He was fairly common in the nineteenth century. But today, with surnames and place names so in favor, why is no one using this brainy choice for their sons?
Thanks to Sara A. for suggesting Newton as Baby Name of the Day.
In 1880, Newton ranked #180 in the US – about as common as Nicholas, Timothy, Christopher, or Owen at the time. But Newton fell rapidly in the early 20th century, and by the 1950s, was nowhere to be found, while those other names headed in the opposite direction.
No dictionary is required to decipher Newton. It was a place name given to a new town. There have plenty of those over the centuries – it is among the most common place names in England, where I stopped counting after I reached the three dozen mark.
Newton picks up his brainy vibe thanks to Sir Isaac Newton, a leading figure in the Scientific Revolution, known for his achievements in mathematics, physics, astronomy, and more. The subatomic particle is not named after the pioneering scientist, but Nickelodeon’s Jimmy Neutron almost links the two – his full name is James Isaac.
Say Newton to a school student who has yet to tackle calculus, and his first thought might be the contents of his lunch box.
Fig rolls were a popular pastry, dating back to ancient Egypt. The Kennedy Biscuit Company was the first to mass produce the Fig Newton in the late nineteenth century. While the association with Sir Isaac is sometimes rumored, KBC often named their products after neighboring towns – in this case, Boston ‘burb, Newton, Massachusetts, likely inspired the cookies’ name. The company eventually became part of Nabisco. Today you can buy strawberry and raspberry Newtons, too.
Today’s parents might hear Newton and think of:
- Co-founder of the 1960s radical organization, the Black Panthers, Huey Newton;
- Legendary fashion photographer Helmut Newton;
- Grammy-winning singer Juice Newton, born Judith;
- Actress Thandie Newton;
- Mr. Las Vegas himself, Wayne Newton;
- Grease star, Australian-born singer Olivia Newton-John.
More recently, Newton has been in the spotlight as the given name of politician-turned-pundit Newt Gingrich. Gingrich was named after his father. He’s not the first politician to answer to Newton – attorney Newton Minnow was chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, known for declaring television a “vast wasteland” in a famous 1961 speech.
Even with nature names in vogue, it boggles the mind to imagine parents choosing to name their sons after a small aquatic salamander – Newt just isn’t much of a nickname. If you choose this surname for a son, be prepared to use the full two-syllable pronunciation to avoid the lizardish association.
But if boys can answer to Truman and Beckett, Colby and Dalton, why not Newton? Others might think you’re nodding to your political views, or possibly a pregnancy craving, but Newton is every bit as legitimate a surname option as any currently in use.