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surnames as first names
Posted: 23 August 2007 08:54 AM   [ Ignore ]
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When I was trying to think of examples of earlier English first names for this post I came up with those of Elizabethan dramatists (pretentious? moi?) eg William, Christopher, Ben, Thomas, Philip, John, Cyril, Francis, Robert. All of these are completely unremarkable, even today.

Nowadays, however, we have numerous overt surnames doing work as first names eg Lowell, Preston, Anderson, Curtis, Craig, Connor, Elmore, Elton, Kelly (both sexes), Parker, Grant, Dean, Franklin, Burgess, Brett, Wayne, Charlton, Todd, Stryker, Stockard, Lee, Spencer, Wesley, Harrison, Austin, Blake, etc.
I have even identified a celebrity Scottish-surname subset: Cameron Diaz, Mackenzie Crook, Campbell Scott, Scott Glenn, Montgomery Clift, Kirk Douglas. Other actors with notable names are Pruit Taylor Vince and Shannon Elizabeth. There is also a Major Garrett (when a CNN anchor said “over to Major Garrett in Washington” I was genuinely surprised to see a young correspondent in civilian clothing).

Do other posters notice these names and find them at all incongruous? Obviously the parents who bestow them don’t and they might well want to honour dead branches of their families. A Dean I knew at school in the UK told me his mum had fancied Dean Martin which is another explanation accounting for all the Waynes and Shaynes. Or have these names been assimilated to such an extent that only I betray my age by remarking on them?

I had been trying to identify when this trend started and I had come up with Upton Sinclair and LLoyd George until I remembered the fictional Robinson Crusoe and Fletcher Christian, the mutineer! Maybe it is just a lot more blatant these days. Would you agree?

Is there the same phenomenon in other languages? I know Japanese names are strictly delineated and that Icelandic surnames are all --------son or ---------dottir (though compare Anderson Cooper). Germany has a list of approved first names to prevent Frou Frou Pixiedust Geldof-type humiliation at school.

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Posted: 23 August 2007 09:41 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I’m not up on the literature on personal names, but I’m fairly certain the subject has been extensively studied. You might want to check out the American Name Society and its journal Names for articles on the subject.

You may also want to check out the Baby Name Wizard, which has a neat Java interface to graphically display the popularity of various American names over the decades.

Also, be careful when looking at celebrity names as many of these are pseudonyms (e.g., Kirk Douglas). They have to be analyzed separately from names given at birth.

[ Edited: 23 August 2007 09:45 AM by Dave Wilton ]
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Posted: 23 August 2007 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Yes, Dave, though I was more wondering whether I am alone in finding such names striking. Is-it-just-me paranoia!
I know Kirk Douglas was Armenian but didn’t he notice he had adopted a sort of backwards name (Douglas Kirk would be more conventional)?
And Harrison Ford was unaware both were trad surnames?
It could be they wanted to be noticed.

Would other posters not think twice before naming their child Anderson or Kelly or Parker?

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Posted: 23 August 2007 11:21 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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As someone with a first name that is found as a surname, and a surname that is found as a first name (though only in the US - but then, it’s also the name of an Ivy League university ... oops, what a giveaway) this is a topic I take some interest in.

Many, if not all, of the British examples are first names derived from the surnames of the aristocracy: Howard (Dukes of Norfolk), Gordon (Dukes of Lennox/Dukes of Richmond), Stanley (Earls of Derby), Percy (Dukes of Northumberland) Stewart (Earls of Atholl and, of course, Kings of Scotland) Douglas (Dukes of Hamilton), Bruce (former Kings of Scotland and Earls of Elgin), Cecil (Marquesses of Salisbury), Russell (Dukes of Bedford), Graham (Dukes of Montrose), Leslie (Earls of Rothes), Murray (Dukes of Atholl) Clive (Earls of Powys) Noel (Earls of Gainsborough), Neville (Earl of Warwick and other aristocratic titles), and Dudley (ditto) to name but 16 ...

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Posted: 23 August 2007 01:42 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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In the City of London in the 90s there seemed to be many American businesswomen with first names that were waspish surnames. Or perhaps there was only one but she put herself about a lot.

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Posted: 23 August 2007 03:03 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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The idea that a given name is anything but a given name strikes me as remarkable.

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Posted: 23 August 2007 03:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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On some of the show biz names:
Mackenzie Crook’s real name is Paul Mackenzie Crook, Montgomery Clift is Edward Montgomery Clift, Shannon Elizabeth is Shannon Elizabeth Fadal.
Harrsion Ford is really named Harrison Ford whether you’re talking about the silent film star born 1884 or the current one born 1942.  There are now two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame labelled Harrison Ford, but they are not related and the current one didn’t know of the earlier one till he discovered his name was already on a star.

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Posted: 23 August 2007 08:17 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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happydog - 23 August 2007 03:03 PM

The idea that a given name is anything but a given name strikes me as remarkable.

