Central Avenue Jazz Festival
Image via Wikipedia

He’s a surname worn by a jazz great. How would he work in the first spot for a child born today?

Thanks to Chantelle for suggesting Ellington as Baby Name of the Day.

Ellington seems certain to appeal to parents searching for that elusive compromise – a name familiar, yet uncommon. Distinctive, but not weird.

A handful of boys born in 2009 were called Ellington; however, the number of female Ellingtons was about the same. Perhaps that’s why he’s never appeared in the US Top 1000. Parents of boys worry that he’s the next Addison or Emerson, while parents of girls have so many options for getting to the nickname Ellie that they’re too busy choosing between Elliot and Elinor to land on Ellington.

Despite the feminine possibilities, this is one surname with an image both masculine and creative, thanks to legendary band leader Duke Ellington. Born Edward Ellington in 1899, he went on to become a major figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He was more than a popular musician – he appeared on the cover of Time in 1956, and he’s often cited for his work as a composer.

All of this overshadows Ellington’s roots as a place name. At least four places in the UK, and more than a half dozen in the US, answer to Ellington. The -ton clearly refers to town. The first part is less certain. It could relate to personal names derives from ealda – old – or to elf – Ella’s town.

It’s the only backstory I can find, but it feels lacking. Maybe it is the addition of the -ng that has me thrown. Most of those English Ellingtons have been on the map for centuries, appearing in earlier times as Ellintone or even more complicated variants. I suspect the –ng is part of a more complicated story related to the changing nature of English pronunciation, but that’s probably not part of the average parent’s name search.

If not for the jazz legend, Ellington might sound almost pretentious, too close to the fictional Carrington family name from Dynasty.

The challenge for a boy Ellington is the search for an acceptable short form – or the insistence on avoiding one altogether. With plenty of longer given names in the US Top 100 – Alexander, Sebastian, and Nathaniel, for instance – you might argue that Ellington can be just Ellington. And maybe so. One option that might satisfy is Eli – but that’s pretty far from the original name.

Still, Jackson, Tyler, Landon, and Hunter are all quite popular. Ellington combines a surname sensibility with the longer style of more classic choices. If your last name is short, and you’re willing to go nickname-free, Ellington has a cool, jazzy vibe that stands out.

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. I love the name Ellington!! I plan to name my future daughter Ellington Joy-Noel and she will go by Ellie or something similar. I also love the names Addison, Adelynn, Emerson, Everest, and Liberty for a girl!! For a boy I like the names James, Isaac, Boston, Lincoln, Kaiser, and Jackson. I also somewhat like the girl name Lakelynn 🙂

  2. I just ADORE this name. We named our daughter Ellington Faye, in 2009 (as you posted that most were named in that year!) Ellington was my grandmother’s maiden name. It feels so nice to give her a name rooted in history; whether it’s ours or the famous Duke Ellington. We get compliments all the time on her name. Her little brother’s name is Finley, so we call them Ellie and Finn, and now with our third baby on the way, I am considering Ivy or Greta for a girl, and Lewis or Henry for a boy. But it’s definitely been challenging picking a third name after two that we just loved.

  3. I really love the name Ellington, but for a boy. But, I’m worried it is becoming a girl name. I like Elton as a nickname. 🙂

  4. So glad to see a couple of girl Ellington’s on here! I too have a baby girl Ellington… so much significance for the name for us… My husband is a musician/singer, we both love the Harlem Renaissance, we have a children’s book called “Ellington was not a street” that actually originally made me think of the name possibility before a little one was ever even thought of. I cannot imagine another name on this little girl! Family calls her Elle, Ellie, Ms. Elle… I prefer the full name and actually dreaded people calling her Ellie (made me think of Ellie Mae Clampitt). With her sassy personality I think that she will want to be called by her full name.

  5. We just decided on this name for our baby girl coming in October. Ellington Quinn (I think on the middle name). LOVED the name but am a little hesitant with all the Ella, and Ellie’s that are surfacing these days. Her name will be Ellington (until she decides to go by something else for a NN). A home nickname will be “L”. We call our first child “Z.” since his first name starts with Z.

  6. I am a professional jazz musician and we just names our little girl Ellington Beatrice. We love that it is unique but not weird.