Not every surname makes the list. We tend to favor English, Irish, and Scottish choices – regardless of our own heritage. Kowalski just doesn’t feel like a first name, even though Madison and Harper do.
Despite those limitations, the possibilities abound. And because we’re grown accustomed to hearing last names in the first spot, there’s plenty of room for innovation.
If surname names for girls are your style, but you’re looking for something a little less common, start with this list.
OTHER THAN ADDISON AND AVERY
Avery tops the list of A surname names for girls, a mix of Ava and Emily. Addison isn’t far behind, a successor to both Madison and Allison. But that’s only the beginning.
Originally a Scottish form of Edgar, Adair brings to mind Showtime series Dead Like Me’s Daisy Adair. Easy nickname Addie adds to the name’s appeal.
An English place name with a buttoned-up vibe.
Ashley meets Beatrice.
B AND C: TWO BELS!
A recent arrival to the US Top 1000, Bellamy combines a great meaning: beautiful friend – with that Bell sound we love.
Here’s proof that surname names for girls aren’t brand new: Blair has ranked in the US Top 1000 for girls since we met Blair Warner on The Facts of Life. Disney fans might think of legendary designer Mary Blair.
Cady sounds almost exactly like Katherine nickname Katie. But many will recognize it as the name of suffragette and reformer Elizabeth Cady Stanton – or of Lindsay Lohan’s character in Mean Girls.
Journalist Campbell Brown raised her name as a possibility for girls, a mix of Camila and Isabella with surname style.
Clarke feels more masculine, but popular sci fi series The 100 gave the name to its female hero. The series featured characters named Bellamy, Wells, Lincoln, and Octavia, making it an engine of fresh name options.
Borrowed from the daughter in real life book-turned-movie The Blind Side, Collins also brings to mind actor Lily Collins.
D SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS
Delaney reigns as the most popular of D surname names for girls. But how about Delancey? It’s a New York City street name, close, but with a softening ‘c’ sound.
An English take on a French surname, Destry was the sheriff in a famous American western. But it feels like a surname take on Destiny, and therefore just feminine enough.
If Chanel works, why not Dior?
ALTERNATIVES TO ELLISON AND EMERSON
So many E surname names for girls appear in the current Top 1000. Think of Ellison and Emerson, or Emery and Elliott. But undiscovered choices remain.
Fictional detective Ellery Queen might make this name masculine. Except it feels like an Ella-Avery smoosh. Plus, Eleri is an unrelated name from Welsh legend.
It sounds a little like nature name Ember, but Embry evolved from either Emery or place name Emborough.
F AND G SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS
Writer Flannery O’Connor – born Mary Flannery – makes this name literary.
FRASER, FRASIER, FRAZIER
No matter the spelling, Fraser’s potential comes from two factors. First, we love -r ending names. Second, since the actual meaning is unknown, I tend to think of the French word for strawberry – fraise.
It means son of Gilbert, but the Gibson Girl epitomized feminine style in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
As colors go, Gray is gentler than bold Scarlett. It almost feels like a modern take on Jane or Claire, a tailored name that’s just feminine enough.
A Scottish form of Gregory, Greer Garson starred in Hollywood films in the 1940s. It’s felt feminine ever since.
HARPER, HARLOW, AND …
From Harper to Harlow, H surname names for girls top many parents’ shortlists. Hailey belongs to this category, too, as does literary Hadley. Lots of options take us farther away from the Top 100.
Fashion house Halston defined the 1970s, but feels ahead of the curve in the 2020s.
The surname of Academy Award-winning actor Olivia de Havilland, it feels like a surname update to names like Evelyn.
Nature name Holly preceded Willow by decades. That might make holly-adjacent surname Hollis a logical choice now.
I SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS
As in Laura Ingalls Wilder, the hero of the enduring Little House series.
The spelling is open for debate; it’s Eisele in German, the version Lady Antebellum’s Hillary Scott chose for her daughter. But Isley looks a little sleeker, and it’s the version used by Rock and Roll Hall of Famers The Isley Brothers. All of the names seem to come from the Germanic element isan – iron.
J SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS
Jordan comes to mind immediately. And there’s Jolie, as in Angelina – but that was her middle name, from the French word for beautiful. It’s surprisingly tough to come up with J surname names for girls, maybe because we’re already using so many of them for our sons.
One of the reasons James feels workable for a daughter is that it isn’t just a classic given name. It’s been used as a surname for generations, too.
Jameson ranks in the boys’ Top 100. Does the spelling Jamison work for a daughter? It looks so close to Allison and Madison, and Jamie has been used for girls since at least the 1890s.
As in 1960s music legend Janis Joplin – though maybe Joplin, Missouri or composer Scott Joplin come to mind.
SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS: K AND L
Kennedy and Kendall and Kinley … K surname names for girls dot the US Top 1000. They replaced Kelly from an earlier generation. But that means that lots of the best alternatives have already caught on. What feels a little fresher?
