Tate Britain gallery which houses works by Don...
Tate Britain gallery; Image via Wikipedia

Tate is modern, but is our Baby Name of the Day meant for boys or girls?

Thanks to Lili for suggesting this rising star.

Purists sometimes insist that all surnames are reserved for boys, but that overlooks many a tradition – from preppy New England families to old Southern ones – that routinely bestow family surnames regardless of gender. Tate brings to mind both the impeccably feminine Kate and the related, but also oft-given-to-girls Tatum.

All of the Tat- surnames are usually attributed to a lost medieval name, Tata. It isn’t clear if that name was feminine or masculine. One source suggests it was an Anglo-Saxon female diminutive; others suggest it is linked to the Old Norse given name Teitr or Teitur, meaning cheerful. Let’s say that the name must have been fairly common, as we can trace plenty of surnames back to this single root.

It almost doesn’t matter. For many people today, say Tate, and you’re talking about art – modern art, as housed by Great Britain’s family of museums, named in honor of philanthropist Henry Tate. Tate made his fortune in sugar cubes, took up collecting contemporary art, and eventually donated his treasures to form the foundation of today’s museums. Even though Tate never picked up a paintbrush, it lends the name as creative a spirit as Leonardo or Jackson. Henry Tate’s collection was just 65 pieces; today, the four museums boast over 60,000 works.

The philanthropist wasn’t the only notable Tate. There’s also:

  • Late seventeenth century Irish-born poet Nahum Tate;
  • Short-lived fictional gunslinger Tate, a black and white television cowboy for a single season in 1960. He was played by David McLean, better known as the Marlboro Man;
  • Promising actress Sharon Tate is remembered as a victim of the Manson family murders. Her mother and sisters became leaders in the victim’s rights movement, and are credited with a number of reforms;
  • ITV soap opera Emmerdale features a character named Zoe Tate and Search for Tomorrow’s cast included Patti Tate.

Throw in a chess champion and a few football stars, politicians and at least one comedienne, mathematicians and musicians, and it is tough to pigeon-hole Tate.

Despite Tate’s brief television tenure, some parents have embraced him along with cowpoke picks like Wyatt and Gage.

You might have heard him as a first name on two men:

  • Actor Tate Donovan, best known for his role on FX’s Damages, but seen in many a television guest spot;
  • A fictional baseball player appearing on One Life to Live in 2007, though Tate Harmon ended up being a serious bad guy.

Regardless of the inspiration, the name is catching on. Nancy’s exhaustive 2009 list gives us boys called Tayt (6 of them), Taite (8 total), Tayte (19), Tait (33), and Tate (628).

628 boys called Tate puts this name solidly in the Top 1000, where he’s been since 1990, ranking a respectable #442 in 2009. He’s down just a few spots from 2007’s peak of #407 – when the soap opera character was on-screen.

He’s an alternative to Finn or Jake, but also Brooke and Paige. Spare, modern Tate manages to be appropriate for the 21st century without feeling rootless or invented. It’s easy to see him catching on, but that hasn’t happened … yet.

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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  1. My daughter just turned 18 today and her name is Tait….and yes she was called potato and taiter tot, and tater bug when she was mean little bugger, but she loved all the nick names. For a long while she insisted everyone call her Tait’er tot.

    I have asked her many times do you like your name, as she has to spell for people frequently. She says “Mom, when someone texts me I don’t know which Sarah, or Emily, or Mary it is, but when I text someone they only know one Tait, so yeah I love my name! It’s me, and I love being a Tait”