All the Fins in the Sea

Feb 10th 2009

Here's a stylish name: Finn.  It's swift, simple, and traditional, and its popularity is rising fast.  In the Nordic lands, Finn stems from the Old Norse Finnr (wanderer).  In Ireland, Finn comes from Fionn meaning white or fair.  It's associated with the legendary hero Finn McCool (Fionn mac Cumhaill), who in various legends had either pale blond or prematurely white hair.

There's no question that Finn is a "legitimate" full name.  But here in America, one syllable somehow isn't full enough.  American parents often get squeamish about short names, finding them too informal or insubstantial for a legal birth certificate.  Not to worry, though. Both origins of Finn offer multisyllabic solutions.  If you lean toward the Nordic, you could go with the Icelandic form Finnur which, like much of Icelandic naming, hews close to the old Norse roots.  Finn also works as a combining element to produce names like Finnbjørn, Torfinn and Dagfinn.  On the Irish side you'll find more names built off of the Fionn element, including Finbar and Fintan. Problem solved...right?

OK, back to reality. Your local playground isn't hopping with Finbars and Finnbjørns.  Those names are too big a fashion leap for most American parents.  The trick is to extend the name without straying too far from the sweet spot of current style.  The most popular solution: Surnames.

Just as Gray became Grayson and Colt became Colton, Finn is growing suffixes that lend it a new surname style.  Take a look at the boys' names beginning with FIN in the NameVoyager.  Finn first hit the top 1000 in the year 2000; Finley and Finnegan followed a few years' later.

Finlay is actually a classic given name in Scotland, the Anglicized form of Fionnlagh.  It's currently the 13th most popular name for Scottish boys.  In the U.S., though, Finlay/Finley has always been more familiar as a surname.  Looking U.S. census records, surname-Finleys have consistently outnumbered firstname-Finleys by a ratio of 6 to 1.  That surname association is reflected in our spelling preference, too.  We go with the "e" version Finley, which traditionally is much more standard for a last name than a first.

Finnegan, in contrast, is unambiguously a surname.  Many parents find its length and heft appealingly formal.  (Ironically, it actually comes from a diminutive of Finn; think of it as Gaelic for "little Finny.")  To many parents, Finnegan has another big advantage over Finley, too.  If we're squeamish about a boy's name that sounds like a nickname, we positively quail at a boy's name that sounds like a girl.  Take a look now at the NameVoyager graph of girl's names starting with Fin.  Like Bailey, Kelsey, Shelby, and so many other -y surnames, Finley is becoming a baby-girl magnet.  So don't be surprised to see plenty of little boy Finnegans in America's future.  Or if you're pondering options for your own little Finn, just trust the name and take it straight.


By Abby (not verified)
February 10, 2009 11:37 AM

Hmmm ... I guess that means that Finnleigh, Fynnlie and Fynlea are coming soon to a playground near us.

I quite like Fiona - could a tomboy named Fiona go by Finn?

RFK Jr. has a son named William Finbar, so that one seems more familiar to me. Finnbjorn? Not so much.

February 10, 2009 11:51 AM

VP Joseph Biden has a 10-year-old granddaughter named Finnegan, the middle daughter of (Robert) Hunter Biden, Biden's younger son. Finnegan's sisters are Naomi, 14, and Maisy (nn for Mabel), 8. Finnegan was the maiden name of Biden's mother Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden.

February 10, 2009 11:57 AM

Finn and Finlay have been fairly popular boys' names in the Telegraph birth announcements. In 2007 Finn ranked 48 and Finlay, 54, among names given to baby boys. Finley and Finneas also appear in the 2007 birth announcements.

By Heather RC (not verified)
February 10, 2009 11:58 AM

What about Finty? I have heard it used on a female, but I'm not sure of its origins. Googled it and found some references as girl's name and surname.

I know of a 7 or under male Finnagan. I thought he wore it well. Not sure if he goes by Finn. I believe his siblings were Georgi@n@ and Tenni5on (m).

