Elwood and Jake Blues and the Bluesmobile
Elwood and Jake Blues and the Bluesmobile (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He’s a surname pick with a supercool namesake.

With congratulation to S.J. on her new son, our Baby Name of the Day is Elwood.

Back in 1978, when everyone was watching Saturday Night Live, Dan Akroyd and John Belushi introduced a new duo, The Blues Brothers.  It was one of the first SNL skits to spawn a successful movie spin-off.  John played Joliet Blues, called Jake, while Dan answered to Elwood.

One half of the duo had an impact on baby naming.  We give Twilight lots of credit for the rise of Jacob, but that’s just wrong.  Jake entered the Top 100 in 1974, and was lifted by pop culture uses in the 1980s – from Sixteen Candles’ handsome Jake Ryan to Joliet Blues.

And yet Elwood has languished.  He occupied the US Top 1000 every year from 1880 through 1969, but has been seldom heard since.  Just 17 boys received the name in 2011.

There are two possible origins for Elwood.  The first – and most obvious – is the he derives from ellern – elder tree in Old English – and wudu – wood.  This makes him a place name akin to Ashley.  The first Elwood was likely in Gloucestershire, but there are plenty now, including half-a-dozen in the US.  It is also possible that Elwood comes from an Old English given name, drawing on that incredibly powerful element ælf – elf.  Ælfwald and Ælfwold both appear in the historical record, as does Æthelwald, an eighth century king of Northumbria.  Or, as is so often the case, both influences combined to create a name in steady use.

Other than the Blues brother, the most famous Elwood is another fictional figure, Elwood P. Dowd, friend of giant, invisible rabbit Harvey.  The 1944 play Harvey spawned a 1950 movie.  Both were successful – the play, written by Mary Chase, garnered a Pulitzer, and the film remains a classic.  James Stewart played Elwood P. Dowd, a fellow with an imaginary friend.  His eccentricities are accepted to varying degrees by those in his life.  The person who cannot abide Elwood’s invisible BFF is his sister, Veta, an ambitious sort bent on curing her brother.  The movie ends well, with even Veta convinced that Elwood’s outlook on life has merit.

But here’s the burning question: Blues is cool and Dowd is quirky and admirable, but could you name a baby boy Elwood?  Woody is the obvious nickname, and while it has some drawbacks, it also has some serious potential.  There’s the filmmaker and the Cheers bartender who shared his name with the actor who portrayed him.  (Though Harrelson was born Woodrow and Allen legally changed his named from Allen Koningsberg to Heywood Allen.)  There’s also the heroic cowboy from the Toy Story trilogy, a reference that will be front of mind to generations of children and parents alike.

Overall, Elwood is somewhere between an unconventional hipster choice – the masculine equivalent of Opal – and names that are just plain unfairly forgotten.  He’s half-edgy cool and half-humble homespun.  There’s a lot to admire about Elwood.

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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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  1. 2020 now so this thread is getting revived! We are naming our November boy Elwood and we are so excited to meet him! My husband and I are from the Chicago area, and he talked me into Elwood (which I now also love) many years ago. We love The Blues Brothers and think our little dude is going to be one cool kiddo with a name like Elwood. We also like the nickname ‘Woods.’ Currently, his name is around 6500 in popularity in the US and to us, that makes it even better!

  2. My grandfather was named Elwood Stanley, my father is Elwood Clark, I am Elwood Clark Jr and i named my son Michael Elwood, now my grandfather divorced my grandmother and had a second family and a second son he named Elwood Stanley, so i have a father and an uncle named Elwood, I didn’t name son Elwood Michael because of the teasing i got as a child growing up in the 70’s. As a child I had the Nickname Woody and my father and grandfather go by Woody myself and my uncle go by Elwood. I was born in 1966 and until recently thought i had a very unique name. I started going by Elwood when I was in the Navy back in the late 80’s early 90’s i have some friends who still call me Woody though.

    1. It is pretty uncommon, Elwood – thanks for sharing your story! And how cool that you’ve got so much family history all wrapped up in your name.

  3. I desperately want an Elwood but our surname is Wood. Elwood Wood just can’t work and I can’t think of any way around it!

    1. Maybe you can call him Elwood by his initials? Maybe something like Emmet Leo Wood or E.L. Wood.

    2. its no worse than actor Edward Woodwards name and it did his career no harm

      I know I’m bumping an old thread but I’ve a 13 month elwood and he’s the coolest little dude ever

      Can’t believe the name is not more popular

  4. Cute, thanks for sharing! My Elwood will be 4 in May and he too suits his name so well. Although a different name no one has ever reacted in horror or disgust. The reactions are more often like a pleasant surprise that encourages respect. “Well, hello there Elwood!” Good luck naming his brother, I’d love to hear what you decide. If it was me I would go for Clark!

  5. I have an Elwood Michael and he suits that name perfectly, I like that someone said ‘quirky old-man-adorableness’ – that sums up our boy. Surprisingly, he doesn’t have a nickname yet and people don’t shorten his name. He has a brother on the way and we are truly stuck for another name!

  6. My grandfather’s name was Russell Elwood, but he went by Elwood as his father was Russell William. My dad is Russell William also and my brother is Randy William, so my grandfather was unique. I like both of his names…you don’t hear Russell too much nowadays either, unless it’s a last name.