Girls can be Scarlet and Violet, but boys are a less colorful bunch. Here’s one that might reverse that trend.
Thanks to Leah for suggesting Gray as Baby Name of the Day.
Grey is the standard spelling in British English. Sometime during the nineteenth century, gray became standard in American English. By the time the Confederate Army took to the field during the US Civil War, they were “the boys in gray.”
Both spellings have been in use as surnames for generations. If you’re reading this with a cup of tea, doubtless you’re familiar with Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey, he of tea. Charles came from a prominent family and went on to serve as prime minister in the 1830s. Stories of how the blend – flavored with bergamot – came to bear his name are several. You can even buy Earl Grey-flavored Kit Kats on your next trip to Japan.
There’s also the nineteenth century surgeon, Henry Gray. His compilation, Gray’s Anatomy, was first published in 1838, and never been out of print – as of 2008, they were on the 40th edition. But he’s current news because of prime time television hit Grey’s Anatomy, featuring Dr. Meredith Grey.
In many cases, the surname referred to hair color. The word can be found in many a European language from early days – grei in Mercian, gre in Old Frisian – circa 700.
Go back far enough and you’ll find Graye and Greye, too, both of which may share the color’s roots – or not.
Ancheteil de Greye came to England with William the Conqueror. His name remains on the map in Normandy’s Graye-sur-Mer, and in the English village of Rotherfield Greys. The Crusaders built an island on a tiny island in the Gulf of Aqaba. named Ile de Greye. So some Grays are wearing a place name.
Go back into Ancheteil’s family tree and it gets more tangled yet. His surname may not derive from an aged ancestor, but from the Latin – gratus – thankful, the Celtic Grady – noble – or the French Croy – chalk or cross.
And, of course, it’s also possible that similar sounding foreign names became Gray.
In any case, Gray appeared in the US Top 1000 a handful of times between 1895 and 1901. And why not? Most surnames have been in sparing use as given names over the years. The most notable bearers might be:
- Former California governor Gray Davis. He’s best known as Gray, be he was born Joseph Graham Davis, Jr.;
- Torchwood fans will recognize the name thanks to Captain Jack Harkness’ brother Gray, thought lost following a childhood accident, but who turns up as his brother’s nemesis;
- 2002 bestseller The Nanny Diaries featured a privileged charge called Grayer.
The real story here isn’t Gray on his own. It’s really a string of surname-sounding names that fit in perfectly with all of those nouveau picks:
- Grayson ranked #172 in 2009;
- Greyson came in at #347;
- Grady fell right in between the two spellings, at #287.
This makes for an interesting phenomenon. Many parents who dismiss Caiden and Jayden find Grayson and Graydon acceptable, even sophisticated. And it’s true – Jayden has no history as a surname, but Grayson has been worn by soldiers, scientists and even Batman’s sidekick, Robin.
And yet, Grayson and company are clearly in danger of sinking under the weight of all those ay names. The simpler Gray might make for the more distinctive choice.