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.