With so many parents putting last names first, it’s tempting to toss out your baby name book and pick up the White Pages instead. Granted, Tyler and Taylor are more expected – and easier to wear – than, say, Kowalski. But there’s a cluster of surnames that work particularly well as first names, precisely because they’re quite close to a conventional given name. Think Davis (David), Jackson (Jack) and Madison (Madeline).
To that last group, let’s add one more, today’s Name of the Day: Harris. Thanks to Another for the suggestion.
We’ve written about Henry before. Like a handful of appellations, this name boasts clear origins and a fairly unambiguous meaning. Since Harris is directly related to Henry, he’s not a man of much mystery. The story goes like this: the popular Germanic name Heimric, found in the historical record as early as the 10th century, derives from the elements heim and ric. Heim means home, not only in Old German, but in Old Norse, Frisian and several other tongues. And ric means ruler, an element that repeats in many given names and also shares roots with rex, or king. In German, the name became Heinrich. The Normans gave us Henri, brought it to England and made it one of the most popular given names – the Joshua of his day.
Today we recognize that Harry is a nickname for Henry; in fact, in medieval England, it was probably the favored pronunciation of Henry. (Just drop the “n” and you’ll hear how close they truly are.) And so Harris and Harrison mean simply “son of Henry” or “son of Harry.”
There were so many Henrys and Harrys, in fact, that Harris (and variant spellings Harries, Herries and Harriss) that it remains a Top 25 surname in the US and the UK today. Add in the Harrisons, and it’s a common choice, indeed.
Perhaps that’s why Harris regularly appeared in the US Top 1000 rankings from 1880 through 1968. Plenty of us have a Harris on our family tree. If bestowing a mother or grandmother’s maiden name appeals to you, this is one of those surnames that easily fits in the first spot. As for his fall from the charts? It wasn’t just Harris that disappeared from use in the 1970s – it was a decade unfavorable to trend.
But even as the 1990s and 2000s encouraged parents to choose surnames without a family link, Harris is not one that has experienced a revival. To many families, that’s a bonus – they get the fashionable sound of a surname choice, the diminutive Harry to use if so inclined and a familiar, but seldom heard moniker, too.
On the other hand, Harrison has always been more popular than Harris. Today he ranks #225, doubtless boosted by other ends-in-son choices like Jackson (#33), Carson (#90), Bryson (#179) and Grayson (#211).
Harrison, then, is the trendy choice, while Harris can remain a strong choice for someone honoring an ancestral bearer of the surname or even a Harry or a Henry.
The list of notable Harrises is a mile long – from actors (think Neil Patrick Harris, of Doogie Howser, MD and How I Met Your Mother fame) and athletes (think NFL hall-of-famer Franco Harris) to singers (how can we not mention Emmylou Harris?) and politicians (Elisha Harris was an early governor of Rhode Island and Civil War General Andrew Harris later served as governor of Ohio).
One last quirky reason that Harris might appeal to some – while we’re baffled by parents who choose Semaj as a means to honor a James, we can’t help but notice that Harris is pretty close to Sarah said backwards. With nearly 120,000 women named Sarah born in the 1970s, and more than 270,000 born in the 1980s, we wonder if some of them might embrace Harris as a subtle means to pass on part of their name. It’s not an option that works for everybody, but if you’re short of appealing family surnames, it might be an interesting way to arrive at a choice that has some authenticity.
Whether you’re pressing your maiden name into service, honoring a loved one or simply adopting the name because you like his style, we must say that Harris stands out as simple and distinctive, and a nice choice for a son.