Some of the most popular posts here at Appellation Mountain are about surname names for girls. There’s no doubt it’s a huge style that plenty of parents have embraced, from Taylor to Madison to the new it-girl in the category, Harper.
And yet, it’s not every surname name. They’re overwhelmingly – though not exclusively – English, Irish, and Scottish. That sounds like it could make for a narrow list, but it isn’t so. Instead, the possibilities are surprisingly boundless.
So let’s look at the alphabet, from A to Z, and explore some of the surname names that could wear well for girls in 2015 – but remain just under-the-radar.
Surname Names for Girls: A
The most popular A surname name for girls at the moment is Addison, the heir to Madison and Allison alike. While it’s a relative newcomer, Addison already feels overused. Maybe it’s because it’s just one letter away from Madison, or maybe it’s because of all of those Addie names.
For a fresher alternative, I have two thoughts.
Adair started out as a Scottish form of Edgar, but it always makes me think of Daisy Adair, from long-gone Showtime series Dead Like Me.
Honorable mention goes to Alston, an English place name with nickname Allie baked in.
Surname Names for Girls: B
There’s also Bellamy. I probably first heard it in connection with the designing Novogratz family, but I think it’s a great successor name for Kimberly, and lots of three-syllable, ends-in-y names for girls.
Surname Names for Girls: C
Campbell seems like a natural possibility, if only because of Bell, and, of course, journalist Campbell Brown – born Alma Dale Campbell Brown.
Thanks to The Blind Side, Collins has also seen some use for girls in recent years. (In fact, Campbell and Collins headlined one of my earlier posts about unisex names for girls.)
I’m also fond of Cameron, which survived an onslaught of girls called Cameron – and Cameryn and Kamryn – to remain solidly masculine. A dear friend of mine found this one on her family tree, and shortlisted it for a daughter. Maybe that’s why it appeals to me so strongly.
Surname Names for Girls: D
Do you remember the Judy Blume novel Tiger Eyes? The main character was named Davey, and I’m sure a reason was mentioned, but I cannot for the life of me remember why.
Dior is a guilty pleasure name for me, and if Chanel can rank in the US Top 1000, why not Dior?
But the name that I think has the most potential is Delancey. One letter off from Delaney, which might cause some confusion. But Delancey is a New York City street, running through the Lower East Side of Manhattan, almost to the Brooklyn Bridge. It takes his name from James De Lancey. Back in the eighteenth century, his farm stood on the property. There’s a sweet 1988 romantic comedy starring Amy Irving called Crossing Delancey, set in the Lower East Side.
Surname Names for Girls: E
Plenty of E surname names for girls are in vogue, mostly the ones that can shorten to Emme, like Emerson and Emery, or those that can short to Ellie, like Ellison and Ellis.
My pick is Ellery. If you’re familiar with fictional detective Ellery Queen, doubtless this strike you as a masculine given name. But it’s originally a surname related to Hillary. And Eleri is a similar, but unrelated, name from Welsh myth, the daughter of a chief. Ellery still shortens to Ellie, but is much less expected.
Surname Names for Girls: F
Fraser, Frasier, and Frazier – no matter how you spell it, I think it has potential as a given name. Maybe I think of Fraser as slightly feminine because of the (completely unrelated) French word fraise – strawberry. Or maybe I just have a soft spot for the fray sound.
But the logical F surname name for a girl is Flannery, as in the writer Mary Flannery O’Connor. Her short stories and novels are often considered Southern Gothic. She was also a well-known essayist. Just like Nelle Harper Lee, she was always known by her middle, and thus transformed her middle into a possibility for girls.
Surname Names for Girls: G
Back when Trading Spaces was the hit home improvement show on TLC, designer Laurie Smith was my favorite. Midway through the series, she welcomed a son called Gibson. Great for a boy, but I always heard the phrase Gibson Girl in my head. The Gibson Girl was the ideal of femininity in the late nineteenth century. That’s her in the sketch.
I’m tempted to put Greer on this list, another Scottish name. It’s derived from Gregory. But I feel like Greer is better established as a given name than others on this list.
