Empire called Elliott and E.T.'s flight to the...

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on April 11, 2009.  It was substantially revised and re-posted on January 27, 2014.

He’s a surname name with ties to the Bible and to a blockbuster that remains among the most beloved movies of all time.

Thanks to Rocking Fetal for suggesting Elliot as Name of the Day, and to Jennifer for suggesting it was time to revisit this post.

When I was writing the original version of this post, I met a 20-something Elliott and quizzed him about his name. His spelling, he told me, was correct while the single -t form was missing something.

One ‘t’ or two, both spells are perfectly defensible.  The single ‘t’ version is more popular today, though not by much.

Possible origins include:

  • The Biblical Elijah was whispered down the alley into Elias and eventually Elis and the surnames Ellis and Elliot.
  • The personal name Elyat existed in Middle English, possibly related to the Germanic adhel – noble.
  • The Old English Aelfweald might have been preserved as Elliot.
  • Elliot could represent an Anglicized form of Gaelic appellations like Elloch and Eloth.
  • The Welsh Elisedd – derived from elus, kindly – could also have survived as Elliot.

With so many sources and similar names, no wonder the name survived.

Famous bearers of the surname include literary powerhouses George Eliot and TS Eliot.  TS came from a big Boston family, which also included a Harvard University president, several US Congressmen and the co-founder of Washington University of St. Louis.

Fictional figure Billy Elliot charmed audiences as a movie in 2000, and then on Broadway.  Billy wanted to be a ballerina – an unusual aspiration for a boy in a 1980s mining town.

As for notables wearing Elliot as a given name:

  • Eliot Ness brought in Al Capone.
  • Elliott Gould starred in blockbusters like M*A*S*H in the 1970s, and more recently he’s played Reuben in the Ocean’s Eleven franchise.
  • In 1977, the dragon in Disney’s musical Pete’s Dragon answered to the name.  The dragon was animated, but the rest of the movie was live-action.  You can still see Elliott in Disney World’s Main Street Electrical Parade.
  • E.T. the Extra Terrestrial phoned home with the help of 10 year-old Elliott in 1982.
  • Christopher Meloni played Detective Elliot Stabler on Law & Order: SVU from 1999 through 2011.

Billy Elliot the Musical

Then there’s Scrubs.  The medical comedy cast included Sarah Chalke plays a female Elliot.  After nine seasons, no wonder some are worried that this one could go girl.  Add in a few high profile birth announcements, like Marla Sokoloff’s Elliotte, plus our affection for Ella and all sorts of Ellie-names, and it is a reasonable concern.

But so far, it is just a concern.  More girls are given the name than ever before, but it continues to rise for boys.  This makes Elliot more like Ryan – a name that we’re used to hearing for girls, but that remains solidly on Team Blue.

Let’s look at the numbers:

  • In 2012, the ‘t’ spelling was most popular for boys, ranked #242 for boys and #861 for girls.  That translates to 1,480 boys and just 307 girls.
  • The ‘tt’ spelling was #277 for boys, and unranked for girls, which translates to an additional 1,252 boys and 236 girls.

All of this makes Elliot an appealing option for a son – he’s familiar.  He offers stylish short form Eli.  With lots of history and a certain artistic, literary vibe, he’s a great choice for a boy – even if he might share his name with the occasional girl.

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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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  1. Ok, as a former English major, I have to add my 2 cents, here, and make sure you all know that the literary George Eliot you mentioned is a nom de plume for Mary Ann Evans – the female author of Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and Daniel Deronda, etc. Wonder if that has anything to do with Elliott being perceived by the culture at large as a unisex name? 🙂 Great post! 🙂

    1. Thanks, Rivkah! And I bet you’re right about George Eliot – I tend to think of Austen as feminine for the same reason. But never in a million years can I imagine a girl George. Well, then again, there’s Nancy Drew’s friend …

  2. Had my now 12-yr-old daughter been a boy she would have been called Elliot. While I can see how this name appeals to some parents of girls – a la Ryan, as mentioned – to me it’s all boy. @Jennifer R, go for it! The world could use more Elliot(t)s!

    1. It’s the only name we mutually love and can imagine on our son, so Elliott it is.

      I like gender neutral names, but that is not what we are going for with Elliott. It’s 100% boy to us and hopefully our son won’t mind sharing his name with the occasional girl. Elliott on a boy or girl is pretty rare where we live with neither of us having ever known one. We live in Alabama.

  3. We are planning to name our son Elliott. I am a little disheartened to read most of the comments here claiming the name for girls. I would love to see an updated post about where this gem of a name is heading. If we intended to use a unisex name that would be fine, but we really don’t want our future son’s name to go the way of Ashley or Leslie. 🙂 Just an idea for a post that would be so helpful!

    I think there are a few other names that are picking up speed on the girls side and parents are weary about using them for boys. There are so many soft, lovely girls names that lend themselves to the nickname Ellie that I can’t understand the appeal of Elliott for a little girl.

    1. Jennifer, I like your son’s name and prefer the spelling you’ve chosen as it’s the only “ever-present” spelling of the name in the SSA top 1000 names from 1880 to the present and -seems- to be the most traditional spelling of the name. As you may know, Elliott was a well-used name in Eleanor Roosevelt’s family, being the name of her father (b. 1860), a brother (1889), and one of her sons (1910). I wouldn’t be concerned about some girls also having the name; there are girls called “Sam” or “Alex” too, but that hasn’t stopped Samuel and Alexander from being predominantly male names. I wouldn’t consider Elliott to be ‘gender neutral’ but a traditionally male name that some parents are now naming their daughters, in some cases to get to the nn Ellie in a different way. I think the name will remain predominantly male.

    2. Hi Jennifer, You’ve named your son by now, but I’ll comment anyway for anyone reading these posts. Elliot/t to me is very classic on a boy, more trendy for a girl. Trends come and go, but the classic is much more likely to endure for boys. I think it’s cute on a girl but not something I’d choose for my own daughter. On a boy – gorgeous, handsome, timeless.