Help us pick a fancy new surname
November 14, 2008 7:33 PM   Subscribe

My brother and I want to invent a new family surname for ourselves and our future families. Our Christian names are Kristy-Lee and Thomas. Can you help? We're wondering about logistics, as well as being desperately in need of ideas for surnames! It's tricky trying to find one name to suit two people.

Our current surname is a name my Dad made up anyway – long story. Neither of us particularly like it and we also feel that since our family is split up, we should create a name that's just for us and that we can carry into the future.

So far we haven't come up with much. He kind of wants something in the vein of having "Danger" as a middle name. He's fond of the name Tommy Gunn but it doesn't go well with my name, so it's out!

I've been partial to things like Honeywell, or Roseberry! Quite pompous names. But I'm open to anything really! Does anybody have any ideas? We don't mind if the suggestions are humorous, or if they reference pop culture – in fact, we'd probably prefer it!

So anything goes, song titles, book characters, historical figures -- if there's a story behind the name, that's great.

But anything, no matter how plain, is a good suggestion. Anything would match my first name better than my current surname does!

I'm hoping to get the input of writers or wordsmiths here ... I know a lot of mefites have a good aesthetic understanding of language. You're the best bunch to ask for a combination of words/names that roll off the tongue.

Things to keep in mind:
–Must sound good with a Mister/Doctor/etc in front of it.
–As long as it sounds appropriate with some derivation of Thomas (Tom, Tommy), that's fine.
–I find Kristy-Lee a mouthful to pronounce as it is, but don't let that stop you from suggesting a complicated or fanciful surname.
–Don't worry about middle names.

Also, logistically, do you think this is possible? Is there anything we're not considering? Have you heard of anybody else who did this with any other family members? I don't think we mind the initial hassle of explaining to everybody that our last name is now different. But maybe it's more complicated than we've considered. Throwaway email is in case you need to ask further Qs.
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (64 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I'll take a swing at this:

Kristy-Lee and Thomas Vinova.

Tom Vinova

Dr. Vinova
Mr. Vinova
Mrs. Vinova

Emphasis on the 'o'.

It's a elision of "Vita nova", latin for "new life".

I think it sounds pretty, but I guess it's very subjective. Good luck with whatever new name you choose!

PS: "Vita nuova" is also the title of a work by Dante Alighieri about his love for Beatrice Portinari, who was used as a symbol for ultimate salvation in his more famous work, "Divine Comedy".
posted by Salvor Hardin at 7:49 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Changing one's name requires a bit of paperwork, a bit of money, and (in some places) standing in front of a bored-looking judge. It's really not that difficult. Almost all organizations or what-not that need to know your legal name are used to people changing their name (marriages and divorces are pretty common, after all). It's not more complicated than what you've considered.

As for what the new last name would be... I only have general advice. Both you and your brother don't seem to be taking the new name very seriously. Your brother wants a joke, basically, and your desired names seem kind of..trifling. And that's okay, really. But I'd suggest you try taking it a bit more seriously. You and your brother are, in a sense, re-starting your family line. You are making your identity anew. Think about who you want to present yourself as. Think about who you want you children to present themselves as.

Most people are stuck with a name that is only as valuable as the people who used it previously....But, to put it another way, most people are lucky enough to have a name that is made valuable by the people who used it previously. You will neither be stuck with the past or graced with it, so choose wisely.
posted by Ms. Saint at 7:50 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by aleahey at 8:00 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by chez shoes at 8:02 PM on November 14, 2008 [4 favorites]

Ms. Saint is right about judging your seriousness and offers good advice.

Not as permament as a tattoo, but still.
posted by captainsohler at 8:08 PM on November 14, 2008

Any of the founding fathers' names would work. Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Monroe, Hamilton, Adams...
posted by MegoSteve at 8:09 PM on November 14, 2008

posted by Science! at 8:10 PM on November 14, 2008

I think it's great that you're doing this with your brother!

I've heard of couples (gay or straight) combining their two last names or picking a new name instead of one taking the other's, so it's not totally unheard of.

The two best real last names of actual people I have known were Courage and Hazard. Hazard definitely won't work for you because NO ONE wants to be seen by Dr. Hazard.