From the surname of the artist, Frida Kahlo.
As in the fashionable London neighborhood and home to Kensington Palace, home to many members of the British royal family.
Music-inspired surname Lennon is popular for boys and girls alike. Veronica Lake and Lois Lane offer two rarer options, though I think there are possibilities that feel more like surnames.
In French, laine means wool, so this probably started out as an occupational surname. That flourish of an -ier ending that feels right for a daughter. Plus, it leads to nickname Laney/Lainey.
Tree name Linden might have hewed too close to Lyndon B. Johnson in decades past. But as that association fades, Linden feels more like the nature name that it is – or else, an update for Baby Boomer favorite Linda.
M & N SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS
M surnames long dominated the girls’ lists. Just ask Madison, Mackenzie, and McKenna. Those names are fading, but the letter M is still going strong.
Yes, it’s quite close to Madison. But the tragic story of Elvira Madigan, and the Mozart piano concerto that now bears her name, lends it something different.
It feels masculine – but then again, it shortens to traditional girl nickname Maggie.
An alternative to Harlow, one that benefits from midcentury girl name Marlo.
MERIWETHER, MERRIWETHER, MERRYWETHER
Originally a surname for a cheerful person, Meriwether brings to mind at least two distinct images. First, explorer Meriwether Lewis, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, crossed the American west. Many decades later, Merrywether appears in Disney’s Sleeping Beauty as one of Princess Aurora’s godmothers.
Nealey comes with a few meanings, including “son of the poet.” It sounds feminine, but only just.
A bird name in the key of Wren, Nightingale also brings to mind world-changing nurse Florence Nightingale, making it a hero name.
OTHER THAN OAKLEY
Oakley has gone from rare to everywhere in recent years, but it’s not the only O surname name option.
Ogilvie doesn’t sound quite like a given name. But with Everly and Avery so popular, I think Ogilvie might work. It started out as a surname meaning “high place.”
PROMISING P POSSIBILITIES
Paisley, Presley, Payton, Parker, and Piper have caught on in recent years, but there are still lots of less common options.
Palmer means pilgrim, a reference to the palm fronds medieval travelers brought home from the Holy Lands. It layers meaning on to a modern-sounding choice.
While it doesn’t come from pax, the Latin word for peace, this Old English name benefits from the association.
Q & R SURNAME NAMES
Quinn dominates the letter Q, but a few creative alternatives exist.
It sounds like Quinn-with-an-s, but Quince is a pear-shaped fruit … or a surname for someone who grew or sold them.
Names like Quinley abound, but I think Quinlan sounds like one of the most substantial. Plus, like so many of our favorite surname names, it’s Irish.
A Spanish name meaning country house, Quintana also sounds like an elaboration of Quinn – but that might be a good thing.
It sounds like Eve-with-an-R, or Reese-with-a-v. An occupational surname for a steward or bailiff, you might think of writer Reeve Lindbergh, daughter of Charles and Anne Lindbergh.
Sigourney Weaver played the fearless Ellen Ripley in the Alien movies, adding her character’s surname to our list of strong surname names for girls.
S & T SURNAME NAMES
Sutton and Sloane have become mainstream favorites. Scarlett actually belongs to this category, too.
Short for Saint Clair, Sinclair feels just on the right side of feminine.
While Sullivan is popular for boys, shorten Sullivan to Liv and it works for a daughter, too.
Directional Sutherland looks less like it belongs on a compass and more like a name.
If Nate is a boy and Kate is a girl, then Tate is … probably both. But it’s more popular for boys at the moment.
An obscure form of Taylor, Thayer might wear well in our age of Thea.
U, V & W SURNAME NAMES
U proves the trickiest letter of the alphabet so far! Kate Upton put the latter name on the list.
Savannah Guthrie named her daughter Vale, but maybe it’s more poetic nature name than surname.
Valletta sounds long and lovely, but it is a surname, not a first name in the key of Isabella. It comes from the capital city of Malta, named after Jean de Valette – which traces its meaning back to the word valley, too, just like Vale.
The twice-married American socialite’s romance with the future King Edward VIII scandalized a nation – and caused a crisis for the monarchy. It also put her unusual family name on the list of surname names for girls.
An update to former favorite Whitney.
Winslow is one-part Willow, two-parts Harlow.
X SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS
And I thought U was tough!
Y & Z SURNAME NAMES FOR GIRLS
Surname name Yardley brings to mind Yardley of London soaps.
Peter Yarrow belonged to 60s folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary. It’s the name of a flowering plant. Both associations make it feel gentle.
A middle name shared by two of Matt Damon’s daughters, Zavala is a Basque place name. It’s unconventional, but it sounds feminine.
Those are my favorite surname names for girls, from A to Z. Which names are your favorites? What would you add to this list?
First published on September 4, 2015, this post was revised substantially and re-shared on May 12, 2020.