Baby Name of the Day: Tennyson

by appellationmountain on March 31, 2011

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.”

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