He’s a hoopstar, a literary character – plus he’s linked to a very current choice for boys. So would the original work for a son born in 2009?

Thanks to Valery for suggesting Chauncey as Name of the Day.

Chauncey was once a perfectly common name, ranking in the US Top 1000 most years between 1880 and into the 1930s. He appeared sporadically after that, last charting in 1998.

His roots are Norman French. It’s most probably a place name that became a surname and eventually migrated to the first spot. Charles Chauncy was president of Harvard University back in the seventeenth century; the family remained prominent in New England for generations. There’s also War of 1812 naval commander Isaac Chauncey. Several ships have been named in his honor.

If you’re touring Vermont, you can visit a nineteenth century blacksmith’s home – the Chauncey B. Leonard House. Early 20th century Senator Chauncey Depew once vied for the Republican party’s presidential nomination. In the same era, songwriter Chancellor Olcott was known to the masses as Chauncey Olcott – composer of hits like “My Wild Irish Rose.”

But Chauncey really gets a boost from the 1971 novel Being There by Jerzy Kosinski. The book was adapted into a celebrated 1979 film starring Peter Sellers. The story is simple – a middle-aged man called Chance works as a gardener for a wealthy Washingtonian. It isn’t clear how he came to his position, but when the wealthy Washingtonian dies, Chance is left to his own devices. By a series of twists, the name he gives – Chance the Gardner – is misunderstood as Chauncey Gardiner. What’s more, Chauncey’s simple comments on tending a garden are heard as wise pronouncements on the government and policy. He ends up moving in the most elite circles, offering up opinions and guidance on national television and – at the story’s end – it appears he will become the head of a major corporation.

It’s a witty little tale, but it didn’t boost Chauncey. Instead, Chance rose steadily in the rankings in the 1970s and 80s, peaking at #154 in 1996. As of 2008, Chance ranked #255.

Today, Chance might strike others as a daring, unconventional choice – but would actually fit right in with boys’ names like Cade and Chase, and girls’ picks like Sloane and Brooke, Destiny and Genesis.

If you’re a basketball fan, the Denver Nuggets’ Chauncey Billups raises the name’s profile. But while many an athlete has boosted an appellations, Billups’ impact has been minimal. In some ways, it has created the perfect opportunity to use Chauncey – everyone recognizes the name, but virtually no one wears it.

If boys can be called Bailey and Riley, Harrison and Bryson, Chauncey ought to fit right in. And while the “au” vowel sound is not the chart-topping “ay” or “eye” from Jayden and Tyler, the “au” sound appears in Austin and August, as well as Sean.

He’s a daring choice by 21st century standards, but Chauncey might just be that underused gem you’ve been seeking.

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. This was one of my first name crushes. There was a Chauncey in a TV program (mini-series, I think) in the early ’80s with this name, and I was in love! I then worked with an older Chauncey when I first came to DC in 1999, who made the name seem classy and not pretentious. Still love this name, but I’m not daring enough to use it.

  2. I suppose I can see the appeal, but there is something extremely pretentious about this one.

  3. Chauncey’s is my favorite NJ pub, in Hammonton. Great food, a subduded atmosphere and a fireplace. Yeah. And the Penguin they use as a logo? to die for. So Chauncey’s got an alcoholic tilt in my head, but I bet I could get this one past Ken. It’s one of his favorite places too. Weird, but true.
    I finally got a chance (pardon the pun) to see “Being There” with Peter Sellers (He’s a HUGE fan of Peter Sellers). And the movie’s sweet. So that’s another plus for me. My only problem? Chauncey’s ending rhymes with the ending of my surname, making the whole thing a bit jokey. 🙁

    I thoroughly like Chauncey. Maybe the next cat?

  4. Interesting to hear people’s perspectives (Butlers, dogs, mullets, oh my!) I am married to a Chauncey. He is the 3rd in his family and we are planning on naming a son Chauncey as well, as brother to Peregrine, another family name. My husband has definitely grown used to the “what an unusual name!” comments but as with most names, I can’t imagine him being called anything else. He wears it well.

  5. Chauncey is all butler to me too! I just can’t help but hear it in a nasally British accent, “Chauncey, fetch the brandy”… a bit pretentious sounding.

    I can see how it could definitely be bold choice, but bold isn’t always good – I mean, it can be bold to wear a bright pink muumuu with silver strappy heels and a mullet, but is it a good idea? 😉

    No, I think Chauncey is one best left in the books…

  6. Chauncey is pretty jazzy, but definitely not for me. I’d take him any day over the horrid Chance, but he comes across a little pretentious to me, and for some odd reason reminds me of cups and saucers?

  7. Chauncey is cool. It’s not quite for me, but I can see its appeal. Reminds me of names like Chandler and Channing. I see where photoquilty is getting the butler vibe, though.

    I’d definitely pick Chauncey over Chance. Chance is one that strikes me as cuter on a puppy than a boy.

  8. I know two 30ish brothers named Chauncey and Miles. While neither name is my taste, I applaud the boldness of those choices in my area a.k.a. Where Names Go to Die. I thought Chauncey was his surname until I was properly introduced.

  9. I have HEARD basketball games over the last month or so just about every day at my house, although I don’t sit down to watch the games. Every time I hear Chauncey it reminds me of my given name. Nancy, said in Spanish, rhymes with Chauncey. 🙂

    I have never met a Chauncey but it fits in with the surname-as-first-name trend. It manages to fit in and stand out at the same time, and gets some real-world cred from Chauncey Billlups.

    Photoquilty – Walter is absolutely darling!

  10. I think Chauncey sounds like a butler – along the lines of naming your son Jeeves or Jenkins. And as for Chance? – YUCK. How about Maybe or Wish or Might’ve or Opportunity? Oh no. Chance is a terrible pick!

    Chauncey also reminds me of a dog; I don’t know why. There’s also some connection there to “chunky” which I don’t like.

    I’ll stick with my underused Walter-gem instead!

    Thanks for entertaining me! 🙂