Gray wolf. Français : Loup. Nederlands: Wolf T...
Gray wolf. Français : Loup. Nederlands: Wolf Türkçe: Kurt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking for a preppy surname with a hint of bite?

Thanks to Kay for suggesting Lowell as our Baby Name of the Day.

The Lowell family’s place in American history is assured.  Industrialists and academics, philanthropists and poets, judges and actors have all come from the storied New England clan.  But if that’s not pedigree enough, some claim that the family came to England with William the Conqueror.

Maybe all that history is the reason he was such a popular given name for decades.  He ranked in the Top 200 from 1920 through 1943, and appeared in the Top 1000 every year from 1885 through 1986.  He left the rankings just as surnames like Cameron, Chase, and Hunter were on the rise.

So where does Lowell come from?  He may have started out as a nickname for the first Earl of Chester, Hugh d’Avranches, known as Hugh Lupus for his ferocity in battle, or there may have been a William Louel among the early Norman invaders.

How do you get from the Latin lupus to Lowell?  The Old French word for wolf was leu.  It is still in sparing use in phrases like à la queue leu leu.  In English, you’d say “line up single file.”   The French expression refers to wolves walking in a line.  Leu or lou were both used for wolf in Old French, which was spoken well into the 1300s.

Add the diminutive suffix -el, and you have Louel or Loel or Lovell.  It is eventually recorded as Lowle, and standardized to Lowell in the 1700s.

Percival Lowle came to the colonies in 1639, and his family flourished.  In the late 1700s, Francis Cabot Lowell established himself in the import business, only to see his many interests threatened by foreign conflicts.  He brought the industrial revolution to a young country, studying British looms and weaving machines, and helped found Lowell, Massachusetts, the center of early US manufacturing.

Plenty of  other places bear the surname, including a Canadian glacier and a lunar crater.

Other Lowells who have made pop culture headlines include:

  •  Joan Lowell, a bit-player in the silent film industry who went on to pen a bestselling 1929 memoir called Cradle of the Deep.  Lowell told of being raised on her father’s ship from infancy, learning to sail, and even swimming ashore from a shipwreck.  It was sensational – and unfortunately, completely untrue.
  • Thomas Haden Church’s quirky mechanic character on 1990s sitcom staple Wings was called Lowell.
  • More recently, a Sons of Anarchy character answered to the name.

Overall, Lowell fits in nicely with Leo.  While he has roots in the animal kingdom, he’s well suited for a library or a laboratory, or a corporate boardroom.  Just don’t name his brother Boston.

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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. My name is Lowell
    I am name after two of my Dads college roommates …This was in the 1940s I was born in 1965 …my Dad married late in life he was 42 when I was born. My mother had a flair for the unique in naming us three Garland Clint ,Lowell Russ, Lance Kyle and Nathaniel Page. My name is unique and has given me a presence in business. Socially it eases people to open a conversation with me about my name ….has served me well
    Starbucks spelling Loel …just easier for them

  2. I named my daughter Lowell after my grandmother. Yes i know it is predominantly a boys name and my grandmother hated it for that but i wanted my daughter to have a name that no other child has. We pronounce it low-well. So she is Lowell Mae 🙂

    1. That’s really lovely, Bekie – and how nice that you were able to keep a family name alive!

  3. I like Lowell–in theory. My problem is exactly what Kara mentioned. I grew up not far from Lowell and actually went to college at UMass Lowell. While I love parts of the city, and my college, I just don’t know if I could name a kid after either. Hopefully the city manages to make the comeback that it wants to and redeems the name, because I do think it’s a great name. Here’s hoping!

    1. After I posted Dani, I remembered a more positive association for Lowell- it’s one of the residential houses for undergraduates at Harvard, named of course for the prosperous Lowell family. of course, as a Yale alum, it doesn’t help me per se, but it does cement Lowell’s preppy pedigree. other house names: Cabot, Currier, Mather, Leverett.

  4. My father, brother, and grandfather are all Lowell’s. I really like it, I must say. Recently there is a handsome new model named Lowell, but I don’t remember his last name.

  5. I’d would have never thought to consider Lowell. An old roommate dated a Lowell — he was a total jackass, but that’s not important. At the time I thought his name was really odd, because most of the Lowells I’ve known are my dad’s age, not my age (or my kids’ age.) I suppose Lowell could come back, but my money is on Lupin instead.

  6. I think Lowell could work as a preppy surname choice for a boy or girl- nn Ellie or Lou, even. But historical reputation aside, the city of Lowell as it is today is not something I’d want my child associated with. For me it’s the same problem with Camden and Trenton, which are both cute names, but I can’t shake the association with less than savory cities.

    1. That’s interesting, Kara – I haven’t got any knowledge of Lowell, other than a dim recognition of the name. I’ve been to Boston, but that’s pretty much the extent of my travels in Mass. Now New Jersey I know … and yet, I’ve gotten over the associations with Camden, mostly because I know one. Trenton still challenges me.

      1. It’s coming back as a city, but it still has a reputation for crime and being all around run-down. I suspect the farther away you live from Massachusetts, the more appealing this name is.

        I have yet to meet a Camden, but with that one if I can convince myself to associate it with Camden Town in the UK, I can get over it. 🙂

  7. I like Lowell 🙂 I took some English lit and poetry classes in university and fell in love with Amy Lowell’s writing. I’d probably use it as a middle name though.