Thanks to Beth for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
It’s tempting to list the baby name Gage with modern virtue names.
Two possible meanings attach: measure or promise.
Both come from the French word – gauger. It means to measure something precisely.
Originally that something was often money.
Or metal. Weights and measures mattered, back in the day before digital scales. An assayer was in charge of checking the gauges – the weights – that were used for so many transactions.
And so Gauge or Gage became the occupational surname for those who lent money, borrowed from the weights themselves. Since borrowing money is a sort of promise, the baby name Gage suggests a kind of guarantee.
In modern usage, if we’re gauging a reaction or an amount, it often means “eyeballing” or “estimating.” But other uses remain far more precise – gauges on a railway track, for example, or shotgun gauges.
Plenty of aristocratic surnames have filtered into general use over the ages. There’s Clarence and Darcy and Cecil.
Gage counts, too. At least sort of.
There’s a title in the Peerage of Ireland – Viscount Gage. It was created in 1720 for Thomas Gage. The family had been a big deal for a few generations by then, complete with a manor house acquired via marriage. Plenty of distinguished Gages followed, including a military leader and a botanist.
Thanks to the latter, there’s a genus of flowers in the lily family formally known as gagea.
All of this make the baby name two-parts occupational, one-part aristocratic.
But what put the baby name Gage on parents’ shortlists?
It’s not a what, but a who – Stephen King.
A smattering of boys received the baby name Gage prior to the 1980s.
Then, in 1983, King published Pet Sematary.
The Creed family – dad Louis, mom Rachel, daughter Ellie, and son Gage – move into a home on a busy road, one known for claiming the lives of many a hapless dog or cat.
There’s a pet graveyard nearby, but it isn’t just your regular resting place for Fido. Instead, if you bury something there, it returns – reanimated and, oh by the way, evil.
Louis tries this with Ellie’s cat, so he oughta know better when his son, Gage, dies tragically on that same road.
But hey, this is Stephen King. Sure enough, Gage becomes a murderous fiend, and the tale does not have a happy ending.
Following the success of the 1983 novel, Pet Sematary became a 1989 movie. Despite poor reviews from critics, the movie proved a blockbuster success.
BY the NUMBERS
The horror movie also launched the baby name Gage.
A handful of children received the name prior to the 1980s.
In 1983, eleven boys were given the baby name Gage. By 1984, that number jumped to 42.
And in 1989, the year of the movie’s release? 171 births, enough to put the baby name Gage on the US popularity charts at #755.
It peaked in 2009, at #141.
Not only did the baby name Gage benefit from the novel and movie buzz, but it fit with rising favorites like Gabriel, Jack, and Aidan.
A movie reboot in 2019 fared modestly well, but the baby name Gage was already sliding. As of 2020, it had fallen to #477.
Other notable Gages include:
- Nora Roberts has characters named Fox, Caleb, Layla, Cybil, Quinn, and Gage in her Sign of Seven trilogy.
- In the final season of 1990s hit Walker, Texas Ranger, Chuck Norris’ character mentored a rookie ranger named Francis Gage, usually called Gage.
- Actor Gage Golightly has played Hayley in The Troop and Teen Wolf’s Erica. She also suggests that Gage might be a unisex possibility.
21ST CENTURY STAPLE
The baby name Gage is fading today. And yet, the style that Gage represents – short, bright, surname-style choices – isn’t really going anywhere. We’ve just traded Gage for Knox and Crew.
If you still want to choose Gage for a son today? Because it never really hit the big time, peaking comfortably outside of the US Top 100, it feels current but not common – that could be a win.
And really, it’s a style parents have embraced since the twentieth century. Just ask a generation of dads with names like Craig.
All of this makes Gage something of a twenty-first century staple, the kind of name that we may very well hear making a comeback circa 2083.
What do you think of the baby name Gage?
First published on March 6, 2012, this post was revised substantially and re-published on November 3, 2021.