Section of a frieze from the Elgin Marbles.

Today’s name is part-surname, part-vintage, part-gentleman.

Thanks to Anna for suggesting Elgin as our Baby Name of the Day.


Elgin: Hard or Soft?

Does Elgin’s ‘g’ sound soft, like Genevieve?  Or is it a hard g, like Logan?

It depends: in American English, it’s almost inevitably a soft g, while the British favor the hard g.

Elgin: Marbles

If you’ve ever been to the British Museum, you’ve probably seen the Elgin Marbles.

Back in 1798, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, was appointed the British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, which included Greece.

By all accounts he was a skillful diplomat, but Bruce must also have been interested in the ancient world.  At his own expense, he hired a team to sketch the Parthenon.

Over the years, the plan drifted from sketches to taking plaster casts to removing the actual statues and friezes.  Time and warfare had damaged the structure, and locals removed pieces, too.

And so his plan changed, from taking a record to taking pieces of the Parthenon itself.

Elgin finagled a permit from the Ottoman authorities, but it didn’t specifically mention spiriting the priceless works of art away to Britain.  The process was plagued with mishaps and delays.  At one point, the ship transporting the Marbles ran ashore, and divers had to rescue the treasure.

The precious cargo reached England in stages between 1801 and 1812.  After much debate, the British government purchased the Marbles – at a fraction of the cost Elgin expended – and they’ve been in the British Museum ever since.

Even back in 1816, some protested that the Marbles belonged in Athens.  Shortly after Greece became an independent nation, it began to protest the plundering of its ancient treasures.  There’s an ongoing dispute about ownership – lending a hint of controversy to Elgin.

Elgin: Place, Time, People

Happily, there’s more to Elgin:

  • It’s originally a Scottish place name, and sometimes a surname, too.
  • Elgin, Illinois took its name a Scottish hymn, “The Song of Elgin.”  Or so many sources report.  I can’t track down the original tune.
  • The National Watch Company, founded in Chicago in 1864, became the Elgin Watch Company when it moved its factory to the suburb.  They made watches until 1968.
  • It’s said that Elgin Baylor, NBA Rookie of the Year in 1958-59 and Hall of Famer, may have been named after his father’s wristwatch.

The name has been used steadily, given to a few dozen boys born every year.  It looks like Baylor’s on-court success boosted the name briefly.

But Elgin would once have been on trend.  One hundred years ago, names like Edwin, Alvin, Martin, and Marvin were mainstream – even stylish.

Elgin: 2015 Possibility?

Two-syllable, ends-in-n names have had a resurgence in recent decades.  Instead of Alvin and Martin, it’s Landon and Mason.  But Elgin fits into their company smoothly.

While many an El- name: Ellington, Ellison, Ellis – could potentially be borrowed for a girl, Elgin feels more solidly masculine.

Elgin might also share roots with Eilginn – which may mean little Ireland, but I haven’t been able to confirm its use as a given name, or its exact origins.

2004’s dance-centric You Got Served, featured a young Marques Huston as wildly talented dancer Elgin Smith III.

Fourteen boys were given the name in 2013 – inspired by Ireland or wristwatches or pilfered bits of the Parthenon.  That’s a pretty rare name, and yet I think it works – modern but rooted, gentlemanly and yet not as posh as Percival or Tarquin.

If you’re after a rare name for a son, Elgin is one to consider.


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. Great name! There’s a character called Elgin Branch in a book I just read (Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple). Other characters: Bernadette & Balakrishna (nicknamed Bee). Lots of interesting names in that book.