It’s nothing like that simple.  There are names given at “Christening” which may not be the name a child “goes by.” There are names given at a bris.  There are names given at confirmation.  There are so-called “called names” (Rufname in German).  The Rufname could be the first name, but in the early days, it could have been the name one was “called by” rather than the first name given.  In the 17th century, in some parts of Germany, there was a strange tradition of naming every son “Johannes” after “John the Baptist.” But the Rufname we might see as the middle name.  An immigrant by the full name of “Johannes Dietrich” might have eventually be known as “Richard” in the US.

So names given may not be the names used.  Montgomery Clift is an excellent example. 

For years I didn’t know that the Biblical scholar and Anglican bishop, N. T. Wright, went by the called name of “Tom.”

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Posted: 23 August 2007 10:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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venomousbede:

I know Kirk Douglas was Armenian

In his autobiography, “The Ragman’s Son” (a fascinating read), Douglas claims to be American --- born in Amsterdam, NY, USA, of parents who came from Russia and Ukraine respectively. His name was, to begin with, Issur Danielovich, later changed to Issur Demsky, later still changed again.

Perhaps you know something Mr. Douglas doesn’t?

;-)

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Posted: 24 August 2007 03:05 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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My own whackadoodle idea about the origin of the family name as given name phenomenon is that it is from the conflation of the continental custom of giving a child a saint’s name as a middle name with the Scottish (and perhaps others) custom of giving a child a famliy name from mother’s side as a middle name.  When people used to saint’s nmes as middle names encounter unfamiliar family names as middle names they reinterpret them as valid given names.

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Posted: 24 August 2007 04:55 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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I know Kirk Douglas was Armenian

Is “Armenian” a code-word for “Jewish” here?

[Edit: That’s a joke, just to preempt possible offense.  The Demskys were Jewish, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t Armenian.  Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of any Armenian Jews.]

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Posted: 24 August 2007 06:01 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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languagehat - 24 August 2007 04:55 AM

I know Kirk Douglas was Armenian

Is “Armenian” a code-word for “Jewish” here?

[Edit: That’s a joke, just to preempt possible offense.  The Demskys were Jewish, and I’m pretty sure they weren’t Armenian.  Come to think of it, I’ve never heard of any Armenian Jews.]

Some sites say that the French Aznavour family is Jewish-Armenian, although there seems to be some disagreement as to this. There is, however, a small Jewish community in modern Armenia, numbering some 900 according to this site.

[ Edited: 24 August 2007 06:20 AM by aldiboronti ]
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Posted: 24 August 2007 06:20 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Regarding when this trend began, I note that Lady Jane Grey was married to Lord Guilford Dudley.  He was a very early example of the trend.  It really takes off a couple of centuries later, and has been going long enough that many given names now regarded as unremarkable started out as surnames.  A previous poster remarked that “Kirk Dougas” seems backwards, but “Douglas” was a surname long before it was a given name (and IIRC its first documented bearer as a given name was a girl).

There is a good discussion of the phenomenon in the introduction to E.G. Withycombe’s “Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names” (out of print so far as I know, alas).

Going from memory, as I don’t have the book in front of me, a common vector was via middle names.  Middle names quite commonly can be either given or surnames, often the maiden name of the mother.  This provides a route for a surname to be interpreted as a given name.

Just to confuse the issue further, there is the opposite pattern of given names becoming surnames.  Since surnames are more fixed than given names, this doesn’t happen so much nowadays.  But back in the day, patronyms were a major source of surnames.  A patroymic surname is usually marked (e.g. “Richardson") but this marking can be reduced (e.g. “Richards") or disappear entirely (e.g. “Richard").

So you can’t assume that any name used both ways started life as a surname.

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Posted: 24 August 2007 07:24 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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The OP was about the idea that surnames are doing the work of first names. I find this an odd idea. To me it’s like when people use etymology to redefine words. “Pretty used to mean silly so when you call someone pretty you’re really calling them silly.” That sort of thing is utter nonsense. If my first name is Parker, it doesn’t mean that my first name is “really” a surname in some sort of bastard usage. My name is my name and how it’s used anywhere else seems irrelevant to me.

From Star Trek TNG:

“Day-ta, Dat-ta, what’s the difference?”

“The difference is that one of them is my name and the other is not.”

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Posted: 24 August 2007 09:31 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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happydog - 24 August 2007 07:24 AM

To me it’s like when people use etymology to redefine words. “Pretty used to mean silly so when you call someone pretty you’re really calling them silly.”

I think you (or they) mean nice; pretty originally meant cunning, crafty (from obs. prat, trick).

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Posted: 24 August 2007 10:07 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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This would not be a valid query, I think, in France, where more than half of the top 20 surnames are unaltered forenames - Martin (1), Bernard (2), Thomas (4), Robert (5). Richard (6), Simon (11), Laurent (12), Michel (14), David (16), Bertrand (17) and Vincent (19).

My guess is that this reflects differences between English and French surnaming traditions, with the Anglo-Saxons putting “son” or possesive “s” on the end of patronymics and the French not bothering - and also the Anglo-Saxons being much keener on locatiional and vocational names, which is why Smith is our number one (though admittedly if you added together Lefebvre, 13, and Lefevre, 24, which both, I believe, mean “Smith”, they’d be number two in France ...)

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