February 10, 2009 12:04 PM

I think Finley may not sound masculine enough for many American parents looking for a name for their baby boy, while on the other hand, the 'ley' ending could easily turn Finley into a girl's name.

As for Finnegan, at first glance it doesn't sound like a girl's name to me (unless it's being used as a family name), but then again, Megan/Finnegan. I can see this name being taken over by girls too.

February 10, 2009 12:23 PM

I enjoyed this little article. Finnegan and Finley/Finlay are great names. Finn can also be a nickname for Phinneus or Finoula.

I can relate to Laura's assertion that "American parents often get squeamish about short names, finding them too informal or insubstantial for a legal birth certificate." My husband and I are considering the name 'Ada' for our daughter who will be joining us in June. I do kind of want this to be a nickname for something else (however, neither Adelaide nor Adeline appeal. I also wish 'Ada' didn't sound like 'Ate a'... but admit to probably over-thinking it!)

If any readers have any thoughts on this particular name conundrum, I'd happily accept thoughts and guidance.

By Elizabeth in Canada (not verified)
February 10, 2009 12:15 PM

Interesting. My guess is that Finnegan may not end up being as popular a form in Canada as many of us grew up watching Casey and Finnegan on Mr. Dressup and therefore associate the name with a dog puppet - loveable though he was!

My other association with Finnegan is the song Tim Finnegan's Wake, also not something I would want to associate with a baby. I do like Finn/Fin a lot, but for an elongated form I would certainly choose Finley.

By Joni
February 10, 2009 12:38 PM

Elizabeth in Canada, I know that song - Tim Finnegan's Wake too. :) Most American's won't know that song though.

Corazon, I too was going to mention Phinnaeus. Julia Roberts has a son named that. Finnaus? Finnaeus? I am guessing that Fionola is too much for the American.

By IrishPoliticsPhD (not verified)
February 10, 2009 12:52 PM

Ah yes. Mr Dressup. Why is it only in Canada that the literary glory of Joyce's Finnegan's Wake could be over-ruled by a dog-shaped hand puppet? But then again, we Canucks never had a reciprocal issue with "Casey".

It is interesting, to my mind, that Americans feel the need to "lengthen" a name in order to give it legitmiacy, only to "shorten" it to what they really wanted in the first place.

Building on what Laura said re: Irish names - almost all "root" or "base" names are quite short, comparatively, and diminutives are built on to them - i.e. a "nickname" becomes longer and more descriptive.

Final thought: "Fiona" is actually an invention of an 18th-C Scottish author, derived from the more traditional (and so much longer) Fionnualagh. So, rather than Finn as a nn, should we just skip the middleman and call her "F"?

By Guest (not verified)
February 10, 2009 1:06 PM

Finn can also be short for Griffin. Sort of. I think it's a stretch, but tons of people do William/Liam.

By Heather DollarStoreCrafts (not verified)
February 10, 2009 1:20 PM

I love Finn, but it doesn't work with my last name (a one-syllable name with 2 n's at the end! :))

I like what #10 said about Griffin and Finn... good idea!

By Elizabeth in Canada (not verified)
February 10, 2009 1:21 PM

IrishPoliticsPhD, I think people often have multiple associations with Casey, but Finnegan is sort of a Canadian child's Cher - there is only one you heavily associate with. ;)

February 10, 2009 1:29 PM

Well, for those who don't like the name Finnbjorn, there is the Viking age name Finnbogi (see the Saga of Finnbogi the Strong) still in use in Iceland today. The president of Iceland was for many years Vigdis Finnbogadottir, whose father was, of course, named Finnbogi. Just a suggestion :-).

By another amy (not verified)
February 10, 2009 2:09 PM

The only Finley I know is actually FynnLee--a toddler girl named after her grandfathers somehow. Both of them--thus the capital in the middle of the name.

