Carter the GreatHe’s a surname name with a long history of use, boosted by a television doctor.

Thanks to Shannon for suggesting Carter as our Baby Name of the Day.

Men wore this name long before Noah Wyle appeared on the pilot of medical drama E.R.  As a given name, Carter has charted in the US Top 1000 nearly every year since 1880.  Carter Braxton of Virginia signed the Declaration of Independence, and Carter Harrison Sr. and Jr. both served as mayor of Chicago in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Carter’s quite the common last name, ranking in the US Top 100.  He’s less frequent than Smith more familiar than Sullivan.

Originally it was an occupational surname, given to those who carted – transported – goods and materials.  He’s a working man’s name, something like calling your kiddo Trucker in 2014.

Except that he also has a preppy, privileged vibe.  Dr. John Truman Carter III was an intern when E.R. debuted in September of 1994.  He left for Africa eleven seasons later .  The young doctor answered to Carter 99% of the time.

And that’s when the name made its big leap, from #423 in 1994 to #286 in 1995.  He’s gained every year since, reaching an all-time high of #36 in 2012.

As the series went on, we learned that John III was born with a silver spoon.  Television gave us more handsome, well-born Carters – a magazine editor on The O.C. in the 2000s, and a trust fund kid of Gossip Girl.

Famous bearers of the surname take him in more directions:

  • Former president Jimmy Carter puts this name in the company of presidential surnames Kennedy and Reagan.
  • Edgar Rice Burroughs’ other fictional character is John Carter of Mars, less well known than Tarzan of the Jungle.
  • Detective Nick Carter debuted in dime novels in the 1880s, and he’s been reinvented over the decades.
  • Charles Carter was a famous magician who toured in the early 1900s as “Carter the Great.”  That’s one of his posters above.
  • London gangster Jack Carter also got his start in books, and the 1971 Michael Caine movie Get Carter introduced him to a wider audience.  It was remade in 2000 with Sylvester Stallone, but the movie flopped.
  • Rapper Lil Wayne was born Dwayne Michael Carter Jr.  Instead of shedding his surname he’s embraced it, with album Tha Carter in 2004, a documentary called The Carter in 2009, and many other references.
  • Jay-Z was born Shawn Corey Carter – he, too, has used the name in album title Life and Times of S. Carter.  We all know that his daughter is Blue Ivy Carter.

Lil Wayne and Jay-Z add another layer – a sort of streetwise swagger.  While the name’s success tracks most closely with the E.R. character, the musicians may also have given the name a boost.

He’s been in the US Top 100 since 2004, reaching an all-time high of #36 in 2012.  Spelled Karter, he ranked #347.

There’s no way to call Carter unusual in 2014 – he’s just too well-used.  And yet, he remains a surprisingly versatile name – Southern, presidential, bold, conservative, preppy, street.  No wonder he’s been such a popular choice, a modern staple.

If you’re after a solid name for a son, Carter will satisfy.

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. I had the biggest crush on Nick Carter from the Backstreet Boys growing up. Well actually, I still do. 🙂

  2. Goodness, I didn’t realise there were so many namesakes for Carter! No wonder this name is Top 100 in the US.

    This name also reminds me of the constellation The Big Dipper, sometimes called the Wain or Wagon.