EllisHe’s a stylish surname name, with great meanings and an on-trend sound.

Thanks to Emily for suggesting Ellis as our Baby Name of the Day.

Ellis immediately strikes me as literary, but it’s not quite like naming your kiddo Hemingway or Hawthorne.  My first thought is the far more contemporary Bret Easton Ellis, the author of Less than Zero and American Psycho.  Though there’s also Ralph Ellison, the author of The Invisible Man, as well as Beat poet Royston Ellis.

Perry Ellis – yes, that’s his real name – lends him a preppy, tailored vibe.  In the 1970s and 80s, his fashion house was responsible for updating menswear.  Today the brand still proclaims “levity … is our legacy,” and noted that Perry believed that clothes should be fun.

Possible origins for the name include:

  • The Biblical Elijah is an obvious source, with forms like Elias, Elisha, and others over the years.  Elis is recorded in medieval England.
  • I was initially dismissive of links between Ellis and Helios, the Greek sun god who brought in the day by pulling his shining chariot across the sky.  But many of the medieval forms of Elijah do take an H, including Helias.
  • Welsh kings Elisedd ap Gwylog and Elisedd ap Cyngen ruled between the eighth and tenth centuries. Their name comes from Welsh word elus – benevolent.  There’s not enough recorded about the kings to know if the name was accurate, but it is an appealing meaning.
  • Amharic – a cousin to Arabic and Hebrew – is the official language of Ethiopia.  Given names mix Biblical origins with names from other regional languages.  Some suggest that Ellis is related to Ellosa surname that seems to bring us right back to where we started – Elijah.

Then there’s the island through which over 12 million future Americans entered the US.  Samuel Ellis bought the land back during the American Revolution.  Eventually it became home to Fort Gibson.  In 1890, Congress appropriated funds to convert the fort into an immigration station.

But what about Ellis as a given name?

  • Ellis Bell published Wuthering Heights in 1847 – but nowadays, we give credit to the author’s real name, Emily Bronte.
  • New Orleans’ Ellis Marsalis, Sr. was a successful entrepreneur, a hotelier and later, a civil rights activist.
  • Ellis Marsalis, Jr. is his son, a celebrated jazz pianist, and father to a family of musicians, including sons Bradford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason.  This makes the name powerfully musical.

It isn’t so surprising that the senior Marsalis bore the name.  Ellis has ranked in the US Top 1000 every year since 1880, and in the Top 200 in the 1880s through the 1910s.  He’s been obscure in recent years, dipping as low as #923 in 2001.  But he’s been trending up since then, reaching #612 in 2012.

Some of that credit could go to HBO’s The Wire, and fictional police lieutenant Ellis Carver.

El- names are on the rise for boys – think of Eli, Elias, and Elliot.  And ends-with-s picks like Miles and Silas are in vogue.  But this name is rising quickly for girls, too.  Blame Alice and Ellie.  The name was given to 399 boys and 216 girls in 2012.

Overall, Ellis remains a possibility for parents after a vintage gem for boys.  He’s relatively underused, and with his creative credentials and appealing meanings, Ellis could be the perfect name for a son.

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 am changing my name to Ellis from Ellen. I love that it is more gender neutral as I am tired of gender categories and like to mix it up!

  2. I love Ellis! I was wondering if you’d covered it and here it is! It’s on my list for the jazz pianist. As a music teacher I’ve been very inspired by his work in music education. We already have a son Parker but have no idea what to name #2 if it’s a boy!