Happy May! With warm weather right around the corner, my thoughts turn to summer.

And with that, here’s a surprising seasonal pick for a son. Thanks to Sharmila for suggesting Somerled as Name of the Day.

Somerled comes from an Old Norse name. You’ll find it spelled Sumarlidhi, Somarlior and Somhairle, but Somereld is the accepted Anglicization. The name means summer traveler or summer sailor.

Summer, of course, has been a popular given name for girls born in the US since the 1970s. Other seasonal choices – Autumn and Winter – as well as nature names in general have fared well, especially for daughters. Many parents might embrace the idea of naming a summer-born son something fitting.

Unfortunately, Somerled might not be the one. Summer traveler, you see, is something of a euphemism. Somerled was big amongst Viking parents. Those dwellers of the far North did indeed venture out in warm weather – to sack, pillage and generally cause a ruckus.

All of a sudden the gentle nature name becomes a bit more aggressive.

Of course, in the age of Slade and Gunnar, that might actually be a selling point for Somerled.

The most famous bearer of the name was a twelfth-century military leader in the Scottish Isles. Depending on the account, Somerled is called King of the Hebrides, King of Kintyre and Lord of the Isles. He won that last title, and a great deal of land, in battle.

There’s a story behind how Somerled the Viking ended up ruling Scotland, but I’m not sure I’ve got it exactly right. The simplest explanation is this: generations of invasion, conquest and intermarriage created a Norse Scots culture.

Somerled was a successful campaigner and was still expanding his reach in 1164. That’s when he faced Scotland’s Malcolm IV at Renfrew. Somerled’s army came up short, and he lost his life.

The name seems to all but disappear from the historical record after the twelfth century, with one exception. Search the US Census records and you’ll find a smattering of Somerleds. Most share the surname MacDonald, with a few answering to MacDougall. The MacDonalds trace their roots back to the Norse Scots ruler’s son Ragnald; the MacDougall descend from his son Dughall.

So while Somerled might find his given name lost to obscurity, he has descendants aplenty. Some studies suggest that as many as 500,000 people living today can trace their family trees back to Somereld.

Historical novelist Nigel Tranter wrote about Somereld’s life in his 1983 Lord of the Isles. And you might find him referenced in various sites maintained by geneologists, like the Clan Donald site. But he’s a rarity, indeed.

So while Somerled might not be the perfect name for a son born in the next few weeks, he does present an intriguing possibility for parents seeking a name that marries Scottish and Scandinavian heritages – or simply honors MacDonalds or MacDougalls on the family tree.

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. Interesting choice, but prone to too much confusion for me. It’s be an uphill battle fighting Summerlin, Summerland, etc. My first thought was actually Sumner, a surname which has never before occurred to me but one I find even more appealing.

  2. I read Somerland (Summerland) at first, too. Once I got it right, I thought, “Hmm, there’s a Scandinavian name for ya…” I grew up in a church full of Norwegians (except for my family and a handful of others), and I’ve actually never heard of this one.

    It seems intriguing, but I can’t say I find it terribly appealing. The Somer part seems feminine to me, and overall, I’m just not digging it.

  3. So much for warm weather down here! we’re going into winter and its been absolutely freezing [and I’m loving it!!] anyway –

    I’m not familiar with this one. When I first glance at him, my eye sees ‘Summerland’ which reminds me of a terrible TV show that aired for about a season down here, but after I actually looking at him and saying him over a few times, I must say he seems rather snazzy! He just feels like one of those really mellow, laid back kind of guys that don’t really kick up a fuss over much 🙂

    I think I quite like him, really 🙂 Probably wouldn’t use him myself,but he does have an endearing quality to me!

  4. Happy May! This is one cool name! Somerled’s got a neat look and a cool sound. If it was a name in my family tree, you can bet I’d use it in the middle somewhere. But alas! ’tis not. MacKenzies galore on my tree, A few Frasers & a smattering of Campbell & Rose but no MacDougalls. I do know a MacDonald, though maybe I’ll suggest this one to him, it might be in his tree (and he’s almost as big a name nerd as my other half). I really dig it! 😀