Thanks to Sarah for suggesting her son’s name as our Baby Name of the Day.
IT BEGINS WITH GUMARICH
Ever heard of Gumarich?
Gumarich was a Germanic personal name, from guma – man – and ric – power, as in Richard and Frederick. It was also sometimes spelled Gomeric, which looks just a little more like a baby boy name.
Combine the French mont with the Germanic name Gomeric and it became a place name. In Norman French, Montgomery meant “Gomeric’s mountain” or “Gomeric’s hill.”
The Norman language is chock full of French and Germanic mash-ups, and they brought them to England in 1066, leading to the rise of Anglo-Norman. Plenty of names – first, last, and place – can be traced to a Norman origin.
Roger de Montgomerie was one of William the Conqueror’s closest advisors, and was created the 1st Earl of Shrewsbury for his service. The family prospered in the new country, and Montgomery became a familiar surname in England, as well as a place name.
As a habitational name, Montgomery caught on as a surname for anyone from the area. As such, it was the surname of numerous English newcomers to the young United States of America.
Speaking of places, few are as well-known as Montgomery, Alabama.
Does the English Earl get credit for all of the American places named Montgomery?
Nope. That distinction goes to Richard Montgomery, an Irish-born Major General who fought for the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He’s the inspiration behind the city in Alabama, as well as a dozen counties and a smattering of smaller places, too.
Of course, the Alabama city has all sorts of other meanings today. It’s the place where Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a city bus led to the boycott that become a pivotal moment in the civil rights struggle. The Civil Rights Memorial stands downtown. And the historic 1965 Selma Civil Rights marches ended in Montgomery.
It makes this a surname, but also a place name rich with significance.
Like any surname of English origin, it occasionally appears as a first name.
And thanks brings us to a leading man from Hollywood’s Golden Age, actor Montgomery Clift.
Born Edward Montgomery Clift and known as Monty, he had major roles in movies like From Here to Eternity, The Misfits, and A Place in the Sun. He racked up four Academy Award nominations, including a win for his work in Judgment at Nuremberg.
Clift’s name is a story. His mother was adopted as a baby, or so said Edward Montgomery, the doctor who delivered her. The good doctor also told her that her parents were from a prominent Southern family. If true, Clift was descended from Montgomery Blair, a member of Abraham Lincoln’s cabinet, as well as other Washington notables. Clift’s mother named her son after the doctor.
Then there’s the former department store, founded by Aaron Montgomery Ward in 1872.
Ward hit on the idea of mailing a catalog – at first, just a list – to rural areas, and allowing residents to order goods delivered by train. Ward faced opposition from rural retailers, and lost his first inventory in the Great Chicago Fire. But he ultimately proved successful, paving the way for fellow catalog giant Sears, and becoming a household name.
In the 1920s, Montgomery Ward became better known for its stores – though they’re no longer in business. But for a time, his middle name became the first name in American retail.
There’s also Great Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, whose celebrated career began with the first World War and concluded as a NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in the 1950s.
And for something completely different? Fans of The Simpsons will immediately think of Mr. Burns, full name Charles Montgomery Plantagenet Schicklgruber Burns, known as Monty or, more often, Mr. Burns. Series creator Matt Groening borrowed Montgomery from the department store.
BY the NUMBERS
An actor, a store, a revolutionary war general – does any of this translate to a child’s name?
Yes. Nearly any surname will sometimes become a first.
Montgomery has a long history of steady use. In 1990, 36 boys received the name. By 2000, those numbers were 78 boys and 13 girls. By 2013, 82 boys and 19 girls were given the name. And in 2021, the baby name Montgomery reached an all-time high of 209 boys, along with 34 girls.
All of this makes Montgomery an on-trend surname name. It’s a little gentleman name, one that fits with antique revivals like Ambrose, but also current favorites, like Sebastian.
Nickname Monty or Monte makes it even more wearable.
Could the baby name Montgomery succeed as a girl’s name? Given the popularity of choices like Mackenzie and Delaney, maybe.
But for now, Montgomery remains a dashing pick for a son, one that fits in perfectly but flies under the radar.
What do you think of the baby name Montgomery?
First published on March 11, 2015, this post was revised substantially and re-published on May 9, 2023.