Armistead Maupin reads from Mary Ann in Autumn...
Author Armistead Maupin reading from his works; Image by larrybobsf via Flickr

He’s a literary rarity with a harsh – and yet still romantic – sound.

Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Armistead as our Baby Name of the Day.

Chances are that your first association with Armistead is the writer, Armistead Maupin. Yes, that’s his real name – he’s actually Armistead Maupin, Jr.. Maupin is famous for his series of novels, originally appearing chapter-by-chapter in the San Fransisco Chronicle. The stories were a window into San Fransisco life, incorporating current events and real life figures. The stories were published as books, and then adapted for television. Despite the authenticity of his name, it does sound like a dramatic nom de plum. A BBC documentary was titled “Armistead Maupin Is a Man I Dreamt Up” – an anagram, similar to a device famously used in his fiction, fueling speculation that Armistead could not possibly be his given name.

For me, the second Armistead is far more obscure: the upper-crust boyfriend in the 2003 Amanda Bynes vehicle What A Girl Wants. Bynes played Daphne, an American who heads to London to meet her long-lost father, the aristocratic Henry Dashwood, played by Colin Firth. Armistead is a minor, minor character – the boyfriend of Dashwood’s would-be-stepdaughter, Clarissa. Hijinks and a predictable happy ending follow.

Armistead is a rarity, but his history is pretty clear.

The Greek eremos denotes an uninhabited place, like the desert. It is the source of our word hermit. Hermit and ermit are both valid spellings in Middle English. Hermits existed throughout the Christian world, devoting themselves to solitary prayer. Just as many place names can be traced to a church or monastery, some place names indicate that there were near a hermit’s residence. Despite their solitary lives, hermits did still interact with their neighbors. Ermit sounded like armit; the final syllable is from the Old English stede – place – as in homestead.

A handful of notables have answered to the surname over the years, including a military family. Major George Armistead was the commander at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812. He’s the one who commissioned a huge American flag, big enough to be clearly visible to the British. It inspired Francis Scott Key to pen “The Star-Spangled Banner.” For years, the very same flag greeted visitors to The Smithsonian’s Flag Hall in the National Museum of American History. The flag stayed in the Armistead family for years before George’s grandson, Eben Appleton, arranged the donation.

Other Armisteads surface, like this Virginia lawyer. But this is clearly a name tumbling towards obscurity. It might remind some of La Amistad – a slave ship, and site of an 1839 mutiny and rebellion, chronicled by Stephen Spielberg in a 1997 movie. Or might just be too much name for parents to consider.

But should Armistead be found on your family tree, it might be worth brushing him off. He’s preppy and upper crust, but there’s a great story there. He’d make an arresting middle name, or if you fancy the short form Army, a brash masculine moniker that remains at least as wearable as Gunner.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Tancrede and Armistead would be ideal siblings, Tanc and Army quirky nicknames. Swoon worthy old world worthy first names but modern, upbeat day-to-day names.

  2. He would more than likely be nicknamed Army, which could be a good or bad thing depending on your view of the Armed Forces. Personally, I have nothing against them, and Armistead has some appeal to me. If all else fails, nickname him Mead instead 😉

  3. Afew days ago, we dropped our teen off at camp and one of the other campers was named Amistad! When I read today’s NOTD and I did a double-take, because I was really hoping Amistad wasn’t a common given name.

    Armistead is a lot of name and it comes with a bit of baggage… I prefer Armand, but even that name sounds over the top.

  4. Armistead is a name that DH and I somehow started talking about years ago and decided we both love. He fits with a few other of our “overtly strong” boy names, like Tiberius.

    And yet, Armistead really is so much name as well as being quite a bit surname-y for my liking. So for now he’s pretty much middle name consideration. I think Armistead is very striking in the middle spot. As Abby put it, he’s strong and romantic. *swoon*

  5. As someone said above, it sounds a lot like Armistice day. I don’t particularly care for it.

  6. I lived off a street called Armistead in Virginia. I think it was named for the guy with the flag. 😉 I wouldn’t give this name weight when choosing a name for my kids. I would be very surprised to meet a little Armistead, though.

  7. Sounds lonely to me! I have a fondness for the sound of Army, but since He spent a number of years in ours, it’s rather off limits for me. But if he’d allow, I’d consider it in the middle with one of those classics I adore: George Armistead ______ maybe. But I can see how Armistead wouldn’t appeal to some. Sad, I think Armistead has a nice, snappy sound! 😀