Mossy Meditations
Mossy Meditations (Photo credit: Ian Sane)

Is this a nature name, a color name, or something completely different?

Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting Moss as our Baby Name of the Day.

Let’s begin in the middle.  When I hear Moss, I immediately think of playwright and theater director Moss Hart.

Born to a family of modest means in New York, his love for the theater started young.  His first Broadway hit came in 1930.  You Can’t Take it With You was his biggest triumph, in 1936, followed by 1939’s The Man Who Came to Dinner.  He and George S. Kaufman were frequent collaborators, and he also worked with Irving Berlin and Cole Porter.

Hart’s Depression-era You Can’t Take it With You won a Pulitzer Prize for drama.  Later, My Fair Lady won a Tony Award for Best Musical during Hart’s stint as director.  And his 1947 screenplay for Gentleman’s Agreement won him an Oscar nomination.

Lately his work is back in the spotlight.  His memoir, Act One: An Autobiography by Moss Hart was published in 1959, adapted for the big screen in 1963, and, as of 2014, a Broadway play.  Tony Shaloub plays both Hart and Kaufman, and both Shaloub and the play were nominated for a slew of Tony Awards, among others.

So that’s an appealing connection to theater and Americana in general for Moss – though I’m stumped as to how Robert got his nickname. But where does the name come from?

One possibility: he’s a medieval form of the Biblical Moses.  No, really.  Moss was the vernacular form of the Biblical name in Middle English.  It’s one of the ways that Moss came into use as a surname, too.  It appears to have been a family name for Hart.

Other possibilities:

  • In Old English, mos referred to a peat bog.  So someone who lived near a peat bog could take on this surname.
  • Then there’s the nature name tie.  There are oodles of types of moss, a usually soft and fuzzy plant that grows in shady parts of the forest.  It’s deliberately cultivated for some gardening purposes.  Or, of course, it can be a weed, thriving in the cracks in the sidewalk and other unwanted places.
  • Lastly, moss is a shade of green, and green is a color going places.  In the US Top 100, there’s Hunter and Olivia, followed by fast-rising choices like Ivy, Hazeland Oliveand don’t forget Kelly and Jade.

But is anyone actually naming their kids Moss?  Yes and no.  There have always been a few boys called Moss – five in 2013, 13 in 2009.

On Britcom The IT Crowdone of the main characters is geek extraordinaire, Maurice Moss, who usually answers to his surname.  Others who share the surname include Mad Men’s Elisabeth, supermodel Kate, and the fictional Llewelyn from No Country for Old Men.

All of this makes Moss a rarity, a name seldom heard.  But, like many a noun with potential as a given name, he’s got some advantages.  Moss is easy to spell and pronounce, and in an age of kids called Willow and River, seems perfectly reasonable.  His status as a surname and a form of Moses bolster the case for considering Moss a very intriguing possibility for a given name in 2014.

What do you think of Moss?  Does he work with modern nature and color names?

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 obviously love it 🙂 Thank you for the fabulous write-up! We’re considering it as a nickname for Thomas (which is a family name) since I don’t love Tom or Tommy. Lately I’m loving it as a stand alone!

  2. There is a book series about the Coleman Family that I believe was written by Fern Michaels and one of the men was named Moss

  3. I like it a lot. I’ve heard it as a nickname for Moses/Moshe before, and I find it much nicer than the other standby nickname, Moe. (Sorry, Uncle Moe!). I’d expect there are – or were, at one time – more Moshe/Moishe/Moses called Moss than actual numbers of those legally named Moss would suggest, at least in Ashkenazi families.

    I also just like plant names, like Heath, so there’s that too.