The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (musical)

He’s a surname name with serious Americana appeal.

Thanks to Elisabeth for suggesting Sawyer as our Baby Name of the Day.

Sawyer has been on the rise since the 1990s, boosted by the popularity of other occupational surnames that feel preppy and polished in our day: Spencer, Carter, Tanner, Hunter.

But Sawyer has a certain magic that all of those names lack.  He’s the last name of Mark Twain’s iconic American boy – barefooted, freckle-faced, with a straw hat and a fishing pole.

He debuted in 1876’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and a series of novels followed, plus cameos in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, too.

There’s debate about Twain’s inspiration.  In his lifetime, the author mentioned a series of real-life people.  Recent research turned up a San Francisco firefighter, larger-than-life, who knew a young Mark Twain during his days as a San Francisco reporter.  The firefighter’s name?  Tom Sawyer.  It appears that it was accepted during their lifetimes that the firefighter inspired the character’s name.

As for the surname’s origins:

  • The most obvious is the occupation – a sawyer was someone who sawed wood for a living.
  • In nineteenth century America – Twain’s America – a sawyer was also a tree fallen into the water, a hazard well known to steamboats on the Mississippi.

Since Twain’s pen name was inspired by his years working as a river boat captain on the Mississippi, it seems likely that part of the name’s appeal was that connection.

We’ve been calling our sons Thomas for ages, and we’ve been reading Twain’s novel since it was first published.  But Sawyer is a relatively recent entry to the baby naming scene.

He first surfaces in the US Top 1000 in 1991.  A year later, Kate Capshaw and Steven Spielberg gave the name to their son.  By 2004, he had reached #438.

That’s the year that Lost debuted, a complicated tale of the survivors of Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 and their days on a (not so) deserted island.  Among them was a character known as James FordJim LaFleur – but mostly, just called Sawyer.

Josh Holloway played the con man turned hero, and as the series progressed, we learned that his own parents had fallen victim to a disastrous con when he was just a child.  Sawyer came from the original villain’s alias – Tom Sawyer.

By the time the show ended in 2010, the name ranked #172.

Here’s a good moment to pause and talk pronunciation: is it SAW yer or SOY er?

Despite some defenders of the SAW sound, SOY is the default for many of us.  There’s the Rush song, an enduring classic rock hit from 1981, which reinforces the pronunciation.  It’s not consistent with the spelling, but then, this is English.

Ready for another controversy?

A handful of high profile uses have helped push Sawyer to the feminine side.  Actress Sara Gilbert gave the name to her daughter in 2007.

In 2009, One Tree Hill’s Peyton did the same – it was the character’s maiden name.

In 2010, Sawyer entered the US Top 1000 for girls.

It’s a possibility reinforced by notable television journalist Diane Sawyer.

As of 2013, Sawyer ranked #120 for boys – and #446 for girls.  The name is rising for both genders.

And yet, mostly, this name brings to mind the immortal boy from Missouri, forever talking others into whitewashing the fence at Aunt Polly’s house.  He’s come to life in countless movie and television adaptations, as well as a ballet, and a 2001 Broadway musical.

Overall, Sawyer is literary, carefree, and downright Americana.  There are lots of reasons to love this charming surname choice.

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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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What do you think?


  1. I have loved this name for a boy for years! We have two girls, Piper June and Maebry Rose, and are expecting a baby boy in August. This has always been our boy name, but I’m starting to question it due to the sharp increase in its use for girls, and it’s popularity in general. I do love it though!

  2. I liked the name for boys, after seeing it on Lost. Though the pronunciation trips me up. I do say it like “Soy” and then since I’m British, my “er” endings sound more like “ah”. So it does end up sounding like “Soya” like Helen mentioned above.

  3. I really like this. I worry in English English it might sound like soya. But I don’t think that would put me off. Can’t think if any nicknames from it but that solidifies for me the iconic nature of its literary origin. I am big into -er sounding names for boys, loved Harbour that you mentioned months back and evander – this ones added to the boys list, none on the Gil’s yet but 7 months to go!

    1. My friend has the cutest little guy named Sawyer, and they call him Soy Sauce for “short”, which I just think it so cute.

  4. I can’t understand the appeal of this mundane unmelodious male occupational name on a boy, let alone a girl. I hear “I saw yer” and that, combined with logs being sawn for timber raises no feminine image whatsoever, despite Susan Sarandon’s childhood ballet dancer character Louise Elizabeth Sawyer in “Thelma and Louise”.
    Sonya is way better. At least it’s a bona fide feminine first name.

  5. Sawyer is my daughter’s birth-name. We changed it when we adopted her, mostly because Sawyer Schw___er is quite the tongue twister, but also because Sawyer isn’t allowed as a first name in Germany (our kids have dual citizenship.) To tell the truth, Sawyer isn’t really “my style”, but over the years I have wondered if we shouldn’t have kept it for her middle name.