So let’s go with Gray – or possibly Grey? It’s a name on the upswing, a gentler, softer name than many of the bold color names we’re loving these days. Gray splits the difference between Scarlett and Sloane.
Surname Names for Girls: H
H surname names for girls are white hot, from future Top Ten name Harper to trending Harlow. My heart belongs to the literary Hadley, the first Mrs. Hemingway, subject of the bestselling work of fiction The Paris Wife.
Except Harper, Harlow, and Hadley don’t really feel fresh or surprising in 2015, do they? Let’s add another one to the list: Haviland. It’s the surname of Academy Award-winning actress Olivia de Havilland – she spelled it with two Ls, but the single L version is more common.
And since I put Alston and Dior on this list, how about Halston, the fashion house that defined the look of the 1970s, and now feels retro and ahead of the curve?
Surname Names for Girls: I
Let’s start with another literary-inspired possibility: Ingalls, as in Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of the enduring Little House series. It comes from Inge, a common name element in Germanic and Scandinavian names, thanks to the ancient god Yngvi.
Another possibility is Isley, though the best spelling is up for debate. In German, it’s Eisele, which means iron. The chart-topping Isley Brothers, known for their many hits from the late 1960s and 70s, make the simplified Isley spelling my favorite.
Surname Names for Girls: J
There’s much controversy about naming a girl James. I tend to give it a pass because James strikes me as a surname, and all surnames seem – at least potentially – gender neutral.
But the J surname that seems most appealing on a girl is Jameson or Jamison. It shortens naturally to Jamie, and has the same rhythm as Allison or Madison.
Surname Names for Girls: K
Oh, the letter K! Kennedy, Kendall, and Kinsey are all wildly stylish choices, often creatively respelled.
But here’s one that I’m drawn to: Kensington, as in the fashionable London neighborhood, home to Kensington Palace. And the palace is, of course, home to Will and Kate, their toddler son George, and new daughter Charlotte. If you’re a fan of Austin Powers, you might remember that Elizabeth Hurley’s Emma Peel-inspired character was called Vanessa Kensington.
Surname Names for Girls: L
There’s Veronica Lake and Lois Lane. But do Lake and Lane feel like surnames? I’d say not really and maybe sorta.
But there’s really no question here. My favorite L surname name for a girl is Linden. It’s a tree name, and feels like an update to the lovely – but dated – Linda.
Surname Names for Girls: M
Instead, how about Maguire? It’s a great formal name for Maggie, and is barely heard as a given name.
Another option: Madigan. Yes, it’s awfully close to Madison. But the sound is different, and the tragic tale of Elvira Madigan – complete with movie adaptations and the Mozart piece now known as the “Elvira Madigan” concerto – lends the name a certain drama.
Surname Names for Girls: N
What do you think of Nealey? It’s a reduced form of McNeely, which has a few possible origins. My favorite “son of the poet.” It sounds feminine, but only just.
Another interesting possibility is Nightingale. It’s so bold. The nightingale is a little bird with a big, gorgeous voice. Nineteenth century opera singer Jenny Lind was known as the Swedish nightingale. And, of course, Florence Nightingale established modern nursing. While it might be better in the middle spot, I couldn’t resist mentioning the name.
Surname Names for Girls: O
Another tree-related possibility tops the O list: Oakley. It also makes me think of sunglasses.
Ogilvie comes to mind, too. The sound is a little bit quirky, but I think it has potential.
Surname Names for Girls: P
I have a long-time favorite for the letter P: Paxton. Much to my dismay, it doesn’t come from the Latin word for peace, pax. Instead, it’s derived from an Old English name, Paecc. Still, I think Paxton could be an unconventional way to honor a loved one named Irene.
Palmer is another possibility. It means pilgrim, referring to the palm fronds that travelers to the Holy Land brought home as souvenirs from their journey.
Of course, Piper is the most popular surname name for girls starting with P. Parker – currently in the US Top 100 for boys – is gaining fast for girls as a substitute with a nature name vibe.
