Baby Name of the Day: Tennyson

Tennyson statue outside Lincoln Cathedral

Tennyson statue outside Lincoln Cathedral via Flickr

The saintly Dennis had his day, but if you’re looking for a fresh spin on that classic appellation, here’s one option.

Thanks to Amanda for suggesting the poetic Tennyson as our Baby Name of the Day.

Tennyson’s son ending implies that this name was given to descendants of someone called Tenny, just like Andrew’s offspring became Andersons and Harry’s kids answer to Harrison. Tennyson implies an ancestral Dennis.

The D-to-T switch was part of the same alchemy that gave us Bob from Robert and Dick from Richard. Denis – the dominant spelling – gave us the short forms Denny and Tenny.

Denis caught on thanks to a third-century saint, but the saint was born Dionysus. While few other gods’ names were given directly, Dionysios seems to be the exception. Denis is simply a contracted form. As Denis, the name was transformed from chief of pagan revels to an impeccably Catholic choice.

Saint Denis was French; along with Saint Genevieve, he serves as patron saint of Paris.

The name appears steadily throughout the historical record, and plenty of families have adopted a surname form, too.

None of this would matter, save for the Victorian era’s poet laureate, Alfred Tennyson. From The Charge of the Light Brigade to the Idylls of the King, he’s penned many an immortal work. His poetry earned him the title Baron Tennyson, an honor his descendants carry to the present day.

Plenty of places were named Tennyson in his memory, too, from the US to Australia.

Speaking of Australia, Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe wife Danielle Spencer have two sons: Charles and Tennyson.

Crowe wasn’t the first to bestow Tennyson as a given name. Back in the 1970s, Tennyson Guyer represented Ohio in the US House of Representatives.

There’s also at least one use of Tennyson for a girl, though it’s in fiction: Lesley M.M. Blume’s young adult novel Tennyson. The novel’s young heroine is living on a crumbling Southern plantation during the Great Depression.

Kids today might also think of the young hero of animated adventure series Ben 10. He’s Ben Tennyson, brother to Gwen.

There have also been several ships called Tennyson, including one that traveled between New York and South American in the early twentieth century.

If there’s any drawback to Tennyson, it is that he sounds the tiniest bit pretentious. But then, that’s the risk with using any hero’s surname. Unless it becomes a Top 100 choice, at which point no one is paying much attention to which Jackson or Jordan you had in mind when you picked the name.

If you can overlook that vibe, Tennyson has quite a bit of style. He’s more masculine than ends-in-son picks that lead to favorite feminine short forms, like Emerson or Ellison. He’s less expected than surname choices like Tyler and Mason. Tenn and Tenny make for fun short forms.

And if anyone asks you if you were inspired by the actor’s kid, well, you can always respond: “No, we were thinking of the poet.”


  1. Abbie says

    I have a Tennyson! He’s six months old, and we call him Tenny for short. I love the name – we love the poet, it starts with a t just like my husband’s name, and it’s unique. We’re both teachers so we wanted a name that was different enough that we wouldn’t be very likely to encounter in the classroom. So far, so good! :)

  2. Kat says

    I’m a HUGE fan of Tennessee Williams and have been trying to convince DH to consider Tennessee for our boys shortlist, but unfortunately he prefers Thomas Lanier (Williams’ birthname) to Tennessee. I’d consider Tennyson as an alternative…he isn’t my favorite poet, but I still enjoy his work. Besides, anyone that knows me knows I’m a big literary buff, so maybe that wouldn’t seem quite so pretentious…or it would. Who cares? At least the kid would be named after a great literary mind…as long as the parents actually KNOW his work.

  3. missnichelle says

    I’m glad I ran across this post. We already have a son named Tennyson and were considering Charles for a brother. Not any more! I’m fine sharing Tennyson with Russell Crowe, but I’m not going to share both names. That would make me feel tacky.

  4. Elizabeth says

    I just saw the name Tennyson (for a girl) yesterday on the bulletin board at the pediatrician’s office. (Families send in labeled photos of their kids for display.) Tennyson has a sister named Landon, by the way. I am obsessed with the bulletin board… I love gawking at what other people name their kids.

  5. Jane says

    Oh good Lord, I am glad I read this post and learned that there is a popular cartoon character called Ben Tennyson – we have a Ben and were considering Tennyson for a second son. Not any more!!!!!! Thanks for saving us!!!

    • appellationmountain says

      Funny – I met a new mom who named her daughter Eleanor, called Nora. Dad’s name? Nick. She said “We never thought of it until after she was born.”

      Too bad, because I love Tennyson, and Benjamin and Tennyson should go together well.

  6. Ali says

    Tennyson has always been my favorite poet, so I am very intrigued by the name and finding myself considering it more and more, especially as a great mn. My sister has always said regardless of gender she’s going to name her first born Tennessee Reid, after her name sake Sarah Lucinda Tennessee Reid, so I would probably never use it if she goes through with that plan, but this seems like a cute and literary alternative. Very fun post!

  7. Julie says

    Honestly, if I felt the need to name a child after Tennyson, I’d rather use Alfred.

    I just looked up Alfred, Lord Tennyson and I learned his eldest son was named Hallam, perhaps that would make an interesting NOTD?

    • appellationmountain says

      I’m sure someone has answered to both spellings of the surname, but they do take it closer to Tennessee – not necessarily a bad thing.

      • Julie says

        There’s a Tennesey who takes piano lessons from the same music teacher as my 14 year. There’s a part of me that loves his name and another part of me that wonders what’s middle name? Tuxedo, Williams, Volunteer…

  8. Sarah A says

    Ooh, I like Tennyson! He does sound a bit pretentious but is that so bad? :) I had no idea that this name was connected to Dennis, but I like Tennyson much more than Dennis.

      • Sarah A says

        I know you didn’t Abby! I was actually being snarky, like, what’s wrong with being pretentious :) Tennyson might be a bit pretentious, but in my opinion that is so much better than, say, Nevaeh…which is so NOT pretentious :)

  9. Amanda says

    I fell in love with this name the second I heard it. I’m not quite sure why it appeals more than Anderson or Harrison etc., but it does. A nickname (other than Tenny) could be Ted or Teddy. Ted may be a stretch, but it could work. If Theodore can be Ted, why not Tennyson?

    I would be very excited to meet a little Tennyson :)

  10. says

    Tennyson’s neat! I still love Dennis irrationally, but Tennyson’s got a cool vibe of his own. I do have to point out that Ben 10’s *cousin* is Gwen, not sister. (My nephew is a huge fan of the show).

    Tennyson only has one, tiny problem for me. Tenny makes me think sneakers before kid so what else could his nickname be? I’ll have to brainstorm. :) I like Tennyson!


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