By Kat (not verified)
February 10, 2009 2:18 PM

What about Phinneas, with Fin or Phin as a nickname?

By QuelleBelle (not verified)
February 10, 2009 2:24 PM

I was worried about this. The name Finn has been a favorite of mine ever since I read A Separate Peace by John Knowles in high school. One of the main characters is Phineas; he goes by Finny for short. I had issues with the name Phineas because a friendly organization called the Ph1n3@s Pr13sth00d ruined it for me (thanks, guys!). Finn was the name I settled on as a great alternative. Now it's climbing the popularity charts. Ah well, I guess that means I have good taste...?

By cileag (not verified)
February 10, 2009 2:30 PM

I've heard several Finians too lately, so with all the variations, it's becoming quite popular.

February 10, 2009 3:01 PM

There's also the Welsh girls' name Ffion, pronounced fee-on.

February 10, 2009 3:17 PM

My problem with Finn is that it sounds white, like you should come from Finland. I don't think it fits for an Asian baby or Hispanic baby, or really any non-blond baby.

I like the name though. If I were a blonde caucasian, the names Finn and Annika would definitely have been on my list!

February 10, 2009 3:21 PM

BTW, thanks for the comments on the last post regarding the list of names from my daughter's Elementary School. Just to clarify, these were only the unusual names. The majority of names were of the top 100 sort. Also, I don't know most of the kids since my daughter is just in kindergarten so I can't provide any clarifications regarding actual usage. I did note, however, a few interesting sibling sets listed in the directory, so I'll post those when I get around to it.

February 10, 2009 3:29 PM

I knew Finn had made it as a name when I read the back of the goldfish crackers box. The four goldfish are named:


A little something for just about everyone I think!

I'm surprised by how much I like Finn, because it isn't really what I consider my "style". I do think it sounds like a nn, but would hesitate to give a kid most of the names suggested as the "long" name.

I often call my son Tim Finnegan after the song, which is admittedly, not a children's verse. Somehow it fits him though.

February 10, 2009 6:33 PM

The only American babies I've ever known named Finley are both red-haired toddler girls of Scotch-Irish extraction. Both families hold Ph.D.'s and are urban intellectuals. Then there are also the celebrity baby Finleys - Angie Harmon Seahorn's daughter, Finley Faith; and Lisa Marie Presley's daughter, Finley Lockwood (twin sister to Harper).

As someone mentioned in the last thread, Finn reminds me too much of the French word "fin" meaning "end." For a francophone, it would seem a particularly odd choice for a newborn. I agree that this is a very "white" kind of name currently, as Tirzah said in comment #20, though I also think of redheads along with blondes.

February 10, 2009 3:42 PM

Personal News Update: My sister found out that her 4th of July baby is a *boy*! We are all kind of shocked since everyone thought it was going to be a girl. (Personally, I was hoping for a girl because I have many more girl naming ideas, not to mention a ton of little girl clothes.)

Here's the profile of the new baby: He will be half Chinese, half Mexican. The last name is Morales. He will be the first born.

So far, the front runners are August (nn Auggie, not Gus) and Weston (nn West, not Wes). I think Dad likes West because it's a minor character in Heroes, the tv show.

Dad also likes Logan (a la Xman); Mom says it's too popular. Dad likes Benicio (like de la Toro); neither like the nn Benny. Mom already nixed my suggestions of Jasper and Oliver. She had a somewhat positive reaction to the suggestion of Sebastian. She didn't like any of my "last names as first names" suggestions, other than Weston. Grandma is pushing for Everest, but Mom is lukewarm on that.

(BTW, the girl front runners were Paloma, Kira (nn Kiki) and Juniper! Good luck deriving a style from that! LOL!)

Please provide suggestions! Thanks!

By Guest (not verified)
February 10, 2009 4:36 PM

RE: Finn sounding like a white name, the only time I've actually heard it applied is on the t.v. show Law & Order: SVU, where it is the name of Ice-T's character (an African-American), short for Odafin Tutuola. So I guess there's a totally different "long" version of Finn...