Surname Names for Girls: Q
Ever since MTV’s animated Daria introduced us to a girl called Quinn, it’s seemed like an obvious choice for a daughter. And then along came Glee. In both cases, the Quinns were popular cheerleaders – queens of their high schools.
Surname Names for Girls: R
First there’s Ripley, because of Sigourney Weaver’s character in the Alien movies. Thandie Newton named one of her daughters Ripley.
Or how about Reeve? As a surname, it’s an occupational name meaning steward or bailiff, from an Old English word. But there’s also a bird name Reeve, and Charles and Anne Lindbergh had a daughter named Reeve. She went on to become a writer.
Surname Names for Girls: S
It would feel wrong not to mention Sutton, as in the tremendously talented Sutton Foster, and Sloane, of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off fame.
But neither of those is unusual for a girl in 2015. I fell in love with Sullivan the second I heard Liv suggested as a nickname.
I didn’t mention North for the letter N – though I considered it – and I skipped Easton, too. But I do think that the also directional Sutherland has some appeal. It’s originally a place name meaning “south land,” and seems like a truly distinctive choice – though one that might be better in the middle.
Another one that works is Sinclair, originally a contracted form of St. Clair. I could go on – in fact, I have a list just of S surname names that work for girls.
Surname Names for Girls: T
Tate seems like an obvious possibility, an update for Kate, with ties to the London museum lending it some artistic cred.
My favorite is Thayer, a more obscure form of Taylor. Now that Th- names like Thea seem to be on the rise, could Thayer work?
Surname Names for Girls: U
After sailing through the first twenty letters of the alphabet, U has me stumped. Upton or Upshaw maybe? There’s a model called Kate Upton. And yet, I’m not sure that either really feels like a given name for a girl.
Surname Names for Girls: V
Savannah Guthrie named her daughter Vale, which seems like an obvious, under-the-radar option for girls. But it doesn’t quite have surname style. Instead, it seems like a poetic nature name.
Another possibility is Valletta. It’s the surname of model-actress Amber Valletta. It’s also the capital city of Malta, named after Jean de Valette. During the 1565 Great Siege of Malta, Jean de Valette held off the Ottoman forces – one of the most astonishing and celebrated victories of the age.
As it happens, Valletta ties back to the Italian and Spanish word for valley – as does Vale. While Valletta is definitely a surname name, it also feels decidedly feminine thanks to the -etta ending.
Surname Names for Girls: W
The obvious suggestion is Wallis, as in the scandalous Wallis Simpson. The twice-married American socialite caught the eye of the future King Edward VIII. In 1936, he abdicated in order to married the woman he loved. Mrs. Simpson was born Bessie Wallis Warfield – Wallis was a family name. It’s been used for girls in sparing numbers ever since.
Looking for something longer? How about Whitaker? It shortens to Whit, just like former favorite Whitney.
Another one that could work beautifully is Winslow. It’s interesting, artistic, and less expected than fast-rising surname names Harlow and Marlowe.
Surname Names for Girls: X
And I thought U was a toughie! I can’t think of a single name for X. Suggestions welcome!
Surname Names for Girls: Y
Fox News’ Megyn Kelly has a daughter named Yardley. It’s my favorite in this category, because it makes me think Yardley of London soaps, which seems like a positive association.
Another name that almost fits is Yarrow. Peter Yarrow is a member of the popular 1960s folk group Peter, Paul, and Mary. But since it’s also the name of a flowering plant, it might have more in common with Willow than Smith.
One last possibility: Yates, also the name of a Megyn Kelly kiddo – though she used it for a son. It has a preppy, buttoned-up feel.
Surname Names for Girls: Z
Let’s take a page from Hollywood for our Z surname name: Zavala. It’s a middle name shared by two of Matt Damon’s daughters. Zavala is also spelled Zabala, from a Basque place name used in Biscay, in northern Spain.
It’s an unconventional possibility, but like Valletta, it seems more traditionally feminine than Ellis or Yarrow.
Those are my favorite surname names for girls, from A to Z. Which names are your favorites? Are there any that I should have included on the list?