New surname suggestions for a (grownup) friend

A friend of mine is looking to change her surname, as she has never felt a positive connection to the portion of the family who share the surname, and it was involved in very traumatic bullying throughout her childhood. She will also be changing her very filler-y middle name at the same time, but she'll be deciding on it after she figured out what her new surname will be.

She is NOT interested in picking a different surname from her family tree. The only family members she has a clan-affinity with have a surname that is really terrible with her first name.

What she would like instead is a surname that meets the following criteria:

  • It should work well for all areas of her life, including as a writer, so it "should look good on a book jacket". It will not just be a nom-de-plum, though! She'll change her name legally by court-order and then change it officially both professionally and personally.
  • It should work well with her first name, Dawn, which she really likes for its positive, bright association.
  • The new surname, however, should counter and balance out the name Dawn's cheery optimism. She is specifically looking for a surname that is "darker, but with an essence of resilience."
  • The most important thing to her is to get that meaning right - she wants something dark that reflects inner turmoil, to honor some very rough things she's lived through.
  • Any origin or language is okay - no preference there.

Traditional surnames are okay, but she's also open to words from other languages that don't have any history of use as a name, so long as works in seeming surnamey without being distracting in the English language.

Names that she has liked but that don't quite work include:

  • Ghede (because it would be a "reflection of inner demons and dealing with them")
  • Han (which she said is a concept signalling "a deep despair, so deep you can't cry, but there is still hope").

I said I'd query you all for suggestions, even though it's off the usual given-name track for the forum, because we have some awesome linguistics knowledge packed into this forum!




February 22, 2013 3:27 AM

The first thing that came to mind is the perfectly traditional English surname Blake.  Blake is derived from the same Old English root that gives us both black and bleak/bleach.  This root combines both light and dark meanings, which may be suitable for your friend's state of mind.  While we normally think of light and dark, black and white as opposites, black and bleak both relate to a core meaning of colorlessness, being without hue.  Old English in fact pays very little attention to hue--typical Old English color words include bleak, wan, sallow, hoar, dun, and fallow.  The Anglo-Saxons were apparently more concerned with brightness, whether things were matte or glossy, than hue, whether they were red or green.  Indeed most modern English color words are French in origin..

February 22, 2013 4:48 AM

That is super-interesting backstory! I think would work well if her first name were less "brisk and breezy"-style in the same way that Blake is. But whether two one-syllable names pair well is entirely a matter of opinion - it worked for Brad Pitt! - so I'll suggest it to my friend. Philosophically, it's spot-on!

February 22, 2013 1:48 PM

Lots of John Smiths out there!  Or Blake could be expanded to Blakeley or some such.

By rfb
February 22, 2013 3:06 PM

Given that Dawn is the transition from night to day, or from dark to light, I think Blake or Blakeley is a brilliant suggestion!

February 22, 2013 4:31 PM

The more I think about it, the more I love it! I have emailed the idea to her and will see what she says! And Blakeley is a good elaboration if she feels it needs to be longer for balance.

February 23, 2013 2:26 PM

Update: friend says,

 "Thanks but Blake doesn't feel right - it doesn't evoke the same kind of mood as the other words I was considering. The reflective aspect is as important as the dark tint."  She also adds: "I do like how in depth their knowledge is about the names though - very cool! I love that there are forums dedicated to naming. The world blows my mind some days." I definitely second that part! Thanks for the awesome suggestion!

February 23, 2013 4:24 PM

Another thought is Kali after the Hindu goddess.  Kali comes from a root meaning black. She is the goddess of death and time, a slayer of demons.  But she also has a benign aspect, a symbol of salvation and triumph over death.  Your friend might find something resonant in the various seemingly contradictory aspects of this goddess.  There are also alternate forms of the goddess's name and epithets such as Kalika and Mahakali.

February 24, 2013 1:03 AM

So the previous comment made me think of something.  Granted, I'm not a linguistic expert, but I like the way "Kilauea" sounds.  It's the name of a famous volcano in Hawaii and it's pronouced "Kill-uh-way-uh."  Legend has it that if you remove a lava rock from the volcano, you'll be cursed with bad luck until it's returned to its rightful place.  Supposedly, every year, thousands of packages containing lava rocks are delivered to Honolulu's post offices from tourists who took a lava rock, experienced bad luck, and now want to return it to the island.

In keeping with the volcano theme, while I was in the Caribbean a few years ago, I hiked up a volcano called Mt. Soufriere.  I think "Soufriere" would make a nice surname; I like how it sounds French...

By hyz
February 25, 2013 12:09 PM

Ok, well, I really liked the Blake suggestion and rationale--not sure I have anything as good as that, but the first thing that came to mind for me was Sorrel.  The root word I believe means sour or bitter (and it sounds a bit like sorrow), but it is a traditional medicinal herb, so that's kind of a nice dichotomy--something sour which leads to healing, and I happen to think it sounds nice with Dawn, too.  For better or worse, sorrel is also used as a color word to refer to chestnut/reddish colored horses.  Along the same lines, slightly more literal, is bitterroot, another bitter medicinal plant.  Unlike Sorrel, though, it may be more "distracting" as a surname. 

