Surnames as forenames

A big naming trend in the last decade or so has been using surnames as forenames. Typically, prior to the trend, parents only tended to use a surname in the frontal position if it were a family name, had special meaning, or had become fairly established as a first name in its own right. Not because it was part of a naming trend.

Some surnames are more commonly seen as forenames, like Jordan, Alexander, Christopher, and James. I obviously have no problem with that. I also don’t have an issue with surnames which have been used fairly commonly as first names, or at least which don’t sound like surnames only, like Jackson, Emerson, Taylor, Tyler, Ryan, even Mackenzie.

A lot of the trendy surnames as forenames in the recent Top 100 charts are clearly just following a trend, judging by how they weren’t so popular but then all of a sudden jumped many positions in the charts and started to be heard and seen everywhere. Tanner, Landon, Carter, Tyler, Cameron, Parker, Porter, Cooper, Grayson, Carson, Bryson, Easton, Hayden, Avery, Addison, Madison, Payton, Riley, McKenna, Kennedy, Skylar, Kendall, ad nauseam.

Before this trend began, I tended to think of people with surnames as forenames as being from old money, or perhaps traditional Southerners. It seems pretentious as hell if it’s a name like Kensington, Chandler, McKinley, Roosevelt, or Windsor. They just don’t sound like first names.

I’ve heard stories about parents who were genuinely shocked and clueless when asked if something like Tanner, Avery, or Riley is a family name, no idea they’re last names. It’s even more embarrassing when someone is asked if Kennedy is after JFK, and they have no idea who he was. (Of course, the kid’s name is probably spelt Kynadi or some such nonsense.)

Oh, and giving girls surnames as forenames is just part of the overall trend of co-opting traditionally male names. Until very recently, only boys tended to get surnames for forenames. When this happens, it reduces the male naming pool, and many parents are loath to give their sons names considered girly. This happened to plenty of names before, like Ashley, Alexis, Courtney, Stacy, Tracy, Kimberly, Meredith, and Mackenzie. A few names are still relatively “unisex,” like Jordan and Taylor, but if enough girls keep getting those names, there won’t be any boys left with them.

If is really is a family name, or has some other type of special meaning, use it as a middle name. Otherwise, stick to surnames which are fairly established as forenames and don’t scream pretentiousness or trendoid.

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