Brighton: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on December 31, 2013

The Brighton Marine Palace and PierIt’s a shining place name that conjures up the beach.

Thanks to Emily for suggesting Brighton as our Baby Name of the Day.

The first time I remember hearing Brighton as a given name was on 1990s sitcom The NannyFran Drescher played the accidental – but surprisingly effective – nanny to a trio of well-to-do kiddos in a posh New York City townhouse on the Upper East Side.  The kids’ dad was a handsome British widower and producer of Broadway shows; the kids’ late mother was American.  The girls answered to enduring classics: Margaret and Grace.  But the boy answered to the entirely unexpected Brighton. If the show ever gave an explanation, I’ve missed it.

Brighton does bring to mind England.  There’s more than one place answering to the name.  The most famous is a long inhabited settlement on the English Channel.

Originally known as Brighthelmstone, the town is recorded in the Domesday Book in 1086.  The name remained in use for centuries, even as the town evolved from a quiet fishing village to a fashionable resort.  But ultimately, the contracted form Brighton became the preferred name. By the late 1700s, Brighton was a big deal – the Prince of Wales, the future King George IV, was among those who frequented the resort.  By the mid-1800s, railway access brought even more visitors, and the pier and amusement park that still stand today started to develop. You’ll find places using the name throughout the English speaking world.

Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach is nearly as storied as the original.  Known today as an enclave for Russian immigrants, it also developed as a resort town.  The Hotel Brighton and a rail line were opened in the 1860s, followed by a horse racing track, a music hall, and baths.  By the 1920s, the community was inhabited year-round, and it became less of a resort destination and more of a day trip.  That was the death knell for the hotel, but other attractions flourished.

Playwright Neil Simon put his hometown on the map with his Depression-era coming of age story Brighton Beach Memoirs.  The Broadway production starred Matthew Broderick – a role for which he won a Tony.  It was adapted for the big screen with Jonathan Silverman in the title role.

In our age of Camden and London and many place names more exotic and rare, it is no surprise that Brighton would attract some notice.

Besides fitting the two-syllable, ends-in-n pattern that we’ve embraced for boys’ names in recent years, bright is an attractive sound.  All of the word’s meanings are appealing: shining, clear, and intelligent, too.  To brighten is add luster, to make more cheerful.  It lends him a hint of modern virtue name.

Is Brighton’s resemblance to the word coincidence?  Maybe – or maybe not.  The Old English word beorht is the forerunner of our word bright.  One of the explanations for Brighthelmstone is that it was named for an early settler, Beorthelm, and his farm, Beorthelm’s tun, gave its name to the town.

Brighton has steadily increased in use for both genders since the 1980s – suggesting that Simon’s play gets credit for the name’s use.  While you’ll find boys and girls by the name, Brighton leans blue – in 2012, 76 girls received the name, and 155 boys.

A handful of children have also been given the verb name Brighten, and alternate spelling Brightyn seems almost exclusively used for girls. Overall, he’s a handsome borrowing from the map, an unusual name that feels fresh, wearable, and upbeat.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Vicki January 7, 2014 at 7:16 AM

I agree it would be an odd choice in the UK, but I do like the sound of it as a name.

If you are looking for other references, there’s a character in the family drama Everwood who was called Bright, short for Brighton.

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Tabby January 7, 2014 at 2:14 AM

I also lived in Brighton, England for around a decade and left a few years back. Although what Helen above says is vaguely true – it is known for its hedonistic delights and as a weekend playground for Londoners – but it is also a charming, beautiful and very friendly city full of history and old traditions. I don’t think a seedy adult resort is how most people think of the city and although I couldn’t image naming a British child Brighton, outside of the UK I think it’d be a lovely name to use. But on this note, Harlow is a terrible name for any child born in the UK….

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Shannon January 2, 2014 at 12:45 PM

Given that there are multiple Brightons around, I think this one works (especially outside England) despite having some negative associations as mentioned in earlier comments! It’s got such a clean, clear, and–yes–bright feel to it. Sort of a refreshing variation on the overused (at least among my contemporaries) Brandon/Brendan/Brayden boys.

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Olivia December 31, 2013 at 7:54 PM

I went to high school with a girl named Brighton. I’m from Idaho and I assume she was named after the Utah ski resort. In the western U.S., I’ve found that the association is very positive as the ski resort is a beautiful place. I’d find it akin to naming your child Aspen.

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appellationmountain January 1, 2014 at 3:53 PM

Olivia, thank you for the information!

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Helen December 31, 2013 at 5:30 PM

I lived in Brighton for many years. Love the sound of it as it is said but associations for me are too many. Brighton uk is a very expensive yet seedy place namely for hedonists – it’s worth noting it’s literary notoriety too it being the place Lydia elopes to I pride and prejudice with the despicable wickham, not to mention the dark Brighton Rock by graham green and what it’s known for today being the gay capital of the uk. I loved my time there but would to want to go back or recall it as a child’s name it really is a pleasure seeking resort for adults only.

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appellationmountain January 1, 2014 at 3:54 PM

I wondered if that might the take on Brighton in the UK – sort of like naming your kiddo Seaside Heights in the MidAtlantic US. (Though I haven’t been to Seaside Heights since I was small – maybe it is considered far more upscale these days?)

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Mouse December 31, 2013 at 10:32 AM

Hmmm perhaps this seems usable over the pond but, to me, it’s laughable when used on a British child. Brighton (which is not on the Atlantic btw) isn’t a place I’d want to name a child after :/

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appellationmountain January 1, 2014 at 3:58 PM

Brighton isn’t on the Atlantic?! Huh. Now that I’m looking at a closer map, I realize it is on the English Channel, which isn’t exactly the Atlantic, is it? Thanks … will revise above.

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