By Liz & Louka (not verified)
February 10, 2009 4:47 PM

I knew a Torfinn at school in Norway. I like that name. Actually thought he was called "Dolphin" the first time I heard it.

February 10, 2009 4:56 PM

Re Finn sounding 'white'--

In its Irish incarnation it means 'white', so, yeah.

February 10, 2009 5:11 PM

My dictionary of Scottish Forenames gives still another 'Fin...' name:

"Finan (m) Gaelic, but the meaning is obscure. The earliest known person of the name was a Scot from Iona, who was Bishop of Lindisfarne, c. 651-61. The MacLennans derive their patronymic from McGill'inan, whose father, Gillie Fhinan, in the thirteenth century, was named in honour of the Irish Saint Finan. Finan also became a personal name in the Highlands..."

Because of it's currently popular -an ending, I think Finan could be a good choice for parents wanting a longer form of Fin/Finn for their son.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 10, 2009 5:25 PM

Tirzah-How about Niko?

Well, I'm clearly a sucker for trends, and I love Finn.
It has that wholesome, storybook quality to my ear-much like Sam or Charlie.
Maybe it's the Huck Finn association, but I picture a Finn with a splash of freckles and a twinkle in his eye.
Although my book club recently read the novel, Finn, by Jon Clinch, which is sort of the back story of Huckleberry's dad.
Verrrry dark-don't read it if you're considering the name.
Finn also reminds me of one of my other guilty favorites-Shepard nn Shep.

Would love to hear more about Phineas.
I'd say Finley is definitely DOA as a boy's name-much like Riley et. al.

Corazon-I love Ada. You could do Adele or Adair-I'm constantly pushing that one.
Addison might work also. I'm not a fan of that one personally, but it's kind of a fun idea to take something very contemporary and do a classic as a nn.
You could also do something less obvious-Isadora, maybe?

February 10, 2009 5:28 PM

In the entry for Finlay (m), the dictionary of Scottish Forenames gives some old forms of the name which is from the Gaelic Fionnladh, 'fair hero':

Finlaec - genitive form c. 1467

Fionnlaoich - in a poetic chronicle c.1070

Findlaech and Finnleikr (Gaelic and Norse) - given in various sources as the name of MacBeth's father (who died c. 1020)

February 10, 2009 5:44 PM

>29 J&H's mom suggested, "How about Niko?"

Tirzah, coincidentally my newest baby grandson, whose ethnicity is very similar that of your nephew -- Asian (Vietnamese)/Hispanic (Ecuadorian) -- was named Nicholas and will probably be called "Nico" some of the time.

It all depends on what your sister and her husband prefer linguistically for their son's first and middle names -- Chinese, Spanish, or all-American like several of the names you mentioned. I have 5 grandsons of similar ethnicity to your nephew and all have classic English language first names and middle names, except for Nicholas Alberto. On the other hand, my grandsons of Korean ethnicity have classic English first names and Korean middle names. That would seem to be the first naming decision your sister and her husband need to make: do they want to give their son a name from one or both of his ethnic backgrounds. There's a big linguistic difference between Benicio and Weston.

February 10, 2009 6:45 PM

@Corazon - Like Laura has wisely suggested re: the name Finn, "Just trust the name and take it straight." (Love that one, Laura!) Ada is both substantial enough and traditional enough as a stand-alone FN. I see no need to resort to lengthening to then arrive at Ada as a "nickname." Could you tell us a bit more about why the lengthening idea appeals to you? Is it because Ada is a bit similar in length and sound to the more popular Ava? Do tell. (BTW, I love the name Corazon.)

