There’s something tremendously upbeat about this Irish surname.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day: Sullivan.
Sullivan is instantly recognizable as an Irish surname. There’s general consensus that the name translates to something like “little dark eyed one.”
But if you have any familiarity with musical theater, chances Sullivan brings to mind The Pirates of Penzance or The Mikado or any of the tremendously popular Gilbert & Sullivan operettas from the Victorian era. W.S. Gilbert wrote the lyrics; Arthur Sullivan, the music. The rest is history.
The surname appeared in the US Top 1000 a few times in the nineteenth century, but Sullivan’s real climb is recent – and fueled, at least in part, by a blue, furry monster.
Pixar‘s Monsters, Inc. was the studio’s fourth feature film, released in 2001. Mike Wazowski – a one-eyed green ball with legs – and James P. Sullivan, called Sulley, report to work every day at Monstropolis’ power plant. They sneak into kids’ bedrooms, scare them, and bottle the screams to power the city. Things go whopper-jawed when a child they call Boo sneaks into Monstropolis, and discovers that Sulley is a loveable goofball, not a scary beast.
Sure enough, Sullivan entered the US Boys’ Top 1000 in 2002. He’d climbed to #651 by 2009.
It’s not just the friendly monster raising Sullivan’s profile:
- In 2007, Patrick Dempsey welcomed twin sons Darby Galen and Sullivan Patrick. He’d already shown a preference for Irish appellations when he and wife Jillian welcomed daughter Talula Fyfe in 2002;
- Sullivan fits with the tide of popular Irish names, from Ryan to Riley, but his three-syllable pattern is more akin to newcomers like Donovan;
- Fictional characters have worn the surname, like Third Watch’s John Sullivan – known as Sully – and Clark Kent‘s BFF on Smallville, Chloe Sullivan;
- The three kids on Everybody Loves Raymond were played by real life siblings: big sister Madylin, and twin brothers Sawyer and Sullivan – though on the show, they were the more ordinary Alexandra, Geoffrey, and Michael.
Nickname Sully has a few advantages. He’s a great choice for parents who fret that their boy Bailey will be mistaken for a girl. Pilot Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger earned his place in history when he successfully landed a disabled aircraft – a commercial flight with over 150 passengers on board – in New York’s Hudson River in 2009. It lends the name a vaguely heroic vibe. So does the fictional hero of Avatar, wounded Marine Jake Sully.
Sully is also a common place name in France, and there was a prominent duc de Sully. If you’re looking at a map, there’s also Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, the site of the former Fort Moultrie. Edgar Allen Poe was stationed there, and it inspired his writing. Pat Conroy also set a novel there.
It all makes for a friendly name, one that is thoroughly Irish, quite current, and wearable for a child or a grown-up. While Sullivan is stylish, he’s not yet so common that you’d expect to hear him everywhere. It’s an appealing combination for parents distraught to realize that Aidan has long since ceased to sound original.