Image by buschap via Flickr

Henry and Hudson are both popular picks for boys.  How about this surname with ties to a creative visionary?

Thanks to Aubrey for suggesting Henson as our Baby Name of the Day.

Henson has three main possible sources.  The -son suffix almost certainly indicates descent; the puzzle is first element.

  • Henson could be the son of Henry.
  • Alternately, he could be Hendy’s boy.  The Middle English word hende meant kind or pleasant.  Hendy was either a given name in the Middle Ages, or maybe a nickname given to a likable fellow.  I’m not quite certain, but Chaucer has a character referred to as “hende Nicholas” in one of his stories.
  • There’s also a possible link to the surnames Hain, Hanes, Haynes, Hagan, or Hawthorn.  Several sources are possible.  Especially the Hain/Hanes/Haynes versions probably come from the Middle English heghen – enclosure.  Hagan and Hawthorn are related to personal names that have faded from use.

Regardless of his origins, Henson is a familiar surname, with plenty of notables answering to the name, like:

  • Before the Wright Brothers, William Henson was trying to fly.  A lace-maker by trade, he invented machines to help automate the process.  From there he designed many other inventions, including the Henson Aerial Steam Carriage.  It never did fly, but for his efforts, Henson has a lecture series and a glacier named in his honor.
  • Matthew Henson graduated from cabin boy to full-fledged explorer, joining Admiral Robert Peary on his expedition to the North Pole.  Peary got the glory, but Henson was actually the one to plant the flag.  The year was 1909, and Henson was African American – a servant on Peary’s grand expedition.  Over the years, the history was re-examined and Henson now receives equal billing for their efforts.
  • I love the duplication of this name – Herbert Hensley Henson, an outspoken nineteenth century Anglican Bishop of Durham.
  • Josiah Henson was born into slavery, escaped to Canada, and became a minister and abolitionist.
  • Back to the friendly skies: Richard Henson was an American test pilot who created the first commuter airline, connecting Hagerstown, Maryland with Washington DC in 1962.

But then came Jim Henson, and it is hard to hear the name and think of anyone else.  Kermit the Frog’s creator, the visionary behind Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird, he’s revered both for his creativity and his kindness.  Unlike many a potential hero name, Henson honors someone who nearly everyone can embrace.  21 years after his death, a new movie is set to debut this month, introducing The Muppets to a new generation of children.

Incidentally that bench in the picture, the one with sculptures of Jim Henson and Kermit, is located on the campus of Henson’s alma mater, the University of Maryland – located a little over a mile from where I sit right now.

So let’s say you grew up with The Muppets, and have come to appreciate Jim Henson’s creative process.  Henson could make an excellent middle name for a son.  He’s also a possibility in the first spot, fitting in with Landon and Jackson and Hunter and Blake.

Or maybe Henson is on your family tree.  Notables by the name haven’t disappeared.  There’s Oscar-nominated actress Taraji Henson, a descendant of the explorer Matthew Henson, plus athlete Drew Henson, one of a handful of people who can claim to have played in both the NFL and the MLB.

Henson sounds current, and his pedigree is inspiring.  He’s a rarity, but one that might wear well.

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 think that Jim Henson is reason enough to use the name. I adore the Muppets!

    And Henny is the kind of nickname that could be worn by some pretty confident men!

  2. This reminds me of a combination of Jim Henson (obvious!) and, strangely, Tim Henman. I like the sound, and the -son ending doesn’t bother me too, too much, but I’m not totally sure about it. Hen- names in general seem to get me. Henley? Too T-shirt. Henson? Too Muppets!

    I do like H two-syllable names. Not just Harper and Harlow and Haven and Honor and all those celebrity baby names (I like ’em well enough), but I used to be infatuated with Hudson as a girl, and my new H-name crush is the literary Holden. I love it, even if Holden Caulfield was a little rough around the edges. He had spunk, and so does his name!

  3. This one feels incomplete to me. If I were to go the surname -son route, I’d probably use Henrikson, Harrison, or Jamison.

    1. I agree somewhat. I’d be much more inclined to use something such as Jenson, or simply Henry.

    2. That’s an interesting observation. I do like three-syllable ends-in-son names better … Jamison is a favorite.

  4. I think its fun and unexpected, but recognizable. Perfectly wearable. Not to mention that I love Jim Henson

  5. I love the Jim Henson connection, but I don’t understand the use of surnames for children that aren’t connected to your family.
    I guess my feelings come from my married surname being so insanely popular as a first for boy and now crossing over to girls.

    1. I think it is two things: first, some people are choosing a surname name that isn’t connected to the families directly, but is connected to their lives. Hero names, like Jim Henson. But I also think sometimes parents look at books or hear names out there in the world and it never occurs to them that it would be anything other than a given name.

      1. That was my thought, Truman is on my list because Harry S Truman is my dad’s hero. While Henson isn’t a name I choose for a first name, I could easily see it as a middle name.

        I’ve been tossing around the name Henning and if I consider that it could be an honorific to Jim Henson… I like it even more.

  6. I went to UMCP, too! One of the first things you hear during orientation is about Jim Henson and how Fozzie Bear supposedly was based on his girlfeiend’s teddy bear.

    I admire Jim Henson, but wouldn’t put the name on my list. I really have a no-surname bias.