@Tirzah - As the LN is Latino, I'd aim for a decidedly non-Latino FN, and a Chinese MN to represent the child's wonderful multi-ethnic background. How about Miles? The idea of an August born in July recalls the recent posts about monthly naming. ;)

By Joni
February 10, 2009 7:14 PM

Tirzah, how about Stian? stee-ann, as in the back half of Sebastian or Christian. I know a boy named this, and it's not short for anything either.

By Sophie (not verified)
February 10, 2009 7:29 PM

From a UK point of view, Finn/Finlay are seen only as male names.
In the National Statistics for 2007, no female Fin names were in the top 2000 names. I can't see Finn/Finlay ever being seen as anything other than boys' names here as they are so strongly seen as masculine.

I can understand the likes of Bailey, Harper, Riley etc being used as girls' names as they are surnames. But Finlay, Dylan, Rory and the like are forenames; the surnames come from the forenames;

Finlay is a handsome, stylish name that has been on my list forever. I hope to get to use it someday.

By Guest (not verified)
February 10, 2009 7:52 PM

I know of Finns and Finlays (there are quite a few of them here in England) who are dark haired and it suits them fine.

In fact here is one of them (he's a Finlay) - Friend of the family. Cute huh?

February 10, 2009 7:58 PM

Funny someone should mention Griffin. I know a 15mo old boy named Griffin/called Fin.

By Guest (not verified)
February 10, 2009 8:29 PM

My two-month old son is Phineas, a name from Greek mythology (Jason and the Argonauts) and then present again in the Bible. As someone mentioned earlier, the Biblical reference and an extreme group associated with such sully the name (things we only discovered after the fact, likewise with the Disney TV show Phineas and Ferb--I personally hope it runs its course long before my guy reaches school age). The commonly held meaning is "seer" as the Greek Phineas was believed to have the gift of prophecy. We go with the nn Phin.

By J&H's mom (not verified)
February 10, 2009 8:42 PM

Tirzah: Here is the list I came up with as possible style matches to those your sister is considering.
I don't know whether they would work culturally or not.
Zane, Milo, Vincent, Van, Arlo, Forest, Julian, Jude, Ronan, Blaze/Blaise, Maxford, Asa, Enzo, Grady, Leon, Oscar

By Aybee (not verified)
February 10, 2009 10:07 PM

I just got back from a trip so I've missed a lot of comments but I wanted to share with you some under-3 names from the plane:

Marris (g)
(Spelling for both was discussed)

and the one that stood out the most to me, Annika (pronounced ANN-icka). Anyone else heard that before?

Also, a former classmates baby- Colton James. I think it's sweet.

By Amy3
February 10, 2009 10:17 PM

Corazon -- I think you should use Ada on its own. As the owner of a short name, I can attest that there is something very nice about them. We shouldn't all just lengthen for the sake of lengthening. (In the same way, if I were to choose the name Finn, which I do like but will never use, I'd "take it straight" too.)

By Aybee (not verified)
February 10, 2009 10:19 PM


I like August.
Some others that might fit-- (I'm discounting Benicio because it seems to be the only name of that style):

I'll second Julian!


By Amy3
February 10, 2009 10:39 PM

Tirzah -- I also like August. Or Abraham, Solomon, and my perennial fave Laszlo.

By Prairie Dawn (not verified)
February 10, 2009 10:58 PM

Tirzah-- August is great. Also, allow me to offer up two names that were cut from my short list by dh:
Orlando (nn Orly)
Lorenzo (nn Enzo, which was already suggested-- LOVE IT!)

And speaking of my short list, I think it's time to share! Here is my short list for boy names. Baby is due end of March and we don't know the sex. Please share input; specifically, I'm looking for thoughts on the trendiness (current or potential) of these names. I really don't want to choose a name that will be the next Max (or Finn?!). My dh seems to have more reservations regarding boy names than he does with girl names, so coming up with this list has been a little challenging. This baby will be a sib to Lucia (Loo-SEE-ah, nn Lulu). Without further ado...

