The baby name Tess is just a single syllable, once short for longer, traditional choices, but now a possible independent choice.

Thanks to Anna and Sophie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.


Back in 1891, English novelist Thomas Hardy wrote Tess of the d’Urbervilles. It wasn’t exactly a hit at the time, but since then, it’s become widely read and often adapted.

Hardy’s Tess is virtuous, even brave, when circumstances continually turn against her. It’s a harrowing tale that ends on a sad note.

She’s the most enduring of the women named Tess, the one that appears on every list. But the baby name Tess has been used for countless women over the years. It’s just a bit tough to pin down exact numbers.


Hardy’s tragic heroine is mostly addressed as just plain Tess, but at one point, she’s referred to as “Mistress Teresa d’Urberville.”

Likewise, many a Tess is actually named Theresa, Teresa, or Therese – or even Tessa, another nickname that now stands on its own. The names come from the Greek Therasia, meaning harvest – or possibly summer.

Tess might also be short for Esther, Estelle, and Estella; title name Contessa; and smoosh names like Tessalyn and Tessianne.

But could Tess work as an independent name?


After all, classic Theresa – a favorite of saints and royals aplenty – left the US Top 1000 after 2010. The French Therese last ranked in 1984. Teresa remains in use, but has been falling since the 1980s.

Former nickname go-tos Tracy, Tracey, and Tracie, as well as Terry, Terri, and Teri are also past their moment.

That opened the door to Tess. From 1983 through 2013, the baby name Tess ranked in the US Top 1000.

Today, it’s been eclipsed by Tessa. But it’s easy to imagine that plenty of girls out there still answer to the single-syllable name Tess – even if it’s not on their birth certificate.


In fact, just 107 girls were named Tess in 2022.

The name peaked in 1992, with 529 newborn girls called Tess.

But it’s been used in small numbers dating back to the late nineteenth century when national US data is first available.

The challenge is that, as a nickname, Tess won’t necessarily register on any popularity chart.


Plenty of fictional characters have answered to the name, including:

  • Katharine Hepburn played Tess Harding in Woman of the Year.
  • Tess Trueheart was the love interest, and eventually wife, of comic strip detective Dick Tracy.
  • Working Girl gave us brainy Tess McGill, who got the job and the guy in the 1988 hit movie starring Melanie Griffith.
  • The head angel on Touched by an Angel was called Tess.
  • On Roswell, a prime time soap with an alien twist, Tess was one of the part-human hybrids.
  • Shirley MacLaine wore the name in Guarding Tess, as fictional former First Lady Tess Carlisle.
  • 2003’s Freaky Friday gave the name Tess to the mom, played by Jamie Lee Curtis.
  • In the Ocean’s 11 and Ocean’s 12 movies, Julia Roberts plays Tess Ocean, the wife of mastermind Danny, played by George Clooney.
  • Kate Hudson was Tess in Fool’s Gold in 2008.
  • 2010’s Burlesque gave us Cher as Tess Scali.
  • Model Tess Holliday’s career took off in the 2010s, with campaigns for major brands, as well as her work with the body positive movement.
  • The cast of Camp Rock included an aspiring singer called Tess.
  • Kresley Cole’s Arcana Chronicles series of young adult fantasy novels centers on Evie Greene, but Tess Quinn is part of the series’ universe.
  • Speaking of young adult novels, Tess of the Road is a 2018 novel by Rachel Hartman. The character returned in a 2022 sequel.
  • There’s a Tess in the video game The Last of Us. The character has also appeared in the television adaptation.
  • Celebrated poet Tess Gallagher has received a National Endowment for the Arts award, as well as a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship.

The list is incomplete, especially if you factor in women named Theresa who answer to Tess. 

Two of note: Baroness Rothschild, born Teresa but called Tess. After completing her education at Cambridge, she was recruited into counter-intelligence during World War II. She later married into the famous family. 

There’s also Oscar-nominated actress Tess Harper, born Tessie.

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Speaking of Tessie, it’s a name that brings Boston fans to their feet.

A 1902 song borrowed from a Broadway musical was originally sung by supporters of the Red Sox. In 2004, the Dropkick Murphys updated it, and it’s still a favorite anthem for fans.


It is tempting to link Tess to the Greek tesseres – four. That’s folk etymology, though – the name simply doesn’t come from the word, at least not directly.

There’s also the Cornish Tressa – which literally means third.


It’s also worth noting that Tess fits neatly into a long-standing format for a girl’s name.

Bess is short for Elizabeth, or possibly another B name.

Jess logically comes from Jessica.

Kess could also work, and names like Dessa, Essa, Essie, and Nessa are sometimes heard. Actor Fess Parker portrayed Davy Crockett on the Disney television series, and later played Daniel Boone, too.

So that strong “ess” sound clicks as a given name for many of us.

While the popularity of the name Tess is tough to gauge, with Tessa, Teresa, and other formal options all beyond the current US Top 100, it’s unlikely this name will feel too common.

If names like Kate and June appeal to you, vintage nickname Tess could belong on your list, too.

What do you think of the baby name Tess?


sweet & simple

Straightforward nickname for classic Teresa.


unranked in the US as of 2022; Tessa is #332


decreasing in use


Greek; meaning either harvest or summer.

First published on August 29, 2011, this post was revised on January 9, 2024 and again on April 3, 2024.

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. I love all these Tess names, which we’re considering as an honour name for my partner’s Italian grandmother, Teresa nn Terry
    I think Tess can stand alone but Tessa is nice too. Thessaly is awesome but probably too unsual for us. Our front runner is science inspired Tesla nn Tess.
    Just hope it doesnt sound too much like a brand name before we get to use it!

  2. My great-grandmother is Theresa, and my cousin is Theresa. Both of them never went by Tess. So Theresa’s the name I adore instead of Teresa, and Tess.

  3. I love Teresa and would happily nickname her Tessa/Tess, ala Dick Tracy but we already know a Tessa/Tess. She’s my Josie’s newest bestest friend. Because we were powerless for 4 days, we spent those day in the Holiday Inn, which *did* have power, and we met her and her siblings & Dad there (They go to the same school but are in different classes). Sweet girl. Makes me like Tess all by herself, which is what she almost exclusively goes by.

    It’s a light & sweet name.

    1. I also love Theresa as a name, especially (only) when spelled with an ‘h’. Tess makes a great nickname, but Theresa is an elegant full name.

      Full disclosure: it’s my sister’s name and I always wished that it were mine.

  4. Too nicknamey for me, and the name doesn’t appeal to me anyway. But I really like Tessa and I think it can stand on its own pretty well. Theresa and Therese are really growing on me as well, and I like Tessa as a nickname for those. Now that I think about it, I know quite a few Tesses under 18 and none of them, to my knowledge, are short for anything.

  5. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the name Tess. Love it. Tessa is okay, too, but I find Tess much sweeter. Tessa seems a bit invented, too.

    I know two Teresas who go by Terry and Teri. I haven’t known any Teresas who’re nicknamed Tess. But I did know a little girl named Tess years ago. She’s probably 14 now. I remember telling her mom how much I loved the name.

  6. I adore Tess, Tessa, and Tessie, but they are out for two reasons: My brother’s wife is a Contessa, nn Tessa (which is part of the reason I love it, Tessa is a wonderful sister!), and the man had an ex girlfriend named Tessa. So as much as I would love to put Contessa in the middle in honor of my sister, it’s probably a bad plan. I do, however, have a lovely horse named Tesorro Rojo (Spanish, Red Treasure) who goes by Tessie Red. She is an angel!