Tennyson statue outside Lincoln Cathedral
Tennyson statue outside Lincoln Cathedral via Flickr

The saintly Dennis had his day, but if you’re looking for a fresh spin on that classic appellation, here’s one option.

Thanks to Amanda for suggesting the poetic Tennyson as our Baby Name of the Day.

Tennyson’s son ending implies that this name was given to descendants of someone called Tenny, just like Andrew’s offspring became Andersons and Harry’s kids answer to Harrison. Tennyson implies an ancestral Dennis.

The D-to-T switch was part of the same alchemy that gave us Bob from Robert and Dick from Richard. Denis – the dominant spelling – gave us the short forms Denny and Tenny.

Denis caught on thanks to a third-century saint, but the saint was born Dionysus. While few other gods’ names were given directly, Dionysios seems to be the exception. Denis is simply a contracted form. As Denis, the name was transformed from chief of pagan revels to an impeccably Catholic choice.

Saint Denis was French; along with Saint Genevieve, he serves as patron saint of Paris.

The name appears steadily throughout the historical record, and plenty of families have adopted a surname form, too.

None of this would matter, save for the Victorian era’s poet laureate, Alfred Tennyson. From The Charge of the Light Brigade to the Idylls of the King, he’s penned many an immortal work. His poetry earned him the title Baron Tennyson, an honor his descendants carry to the present day.

Plenty of places were named Tennyson in his memory, too, from the US to Australia.

Speaking of Australia, Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe wife Danielle Spencer have two sons: Charles and Tennyson.

Crowe wasn’t the first to bestow Tennyson as a given name. Back in the 1970s, Tennyson Guyer represented Ohio in the US House of Representatives.

There’s also at least one use of Tennyson for a girl, though it’s in fiction: Lesley M.M. Blume’s young adult novel Tennyson. The novel’s young heroine is living on a crumbling Southern plantation during the Great Depression.

Kids today might also think of the young hero of animated adventure series Ben 10. He’s Ben Tennyson, brother to Gwen.

There have also been several ships called Tennyson, including one that traveled between New York and South American in the early twentieth century.

If there’s any drawback to Tennyson, it is that he sounds the tiniest bit pretentious. But then, that’s the risk with using any hero’s surname. Unless it becomes a Top 100 choice, at which point no one is paying much attention to which Jackson or Jordan you had in mind when you picked the name.

If you can overlook that vibe, Tennyson has quite a bit of style. He’s more masculine than ends-in-son picks that lead to favorite feminine short forms, like Emerson or Ellison. He’s less expected than surname choices like Tyler and Mason. Tenn and Tenny make for fun short forms.

And if anyone asks you if you were inspired by the actor’s kid, well, you can always respond: “No, we were thinking of the poet.”

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. Years late on this post, but glad I found it! I have a female Tennyson- she is 14mo. Nickname is Tens.

  2. Its a bit unclear but Tennyson seems to have been a family nickname for many generations of Edwards and Teds in my Nans family. Would love to use it but I’m not a fan of the poet, I have an uncle Dennis, the father’s name would be Ben (though I think the Ben10 reference would fade) and the girl name we absolutely love is also a surname and begins with a T. So to the middle it goes!

    Robin Tennyson perhaps?

  3. I have a Tennyson! He’s six months old, and we call him Tenny for short. I love the name – we love the poet, it starts with a t just like my husband’s name, and it’s unique. We’re both teachers so we wanted a name that was different enough that we wouldn’t be very likely to encounter in the classroom. So far, so good! 🙂

  4. I’m a HUGE fan of Tennessee Williams and have been trying to convince DH to consider Tennessee for our boys shortlist, but unfortunately he prefers Thomas Lanier (Williams’ birthname) to Tennessee. I’d consider Tennyson as an alternative…he isn’t my favorite poet, but I still enjoy his work. Besides, anyone that knows me knows I’m a big literary buff, so maybe that wouldn’t seem quite so pretentious…or it would. Who cares? At least the kid would be named after a great literary mind…as long as the parents actually KNOW his work.

  5. I’m glad I ran across this post. We already have a son named Tennyson and were considering Charles for a brother. Not any more! I’m fine sharing Tennyson with Russell Crowe, but I’m not going to share both names. That would make me feel tacky.

  6. I just saw the name Tennyson (for a girl) yesterday on the bulletin board at the pediatrician’s office. (Families send in labeled photos of their kids for display.) Tennyson has a sister named Landon, by the way. I am obsessed with the bulletin board… I love gawking at what other people name their kids.

  7. Oh good Lord, I am glad I read this post and learned that there is a popular cartoon character called Ben Tennyson – we have a Ben and were considering Tennyson for a second son. Not any more!!!!!! Thanks for saving us!!!

    1. Funny – I met a new mom who named her daughter Eleanor, called Nora. Dad’s name? Nick. She said “We never thought of it until after she was born.”

      Too bad, because I love Tennyson, and Benjamin and Tennyson should go together well.

  8. Tennyson has always been my favorite poet, so I am very intrigued by the name and finding myself considering it more and more, especially as a great mn. My sister has always said regardless of gender she’s going to name her first born Tennessee Reid, after her name sake Sarah Lucinda Tennessee Reid, so I would probably never use it if she goes through with that plan, but this seems like a cute and literary alternative. Very fun post!