Elias (nn Eli)
Alexander (nn Alex)
Desmond (nn Desi)

Desmond is my favorite of the bunch but my husband worries that our kids will be immediately labeled Lucy and Desi (even though our dd goes by Lulu, *never* Lucy).
I have been falling asleep and waking up thinking about these names-- any input you can provide is very much appreciated!

February 10, 2009 11:38 PM

Aybee, Annika (spelled various ways: Anika, Anneke, Anneka. Annike) is a diminutive of Anna in several different Germanic languages (Dutch, German, Swedish). I have known several myself, mostly Dutch, but at least one with a Scottish surname.

By another amy (not verified)
February 10, 2009 11:56 PM

a few thoughts while I avoid grading a few minutes longer....

1. I thought Aybee was referencing the odd pronunciation? I've always heard it as AHN-ika, not ANN-ika.

the one Annika I know has a Scottish surname. She's about 7.

2. Tirzah --I like August too, I wish we could have used it. Lazlo though, is super cool. I might pair it with a more ordinary middle name though, just in case its true that boys don't like unusual names as much as girls!

3. Prarie Dawn--I know piles and piles of kids named Alex. Boys and girls. It seems like a more venerable name to me than Max, but its certainly at that saturation point, at least where I live. Its a good name though.

Lulu is such a quirky nickname that only Desi seems to fit. i'm trying to focus on the given name though and I can't seem to decide...I know a number of jonas/jonah boys as well.

February 11, 2009 12:55 AM

The only Annika I have met is a young 30'something German girl. Who, of course, pronounces it like she is from Germany.

By Kristin (not verified)
February 11, 2009 1:07 AM

Our girl's name is Annika (if we have a girl). We chose it because it's kind of a combo of my husband's mother's name and my mother's name (Annie and Kay), and because I had good associations based on the character from Pippi Longstocking named Annika. I wanted Ahn-ika, hubby wanted Ann-ika. I finally gave in to pronouncing it the way my husband likes, but we may swing back the other way before it's over. (unless we get a boy instead, in which case the point is moot!)

February 11, 2009 2:13 AM

Thank you so much to those who replied to my request for help with 'Ada.' You all offered up very helpful input :)

I think part of the reason I have/had the interest in having this be a version of a longer name is my personal experience of wanting to tailor my own name to fit me. My name is Corinne. My parents always planned this to be shortened to a (mid 70's) unisex name 'Corey.' Around age five I completely rejected Corey, having met one boy with that name. That being said, I think sticking with 'Ada' and having a usable middle name could work out quite well. Adele and Adair are very nice names too though...

Thanks again for your replies, I'll post again at some point.

By Joni
February 11, 2009 2:34 AM

Aybee, I know about 5 girls named Annika. :)

By Kristin (not verified)
February 11, 2009 3:23 AM

Joni, oh dear, you're making me nervous ... though, where do you live? I'm in the South, and so far no one I've told about the name has even heard of it before. It was at #380 on the national top 1,000 for 2007, and it's been holding steady at about that level for the past few years.

Also, I need advice from the NEs! We'd like a family name for our potential boy name, but it's been tough to come up with. My DH's dad is Mac Arthur (goes by Mac), and my dad's name is Michael Wayne. I like the name Michael, but we know too many people with that name. We've tentatively settled on Charles Arthur (my grandmother and DH's grandfather were both Charlie), and plan to call him Arthur, with Charles or Charlie as a back-up if Arthur turns out to be too much for a kid.

But is Charles Arthur too pretentious sounding? It is two king names after all!

Eh, I just can't get excited about the name Arthur like I can about Annika. Half the people in the family mispronounce it Author, which would endlessly bug me. And it's lacking in fun nicknames - Art or Artie are NMS at all.

Any advice? I've looked into other-language variations of Michael and Arthur, but haven't come up with much. My husband won't go for anything like Misha or Michel, and I already have a cousin named Micah.

When we're joking around, we refer to our future child as Miguel Arturo or Mackel.