I'm gay an the whole can't-legally-marry, won't-have-the-same-last-name thing has always bothered me, especially now that my partner and I are talking children. (My partner won't have the same last name as the baby! Crumbs!) But it turns out that her mother's maiden name is the same as my last name, which seems to me like a little miracle, because the baby will have my last name. She never liked her last name (its impossible to spell & pronounce) and is totally down with my last name.

This name stuff is important. Good luck! I think you'll know the right name when you hear it.
posted by palegirl at 8:13 PM on November 14, 2008

What was the family name before your father made up the current one?
posted by JaredSeth at 8:18 PM on November 14, 2008

follow-up from the OP
Sorry to make it anon, but I didn't want my name and my family's names to be attached to my mefi account :-)

Good point, Ms. Saint. I know what we've come up with so far is pretty lighthearted. I do want you to know that it is serious to me as well. It is also very special to me; in a sense, my brother and I are being symbolic about our hopes for the future and saying something about what "family" means to us.

As I said, I don't mind more serious or plain names at all. It doesn't need to have the wow factor. I guess I was just trying to express to the people reading that you need not only give me boring, professional sounding names. I would like suggestions of all types.

I will continue watching this thread with interest!
posted by jessamyn at 8:21 PM on November 14, 2008

Sounds like you should compromise by picking something pompous AND manly.

Kristy-Lee Bolden / Thomas Bolden
Kristy-Lee Sterling / Thomas Sterling
Kristy-Lee Hawk / Thomas Hawk
Kristy-Lee Ryder / Thomas Ryder
Kristy-Lee Rockwell / Thomas Rockwell
Kristy-Lee Falcon / Thomas Falcon
Kristy-Lee Warfield / Thomas Warfield
posted by arianell at 8:22 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

I have an idea!

Edison. How about Edison?

(Idea... lightbulb... Edison... see what I did there?)

But seriously, I think that would be kind of cool. You don't hear of people named "Edison" anymore, and I think it works with your first name and (obviously) your husband's.
posted by joshrholloway at 8:23 PM on November 14, 2008


You could go by Kris Lee and nobody would know if you're female or Asian or not.

Your brother could be proud of being named after Bruce Lee.
posted by troy at 8:28 PM on November 14, 2008

I guess I can make more specific the general advice I gave above:

1) Spend at least a few months trying to think up every single last joke that could possibly be made about the name. Then spend a few more months imagining hearing the lamest of those jokes being said every time you introduce yourself to someone. Can you stand it or is it driving you insane? Are you going to get tired of hearing those stupid jokes?

2) How do you answer the question, "Oh, why'd you pick that name?" Because you're going to hear that a lot. Is your answer just a blank look and a shrug? Or is it going to be some silly in-joke between you and your brother no one else will get? Imagine how each and every person who asks about the name will respond to your explanation. Because people WILL ask a lot, and they'll be expecting an interesting story. What type of story do you want to tell? Will you start getting uncomfortable or annoyed at the most common type of response to the story you're thinking of taking?

3) Is it easy to spell? Is it easy to pronounce? Are you going to get sick having to explain the spelling or pronunciation to people?

4) Do your initials end up being anything undesirable?

5) Does the name already exist in some culture as a name? Are you comfortable with people assuming you're from that culture? Are you comfortable with how people actually from that culture might view you taking that name?

6) Does the name mean something in another language? Make sure you're happy with any unintended meanings you might get.
posted by Ms. Saint at 8:29 PM on November 14, 2008 [2 favorites]

Tom Valkyrie, Kristy-Lee Valkyrie
Kristy-Lee Jupiter, Thomas Jupiter
Kristy-Lee Splitoff, Tom Splitoff
Tommy Squarepants, Kristy-Lee Squarepants
Tom Tromp, Kristy-Lee Tromp
Kristy-Lee Mefiski, Tommy Mefiski
Tommy Lee, Kristy Lee (drop the other Lee!)
Kristy-Lee Jumper, Tommy Jumper

This is silly !!! but good luck to you both.

ps: I guess you aren't just to change yours when/if you get married ? - kinda pointless doing this if you fall in love and marry Herbert Smith next year.
posted by Xhris at 8:30 PM on November 14, 2008

ya Edison....maybe they let you in free at his winter home in Ft Myers
posted by patnok at 8:30 PM on November 14, 2008

Obama or Huggenkiss
posted by rhizome at 8:38 PM on November 14, 2008

Dr. Metafilter sounds pretty good.
posted by casarkos at 8:40 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

"Your brother could be proud of being named after Bruce Lee."

