Ransom E. Olds 1864-1950
Ransom E. Olds, via twm1340 on Flickr

He’s a terribly handsome choice if you’re naming a literary character or maybe a soap opera hero. But how would he fare on a real boy?

Thanks to Larkin for suggesting Ransom as our Baby Name of the Day.

Ransom didn’t always refer to small bills, unmarked, left in a dark suitcase behind the park bench at 83rd and Main. Ransom has meant a fee paid for the release of a prisoner since sometime in the 1200s, so you’re forgiven if that’s the only thing that comes to mind.

But ransom’s roots are deeper, and link him back to the same Latin roots as the word redemption – and so just as a soul can be spiritually redeemed, so it can be ransomed. Suddenly, Ransom is less the title of hit Mel Gibson flick from the 90s and more a name with subtle religious overtones, akin to Molly Piper’s kids’ names, like Orison and Whitsun.

If you’re the church-going type, chances are you can think up a few hymns with phrases like “his wounds have paid my ransom.”

Then there’s Our Lady of Ransom. Back in Barcelona in 1218, the future saint Peter Nolasco established a religious order dedicated to raising funds to ransom captives held by Muslims. Aristocratic prisoners routinely negotiated their own release, but poor soldiers were stuck unless a charitable order intervened.

It makes a compelling case to consider the name, and yet there’s no shortage of meaningful names. Ransom has fared better than most, appearing in the US Top 1000 most years from 1880 through 1920, and making one last appearance in 1930.

This might have more to do with the second possible origin for Ransom: an English surname sharing origins with names like Randolph.

Rand or Rande refers to a shield – or, technically, the edge or rim of a shield, as well as other things. He surfaces in plenty of Germanic given names, like Randulf, and lots of names are related to Rand – think Randall, Randy, Bertrand, and Randolph. It’s easy to see how Ransom could have evolved from any of the Ran- names.

Plenty of men have worn it, including:

  • Ransom E. Olds, pictured above, built his first car in 1894, and by 1901, he had produced the first-ever mass-produced automobile – though Henry Ford typically gets credit for the innovation.
  • Marine biologist and conservationist Ransom Myers answered to the nicknameRam.
  • Writer Ransom Riggs is best known for his New York Times bestseller Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children.

Fictional figures bolster the name’s reputation, too, most significantly Elwin Ransom. The hero of C.S. Lewis‘ Space Trilogy. Given Lewis’ spiritual overtones, the use of Ransom as a surname was not an accident.

Throw in plenty of other people who have answered to the surname, and Ransom isn’t that surprising. If you’re fortunate enough to find him on your family tree – maybe your grandmother’s maiden name or a nearly forgotten great-uncle, then this is one to add to the short list. Should you not have such luck, Ransom still might work. He’d more exciting than Robert in the middle spot, and if you’re attracted to his religious vibe, perhaps your friends and family won’t send you “congratulations on your new baby” cards crafted from letters cut out of magazines.

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. Rudolph/Rudolf/Randolph/Randal are all part of our family tree. I prefer the Rudolph and Rudolf spellings though. Ransom is a fine name. You can’t expect everyone to like it, not everyone is well educated in it’s history, so those individuals association’s are limited. Part of that is by innocent ignorance and other’s by choice….. But I don’t think that should stop anyone from using it, especially to honor family. I have no hostility towards the name or people who have chosen to use it. I’m rather fond of Ransom Roberts as a name, it is quite handsome and dashing. I think that there are many fine names that go well with Ransom. Perhaps, Ms. Abbey, could do a sibling spotlight. Give those expecting parents and future parents an idea of all the lovely names parent chose for their families. Maybe even collaborate with British Baby names, Ms. Eleanor, and include Britain’s stats too. It would give everyone such a well round picture. Thanks for doing Ransom as BnofD.

    P.s. Ms. Abby have you read the forum on Nameberry on Ransom. That was an interesting read.

  2. Our first sons name is Ransom. Its my great grandfathers middle name and my fathers middle name is Randolph. I have known for a long time that would be my sons name if I ever had one. To me it sounds tough and unique. No one is gonna mess with ransom. I agree coming up with our seconds sons name was tricky.

  3. I named my first son Ransom! I love unique names! I would never name my children names that are typical like John or Bob. To me that’s just silly! I have another son named Harlem and a daughter name Remmey

  4. We named our son Ransom and love it. So much so that naming our second son is becoming a problem. Nothing is hitting us with the same positivity so far. We get a lot of second takes, but it helps that it sounds a lot like current common names. It’s not hard to pronounce or spell, but is unusual. And one can easily imagine an adult man named Ransom. We never fell into a nickname.

    1. Congratulations on baby #2! It is a tough one. If you go for another noun name, there’s a risk that it will feel like a phrase – Ransom and Prosper, Ransom and True. But then, it has to be another handsome, stand-out kind of name, doesn’t it?