balustersIt’s an ends-with-r surname name for a boy. How would he wear in 2013?

Thanks to Holly for suggesting one from her family tree, the name of her great-grandfather.  Our Baby Name of the Day is Banister.

My gut told me that Banister must be an occupational surname, but my brain couldn’t unravel what a banister might do.  Did he escort prisoners away once they’d been banished for crimes?  Did he build staircases?

Neither of my guesses were anywhere close.  Instead, a banister or bannister wove baskets.  In Anglo-Norman French, a basket was a banastre.  It comes from a mash-up of the Greek kanistron and the Gaulish word benna.

So … nothing to do with stairs.

The Bannister spelling is slightly more common, but both versions are in use as a surname.

Notables include:

  • Roger Bannister, an Englishman who ran the first mile in less than four minutes back in 1954.  He had quite a career in track and field.
  • I’ll mention Grammy Award-winning songwriter Brown Bannister mostly because his given name is so unusual.
  • Ditto Turpin Bannister – though isn’t it appropriate that he was a noted architectural historian?

Now let’s return to the staircase.

We often use banister or bannister to refer to the the handrail we see in a staircase.  But that’s not entirely accurate.  A banister is the spindle that holds up the handrail.  Once upon a time, we called them balusters.  Today baluster brings to mind those grand old carved affairs found in museums and mansions.  I can’t figure out how we went from baluster to banister to the hand rail, but there it is.  The term has been used for the handrail since the 1600s.

Stairs, of course, are much older.  It’s almost impossible to date the first staircase constructed, though it is surely many millenniums BC.  It lends Banister a certain appeal as a given name – the image of ascending, of grand places, of heights.

And yet, Banister’s real strength is his status as a ends-with-r working man’s name.  He’s less common than Cooper or even Miller, but has that same down-to-earth vibe.  While most names in this category are two syllables, in recent years, we seem to be trending towards longer boys’ names.  Think of the stylish Sullivan or Finnegan.  When added to a list with names like Archer and Gallagher and Harrison, he sounds right at home.

Of course, Banister would still be incredibly rare in the US.  He’s never been given to more than five boys in any year since 1880.  A very few men do appear in US Census records wearing the name.  They’re almost certainly answering to a family surname promoted to the first spot, and the fact that their birth places are in the South – Texas, South Carolina – Tennessee – reinforces the likelihood that their given name is a heritage choice.

If you’re inclined to pass down family names, and Banister or Bannister is on your family tree, he’d wear just as well as any surname name.  And if you’re just after something on-trend, vaguely architectural, and decidedly different, Banister could be a possible name to consider, too.

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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. This one is really interesting…. but odd, lol.
    We frequently used the term “banister” growing up to refer to this ledge next to the stair railings. All the junk was placed onto the banister. “Go get the mail from the banister.” “Look for that on the banister.” “Why did you knock that off the banister?” etc etc. So it’d be like naming a kid Table, Chair, or Stairs to me!

    It did make me think of Banner though, and I think that could work! It feels very “cool” thanks to Bruce Banner aka HULK SMASH!! 😉

  2. My immediate thought for an association is Minnie Bannister from “The Goon Show”, with her constant refrain, “We’ll all be murdered in our beds”.

    To me it sounds incredibly un-namey – like calling your child Chimney or Window – but I have heard quite a few names from the US that sound equally or more un-namey, so what do I know.

  3. I think I like it, never would have considered it before. Suggestions on middle or sibling sets? Could it work in the real world without sounding trending?

  4. I associate this name almost exclusively with the character Howard Banister from the movie “What’s Up Doc?” He was an endearing character but it’s such a strong association for me!