Other ideas that sprang to mind were more religious in nature, like Dolores, or something in the Old English/Anglo-Saxon etc. bithematic tradition with an appropriate meaning--there may be better choices out there, but the first I came across were things like Aldith (old + battle), Eldred (old counsel), Everild (boar battle), Everard (brave/hardy boar), Wulfric/Ulric (wolf + power), or maybe one of the place names.  These aren't quite right, because I don't think the meanings are authentic, but I'm thinking of things like Huxley (which I've seen defined as "inhospitable place") or Calder (which I've seen as "rough waters", although I think the meaning is something more like cold stream).  Others here might be able to help more along these lines if it seems promising.

February 25, 2013 12:37 PM

I do like the way you are thinking about the English/Anglo-Saxon names.  Everard strikes me as a good one, but perhaps because I'm already familiar with it as a surname.

What about Brennan?  Behind the Surname had this to say about it.    From the Irish surname Ó Braonáin which means "descendent of Braonán". Braonán is a given name meaning "sorrow". It is comprised of braon "tear drop" and a diminutive suffix.

February 26, 2013 8:01 PM

I too would not seek to trump Blake, but wondered if something related to midwinter would fit the bill, what with the gathering darkness and then growing light?  Going down this route, British Baby Names' December names may give some inspiration.

I like hyz's botanical thinking - along those lines, maybe something connected with the yew, taxus baccata, the tree in churchyards, could work.

February 27, 2013 1:07 AM

You all are terrific!!! Thank you so much! I've passed this latest batch of suggestions on to my friend and am awaiting further direction from her as to whether any of these suggestions are closer!

I really like the botanical theme, too.

July 14, 2013 3:02 AM

My friend has two more suggestions that she wanted me to run by the name people because she said you were so knowledgable and helpful. They are Blave (sounds like Blaise, but with a V) and Yugen (yoo-gehn). The claim is that the latter is Japanese for "an awareness of the universe so deep/powerful it triggers emotional responses beyond words".

Thoughts about Dawn Blave or Dawn Yugen? How would you "parse" these names, in her words?

By Coll
July 14, 2013 4:57 PM

Going by the bookjacket test, I prefer Dawn Yugen to Dawn Blave. Blave seems off--like it should be Blake but isn't, or Brave but isn't (maybe that's why she likes it). But Yugen is interesting and striking in print. Then again, a book by an author with a Y last name would be shelved less conspicuously than other names. Though she'd be near any authors named Young--does she want to think about things as practical as that?

I've been thinking Nightshade as I read through these previous responses. Maybe it's too pat. But I like the contrast with Dawn and I like that it's dark and poisonous but also healthy--tomatoes and eggplants and peppers are all nightshades.

July 14, 2013 9:37 PM

I think Blave is a Princess Bride reference!

July 14, 2013 9:57 PM

"To Blave" is how Miracle Max misinterprets the dead Westley's utterance of "True Love" in The Princess Bride. MM then goes on to say that "to blave" means "to bluff". ( I think this reference contributes greatly to the feeling that Blave is somehow "off" as a name, especially when Billy Crystal's delivery of the word (emphasizing the "bla" part) is playing in the back of your head.

July 14, 2013 9:14 PM

My initial thoughts were to use the mythological creature, Phoenix, but to look at its translation (or similar mythological creatures) in different languages since she's obviously gone through fire and come out stronger & beautiful.  Of the ones I found, I like the Turkish one of Kerkes with Dawn best.  I think Dawn Kerkes has a nice ring to it.


July 17, 2013 3:38 PM

Dawn Kerkes is my fave of these names. I could really see it on a book jacket. 

July 20, 2013 10:33 AM

She would also be shelved alongside Stephen King if she used Kerkes.  :)

July 15, 2013 10:38 AM

Let's see...


Durant (I know it's alliterative) - 'enduring.'

Stainthorpe - 'a valley with stony ground.' To me, that would indicate that she grew from rocky soil.

Dolan (another alliteration) - 'black defiance; challenge.' Could represent a refusal to stay down.

Fortier - 'stronghold'

Guillory - 'strong-willed, powerful will'

July 15, 2013 11:57 AM

How about a symbol for rebirth, like Butterfly

Butterfly in other languages:

Mariposa - Spanish

Papillon - French

Vlinder - Dutch

Kelebek - Turkish

Motyl - Polish

Schmetterling - German



If she wants names that mean dark/black, there are variations on the word black in Russian that are used as last names like Czerny (chur-nee).

By ozy
July 17, 2013 8:16 PM

I was struck many years ago when I came across someone with the last name Tempesta - tempest, of course, referring to a turbulent storm, which conveys a dark image but could also signal reflection a la "the calm after the storm." It is sort of literal but maybe she would consider Dawn Tempest or Tempesta - in any case would probably be dramatic on a book cover!

July 17, 2013 10:48 PM

I rather like the idea of Rasa (as in Tabula Rasa) as a last name since your friend is, in a sense, wiping the slate clean. However, I can anticipate that pronunciation may be a problem with that spelling, and when spoken aloud could be confused with "La Raza," so while I like it in theory (and on a book jacket), it may not be great in practice.

With other philosophical ideas rolling around my mind, I also offer Qualia (referring to subjective experiences). It's not as inherently dark, but since subjective experiences cover all types, including dark ones, it may be worth considering.

Dawn Qualia could look very cool on a book jacket, especially with a middle initial thrown in for fun. :)

By nym
July 20, 2013 10:34 PM

What about Keening? It has a surname feel to it, sounding similar to names like Keating. Keen has the double meaning of sharp and resilient such as a keen edge or a keen wit. It can also mean a wailing lament for the dead, so it has a dark feeling with some strength to it. Here is the link to the definition. Hope that helps. Plus I like the sound of Dawn Keening.