If you can name a child King or Contessa, why not this slightly more subtle choice?
Thanks to Beth for suggesting Gentry as our Baby Name of the Day.
If you took a lot of European history in college, chances are the phrase “landed gentry” springs to mind. Gentry isn’t an fixed concept, but typically to be a member of the gentry meant that you and your family owned a decent chunk of land. In a pre-industrial economy, land ownership was a big deal, though wealth and social standing varied greatly even amongst land owners, and even the most powerful member of the gentry was still a few pegs below royalty. Think of Lady Diana Spencer. She was to the manor born, the daughter of a viscount, and undeniably moved in lofty circles. But strictly speaking, she was considered a commoner until her wedding day.
So Gentry isn’t a title – it is a loosely-defined social class. In some ways, it makes the interest in Gentry even harder to explain.
Except that Gentry’s roots make for an appealing meaning. You might not name a son Gentleman, but the origin of Gentry is the same. The Old French gentil came from the Latin gentilis, meaning from the same family. At different points in English, gentle has meant kind or mild. While those senses are mostly obsolete today, they linger in the terms gentleman and gentry. It has also been used to refer to faeries or other enchanted creatures. The word’s evolution lends lots of positive qualities to borrow for the name.
Gentry also has history as a surname – perhaps the most plausible explanation for how parents first dreamed up the idea of using Gentry as a given name. Country crooners Eddie Montgomery and Troy Gentry perform as Montgomery Gentry. The Gentry Brothers are big noise in thoroughbred racing. And Viola Gentry set aviation records for women early in the history of flight.
While it has never been common, there have definitely been people named Gentry, like:
- Gentry Lee is a full-time rocket scientist and some-time collaborator on science fiction novels with Arthur C. Clarke.
- Gentry McCreary, Sr. is a major force in the gospel music industry.
- Salt Lake City’s alternative music scene has long been dominated by the innovative Gentry Densely.
Add in a bunch of politicians, and this starts to feel like an underused option, a possible successor to Jeffrey.
Or is Gentry a girl’s name? A few years ago, a Miss Teen USA pageant contestant wore the name. And if you look at the statistics, it isn’t so clear:
- On the boys’ side, there were 62 newborn boys named Gentry in 2010, plus 9 boys called Jentry, for a total of 71.
- As for the girls, Gentry alone was given to 73 girls, plus 30 more named Jentry, 9 called Jentri, and 6Gentri.
File Gentry’s gender under TBD. My best guess as of 2012 is that Gentry is another Peyton – some re-spellings feel feminine, but the name is genuinely gender-neutral.
Overall, Gentry is a modern romantic – a straightforward surname name with an extravagant feel. Gentry’s also solidly under the radar, fair game for either gender, and a thoroughly unexpected option.