Surnames as given names to girls?

Cameron Diaz, Morgan Fairchild off the top of my head. Why do people name their baby girls something that to my non native ears sound very much like a last name? When did the trend start? And some names seem more ok than others - I doubt that anyone would name their girl Smith or Liebowitz.

It’s not just baby girls, although parents (at least in America) are more likely to get more creative with girls’ names than boys’. According to the Baby Name Wizard, the trend actually goes back over 100 years:

That’s from a short essay on the Last Names First trend, available from her site as a PDF or through Google as HTML.

According to a chart in her book, the last name first trend has accelerated a lot in the last couple of decades, so you may be noticing the trend’s increased popularity.

Cameron, by the way, has been a popular boy’s name for a few decades (originally a Scottish clan name), and the girls now showing up with the name are part of the long-standing boy’s names becoming girl’s names trend. And it looks like the same is true of Morgan – used to be a boy’s name, now a girl’s name. (I’m checking my copy of the Baby Name Wizard book for this info, by the way.)

Neither Cameron nor Morgan are strictly surnames, but as given names they are usually male. (Morgan Freeman, for instance. And Cameron Crowe.)

One example of the real phenomenon is Madison, which was popularized as a girl’s name by a movie. (Though it was apparently sporadically used as a boy’s given name in the past.)

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, you would often find boys with their mother’s maiden name as their first name. Mary Cameron would marry John Smith and they would name the kid Cameron Smith.

Hmm I thought the first time I saw Morgan as a feminine name was in Arthurian legends, “Morgan le Fay”. I’ve seen it spelled several different ways since, so perhaps that was just a modernized translation.

Morgan was always a female name.

I’ve heard that the giving of somewhat pompous-sounding family names to girls is an old tradition among the upper-crust WASPs of the U.S. Northeast. A fictional example of this was the little daughter named Campbell in Bonfire Of The Vanities, but it was founded on fact. I suppose girls with given names like Stockard, Campbell, Buffington, and Carleton fairly jostle each other in the upper crust schools of the region.

An example going back a couple centuries: Meriwether Lewis. Meriwether was his mother’s maiden name.

Corii’s excellent counterexample notwithstanding, Morgan has been a top-1000 baby name for boys in the US since the 1880s, but first showed up as a top-1000 girl’s name in the 1960s.

In 2004, Morgan was the 312th most popular boy’s name, with just over 240 boys in 1,000,000 being given the name. In contrast, it was the 31st most popular girl’s name that year, with almost 1800 girls per 1,000,000 being given the name.

Cameron is still predominantly a boy’s name, but its popularity with girls’ parents is catching up.

(Quick analysis of popularity courtesy of the Baby Name Wizard’s endlessly fascinating NameVoyager.)

The increasing trend of the last couple of decades was, IMO, an attempt to help the daughter overcome sexism. An employer might set up an employment interview with Taylor Carstairs before finding out that Taylor is a woman.

There’s also Daryl Hannah’s mermaid from the 1984 film Splash, which apparently inspired a generation of Madisons … huh! and there’s another one, Daryl.