less-traveled corners of Celtic heritage and come up with a name list that carries a surprising air of valor, romance and adventure. You might be inspired to name a baby, or at least to write a fantasy novel.
(Note that pronunciations of many of these names vary with location.)
Elowen (eh-LOH-in): Wondering how Tolkein missed this one? Elowen is a modern name, from the Cornish for "elm tree." Its use is spreading beyond Cornwall.
Kerensa/Kerenza (kə-REHN-zə): The Cornish word for "love," Kerensa has multiple equally popular spellings.
Emblyn (EHM-blin): This medieval form of Emmeline remained in use in Cornwall for centuries, though it's rare in modern usage.
Veryan (VEHR-ee-ən): The Cornish village of Veryan took its name from its patron saint Symphorian via a process of linguistic corruption: Symphorian --> Severian --> St. Veryan. While the saint was male, the name is somewhat more common for girls today.
Delen (DEHL-ən): This modern name is the Cornish word for "leaf" or "petal."
Endellion (ehn-DEHL-yən, ehn-DEHL-ee-ən): A saintly classic with fairy-tale style. St. Endellion was said to be a daughter of the legendary 5th-century King Brychan, and a village in Cornwall is named for her.
Cador (CAD-ohr): The Cornish ruler Sir Cador is straight out of Arthurian legend. The name remains more familiar as legend than as a baby name, and still sounds valiant.
Locryn (LAWK-rin): Legends tell us that spurned Queen Gwendolen assembled an army in Cornwall to defeat King Locrinus of the Britons. The King's name survives in the Cornish name Locryn, which has been revived somewhat in modern Cornwall.
Lowen (LŌ-en): A modern name taken from the Cornish word for "happy," Lowen is a unisex name in Cornwall today.
Zennor (ZEHN-er): The name of a Cornish village, from the local name for Saint Senara. Used for girls as well.
Jory (JOR-ee): A Cornish form of George, Jory could also work as a youthful nickname for that formal classic.
Talek (TAL-ehk): Cornish writer E. G. Retallack Hooper, a 20th-century Grand Bard of Cornwall, adopted the bardic name Talek ("big-browed"). It developed some momentum as a baby name in his wake.
Enora (eh-NOH-rə): The Breton form of Honora, this name has gained popularity in the past generation.
Katell (KA-tell): A rare French "K" name, Katell is a Breton form of Katherine.
Briac (bree-AK, BREE-ahk): An old Breton Saint's name, Briac is a linguistic relative of familiar Celtic names like Brian and Bridget.
Mael (MIY-ayl, MIYL): Mael is currently the most popular name of Breton heritage. It's typically written Maël in French, and the feminine version Maëlle is nearly as popular.
Calybrid (KAH-lee-breed): The Caly- prefix was attached to various saints' names and meant "devotee/servant of"; in this case, "devotee of St. Brigid." Gil- was the male counterpart, and both prefixes can also stand alone.
Finlo (FIN-loh): A Manx classic built around the popular root Finn ("white, fair").