Baby Name of the Day: Hawthorne

The fruit of Common Hawthorn (C. monogyna)

Image via Wikipedia

He’s outdoorsy and literary – a tough combination to find for a boy’s name.

Thanks to Evangeline for suggesting Hawthorne as our Baby Name of the Day.

If you’re looking to the natural world for inspiration for your son’s name, the pickings are slim.  Sure, there’s River or Jasper.  But it is a fraction of the possibilities for girls.

Hawthorn is a shrub, especially effective at growing closely together to create hedges.  In Old English haga meant hedge; the thorn is obvious – they’ve got ’em.  For centuries, they were planted as living fences.  It’s a useful plant in other ways, too – good for firewood, and the berries can be made into wine, syrup, and jam.

Because it once bloomed in late April, it was also known as mayblossom or maythorn, and once featured in May Day celebrations.  It’s also:

  • An emblem of hope;
  • A remedy for heartbreak;
  • Said to be used by the ancient Greeks in weddings;
  • Considered by some the source of Jesus’ crown of thorns, and the staff of Saint Joseph;
  • Associated with fairies and holy wells;
  • Said to make excellent stakes for killing vampires.

Plenty of places became known as Hawthorn, and so Hawthorn came into use as a surname for anyone hailing from those places.

But today’s name isn’t Hawthorn.  It’s Hawthorne, with an e.

Chalk it up to Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was actually born Nathaniel Hathorne in 1804 in Salem, Massachussets.

It’s commonly believed that the writer added the “w” to distance himself from his distinguished family, which included John Hathorne, the chief interrogator of the Salem Witch Trials.  If that’s true, Hawthorne never acknowledged it in writing.  Both names trace back to Hawthorn.

His writings – the dark Scarlet Letter, the haunting House of the Seven Gables – are considered masterworks of American literature.  And so Hawthorne feels like the dominant spelling.

We find it in use elsewhere in recent years:

  • Jada Pinkett Smith plays nurse Christina Hawthorne on TNT’s medical drama Hawthorne;
  • In the Hunger Games trilogy, heroine Katniss’ possible romance with fellow hunter Gale Hawthorne is a major part of the story.

Nancy’s list tells us that five boys received the name in 2009. That’s not zero, but it isn’t terribly common, either.  (Over 200 were named Hagan or Hagen; nearly 50 were called Haddan or Hadden.)

Perhaps parents weary of Nathaniel – a Biblical, colonial option installed in the US Top 100 since 1978 – landed on the associated surname.  Or maybe Hawthorne really is just that elusive literary, nature name that still feels solidly masculine, a surname choice without a feminine short form.  If you love Avery, Ellery, and Emerson but fear they’ve gone to Team Pink, Hawthorne is one option that might satisfy.

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I know someone who uses Hawthorn as his “goth name.” That colors my perception of the name, but as a first name, it makes me think of a vampire in a young adult novel. Thorn is almost worse, because it seems like the name of a vampire on a soap opera.

I could handle Thorn. It’s not too bad. Hawthorne is stodgy and hoary.

I’d hope Hawthorne was NEVER nicknamed Haw. I can’t stomach Hortense for the same reason although it’s ugh factor is doubled by the presence of “tense” 😉

I did wonder about Hawk as a nickname. It seems aggressively masculine, but that seems to appeal to all those parents of boys called Slade and Gunner/Gunnar.