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Is the Surname Era Coming to an End?

May 10, 2024 namerology 5 Comments

Is the Surname Era Coming to an End?

May 10, 2024 Namerology 5 Comments

The year’s fastest-falling baby names point away from a popular style.

Down arrow with list of familiar English surnames

Madison, Mason, Jackson. Tyler, Taylor, Harper. English surnames have been a backbone of the past generation of baby name style, but that era may be drawing to a close. Not one of the hundred fastest-rising names of last year was a surname, not even an alternate spelling.

Meanwhile, take a look at the fastest-falling names of the year:

  1. Everleigh (F)
  2. Jaxon (M)
  3. Everly (F)
  4. Dior (M)
  5. Aiden (M)
  6. Greyson (M)
  7. Jaxson (M)
  8. Ava (F)
  9. Kyler (M)
  10. Ryleigh (F)

I count 7 out of 10 surname-ish names, with other familiar favorites like Lincoln, Wyatt and Jameson close behind.

I doubt that we’ve seen the last of surname-based baby names. More likely, it’s just a movement away from a set of especially popular sounds like -son and -er. New surname styles will continue to emerge, like the recent round of -s name (Brooks, Collins, Wells). But -son and -er aren’t just any endings. They’re at the heart of English surname traditions.

English surnames are frozen moments in time, reflecting the era when common people first started using family names. Imagine a world where the top handful of given names, led by John and Mary, accounted for a vast swath of the population. People had to refer to others by their personal roles and connections. Maybe one John was Will’s son, or Tom’s (Wilson, Thompson). Perhaps another John milled grain, or sewed clothes (Miller, Taylor). Four of the top 10 most common English surnames take those forms, and further options abound. Even if you don’t know what a Spencer or Fuller did, even if you can’t guess what names Lawson and Simpson came from, their forms are immediately familiar.

Few other surname styles can compete. We’ve also run through most of the likely presidential surnames, from Madison to Carter. As these baby names decline, they’ll inevitably take some of our culture’s surname sound with them.

Namerology
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5 Comments

  • holey
    holey May 11, 2024 at 4:19 am

    How you decide which names are surname-names and which aren’t? Some are obvious, but what about names like Benjamin or Elliot? Are you looking more particularly for names that are, as you said, “surname-ish” – like ending in -son, -er or -ley?

    • Namerology
      Namerology May 11, 2024 at 4:59 pm

      That’s an excellent question! In this case the focus was surname STYLE rather than usage. For instance, even though Benjamin is a more common surname than Kyler, its primary style is biblical given name. (It’s an admittedly subjective criterion that fit the purpose for a quick trend report–I’d likely try to break it down more rigorously for a deeper statistical analysis.)

      • LikeToPivotPivot
        LikeToPivotPivot May 12, 2024 at 9:01 pm

        Please please take a run at that question! I’d love to see your approach to this. I suspect it really is about strongest cultural association at the time it trended. Gary is technically a surname but Gary Cooper might have been the only association. Tiffany is a bit like Dior, a luxury brand surname, but then again did the brand Laura Ashley launch Ashley for girls? People still pick out Taylor as a surname name but not Tyler. What about all the Stuart, Howard, Sydney, etc from the 1920s? Did Morgan sound like a surname when Morgan Fairchild picked it as her stage name?

    • HungarianNameGeek
      HungarianNameGeek May 12, 2024 at 3:07 pm

      I think that determining whether it’s a surname used as a given name or a given name used as a surname comes down to timing: which came first? Yes, Benjamin and Elliot both occur as surnames, but they’re both unmarked patronymics, meaning they originate as given names.

      The count needs to be one higher, though: Dior is also a surname. It’s just French rather than English.

  • holey
    holey May 16, 2024 at 5:44 pm

    I guess the comments here have highlighted an important point, which is: Do the parents know that the name is a surname or think of it that way?

    We all consider Taylor to be a surname name, but then we are name nerds. Maybe a lot of the parents choosing it don’t consider it to be a surname name at all! That is, I’m sure they’re aware that it is used as a surname, but they might not really notice that it’s only recently been promoted to “common given name.”

    HungarianNameGeek’s example of Dior is a good one. Even though I know its usage in the US comes from the name Christian Dior, it’s not filed away in my brain under “surname names,” but rather under “brand/luxury names.”

    Then again, if we’re looking at STYLE, as Laura is, then I guess the origins and perceptions aren’t nearly as important as the sound and structure of the name.

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