baby name AftonThe baby name Afton combines Scottish heritage with a poetic, nature name vibe.

Thanks to Annelise for suggesting Afton as our Baby Name of the Day.


Borrowing river names for our children might seem novel, but it isn’t so. We’ve been calling our kids Jordan ever since the Crusaders made their way home from the Holy Land.

The original River Afton sits in Ayrshire, Scotland. Also known as Afton Water, the name’s meaning and origins have proved elusive.

As a first name, it appeared in the US Top 1000 as early as 1907, and spent about fifteen years hugging the edges of the popularity charts.

So how does the name of a small Scottish river make the popularity charts, when the Nile and mighty Mississippi fail to do so?

Blame a poet.


Scotland’s favorite son, Robert Burns, was born in Ayrshire.

He penned Sweet Afton in 1791.

It’s worth noting that the only given name in Robert Burns’ poem is Mary:

My Mary’s asleep by thy murmuring stream,
Flow gently, sweet Afton, disturb not her dream.

But that’s not what stayed with us. Instead, plenty of places borrowed the literary river name, including over two dozen cities and towns in the US.

Interest in Burns, both for literary reasons and as a Scottish national hero, seems to have been high in the early twentieth century.

Looking at a list of Robert Burns memorials established from the turn of the twentieth century into the 1920s, there’s no shortage. Massachusetts and Milwaukee; Atlanta and San Francisco; Denver and St. Louis; Florida and Wyoming. The list goes on.

It’s easy to imagine that naming a daughter Afton might’ve appealed to many Burns admirers, explaining the name’s rise in popularity. It was also used as a boy’s name in the same era, though always in smaller numbers.


Burns’ poem is often set to music, and frequently sung to the tune of Away in a Manger. 

It’s not the only Afton, either.

Afton Down, located on the Isle of Wight, was the site of the second Isle of Wight music festival, in 1970. The line-up included The Who, The Doors, and Jimi Hendrix. There were more attendees than at Woodstock.

Acoustic trio Nickel Creek covered the song in 2000.

Lori at The Real Cruze family mentions that the Nickel Creek rendition inspired them to chose the name for their youngest. She’s not alone; the song comes up fairly often in discussions of the name.


But it wasn’t music that helped this Scottish river become a popular baby girl’s name in the US. Nope, credit goes to Dallas, as in the prime time soap sensation about a family rich on Texas oil.

Afton Cooper appears in the fourth season of the series, joining the cast in 1981. The name ranked in the US Top 1000 in 1982 and 1983.

American actress Audrey Landers has played the part from the 1980s to the present day.

And while it didn’t really catch on as a girl’s given name at the time, the character returned with the 2012 reboot of the series – coinciding with another uptick in the use of the name.

So far, the baby name Afton has yet to return to the US Top 1000.


A few more obscure references:

  • In 2001’s The Royal Tenenbaums, Margot smokes Sweet Afton cigarettes. So does a Peaky Blinders character. They’re the real deal, manufactured in Ireland starting in 1919 and said to be a favorite of sophisticated Parisians, from Jean-Paul Sartre to Louis Malle.
  • Afton Smith appeared in movies like Fried Green Tomatoes and Reality Bites, and Afton Williamson plays Officer Talia Bishop on The Rookie.

Fun fact: Afton is the Swedish word for evening – though it does not appear to be used as a given name in Sweden.

Similar-sounding names, from Ashton to Addison, have had their moments for our children. It makes Afton sound less like a place name and more like a perfect baby name choice.

In 2021, 64 girls and 10 boys received the name. That’s far from a new high, but it’s also not unknown.

If you’re after something literary and rare, a tailored name with a built-in lullaby, the baby name Afton might be a promising option. And if a Scottish heritage choice matters? Then this name checks every box.

What do you think of the baby name Afton? Is it better for a boy or a girl? 

This post was originally published on March 13, 2009. It was revised substantially and re-posted on February 9, 2015; February 20, 2020; and July 6, 2022.

Special thanks to reader Afton for suggesting that her post needed an update!

baby name Afton baby name Afton

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 live next to a popular lake in my area that is named Lake Afton, so that is all I think of when I hear this. I don’t hate it, but would never use it. I do like it better than Aspen though, which gets a lot of love, but to me…all I hear is ASS-pen. Not a word I’d want in my name!

  2. “Flow gently, sweet Afton, among thy green braes…”

    Ah, I love this poem. I have considered using Afton as a name before — but it surprises me that everyone sees it as a girls’ name! The “-ton” ending and surnamey feel sound very masculine to me. Good to know people are using this on their daughters before I try to go use it on a son! 🙂

  3. Could I suggest the name Pannonica (Pannonique in French)? Knowing the meaning would be useful for a literature essay I’m writing!

  4. I went to school with one of those now-20-something Aftons. She was a “punk”, she had a pet snake, was in the choir, and loved marilyn manson. She was an awesome girl all around, and rather edgy. She’s the only Afton I’ve ever heard of, so to me it’s not WASPy or trendy sounding at all. I’ve always thought it was a nice name. She always got tons of compliments on it.

  5. What a great catch-all name with its place naminess and surname feel. I don’t usually like this sort of thing, but it’s very refreshing and kind of pretty. Definitely one I will suggest to the Delaney-Madison set. But I think it also works for people with more refined taste. I could see Afton and Romilly as sisters, or Bryony and Afton. Good job Annelise and Abby!

  6. Afton is really not my usual style–place namey, surnamey, gender ambiguous. But I always loved the folk song “Sweet Afton” and the poem, which elevate Afton above the Ashton/Alton/Anniston/Addison crowd, to me at least. I still don’t think I’d ever use it because it doesn’t feel like “my kind of name.” But it’ll remain a guilty pleasure, something I’ll suggest to others and a name I’d be happy to hear on someone else’s child!

  7. I never thought about this name much, but when you mentioned it being a place name, I realized we could use it to honor family! Hubby’s great-grandmother still lives on the over 100-year-old family farm in Afton, WY. His grandfather (who married us) was born there. Hmmm…putting it on the list as a potential middle now. Thanks!

  8. Jethro Tull was at that particular Isle of Wight festival as well. 🙂 I have video a cousin took who went (I was 3 at the time).
    Afton is one of those few place name names that I actually like. She’s almost too plain for me, but I would admire her greatly on someone else’s girl. I adore Nickle Creek! Didn’t know about the cover of Sweet Afton but I’ll dig it up somewhere. Absolutely love them!
    Afton gets a :thumbsup: from me. I wish more parents would search out this sort of name, beats yet another Madison!

  9. I just can’t get beyond the surname-y feel to Afton or its similarity to the boy names mentioned in the post. And while I like that it has a link to the Isle of Wight (which we could see from our home in England and a photo of which hangs in my home), I’m not quite able to get excited about it as a name for a little girl. I *do* like that it is “no-frills” – it just doesn’t hit quite the right chord for me. I think of other words when I see it (‘often’ and ‘caftan’ both popped into my head rather randomly when I saw this post). Having said that, I don’t find it awful or offensive. I certainly wouldn’t mind meeting and Afton; it’s far more interesting than another Addison.