Er... more likely to call to mind Tommy Lee or Tommy Lee Jones. That wouldn't seem great to me anyways.

If you're American, you should consider your middle names and three initial combinations...
posted by Jahaza at 8:44 PM on November 14, 2008

My silly suggestion would be that your new last name would be Awesome, because it would be awesome.
posted by MegoSteve at 8:47 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by kimdog at 8:50 PM on November 14, 2008

You might also look at if there is a movie, book, song, character, leader, person, who has profoundly affected both your lives. Even from childhood.

It would be really cool if you both discovered a previously unknown shared hero who could represent your new lives.

It could be another shared interest as well. A place, a food, a spice, a tree, etc. Some shared memory that defines who you are.

Also, changing names happens all the time. It is a bit of a pain, but just paperwork. It will be no more difficult because both of you are doing it.
posted by Vaike at 8:50 PM on November 14, 2008

I love Vaike's idea. If my sister and I did this we would definitely be Gilbreths because we both loved the kids in Cheaper by the Dozen like they were our own family.

I was thinking about new names I would pick for myself at one point and my favorites were Yes, No (bonus: Dr No!), Doe, and Zero. There was a girl in my high school named Victoria Zero and I still kind of hate her for having such a cool name. Definitely think about picking a day of the week or month, or a number, or some common noun else that everyone can spell.

I wouldn't go with Obama until you find out what kind of a president he actually is. I think you could start a lot of cool conversations by becoming Roosevelts, though.

Still, my favorite is Yes. I love the idea of saying an affirmative as a self-identifying word. I feel like there's no way you couldn't feel good about yourself. And if you had to write your name on a little sticky nametag you could just write "YES!!"
posted by crinklebat at 9:11 PM on November 14, 2008

I would suggest that you do not choose Dragonwagon as a new last name. A good lesson about choosing a new name carefully!
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:30 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

I knew a guy named Clint Falcon. Real name from his actual parents. I think I like Kristy Lee Falcon and Tom Falcon a lot. Sort of silly in a superhero/soap opera character way, but again, I am 100% sure this is an actual last name people inherit from their parents, so it's not completely ridiculous.

Part of the fun of this is that you could sort of invent your own history for whatever you come up with. "Yeah, our family back in the Old Country were falconers for centuries!"

But my favorites on here are the president names. Roosevelt is just plain badass. Or literary figures even; Kristy Lee Eliot (Your brother even has the right first name!). Kristy Lee Hemingway. Faulkner. Make a big list of ones you just like the sound of, or mean something to you (common pop culture reference, family in-joke, etc) and look up the etymology of the name. My last name is pretty boring but in Old English it means something like "fortress/stronghold" so it gets cool points.

On the subject of pop culture references, I can't decide if the rhyme in "Tom Tannenbaum" is awesome or terrible. Tons of good names from good television. Kristy Lee Swearingen! Maybe pop culture references that are specifically associated with a brother-sister team.

But yes, make a short list, think about how hard it is to spell over the phone, think of any and all puns, just so you can be prepared, avoid any embarrassing initials, and look up the origins.

This is a really cool thing for you to do as a family. Best of luck.
posted by ultraultraboomerang at 9:40 PM on November 14, 2008


Short. Simple. Strong.

Just don't move to Armenia.
posted by chrisalbon at 9:54 PM on November 14, 2008 [1 favorite]

When I read your post that the name should be "symbolic about our hopes for the future and saying something about what "family" means to us" the name Lightheart instantly came to mind. I like that connotes happiness, hopefulness and contentedness. I think both Tom Lightheart and Kristy-Lee Lightheart have a nice sound to them, plus wouldn't it make anyone's doctor's visit a little better if they were going to see Dr. Lightheart?
posted by platinum at 10:09 PM on November 14, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by tula at 10:25 PM on November 14, 2008

Khan, as in Genghis, not "Wrath of".
posted by robotot at 10:28 PM on November 14, 2008

posted by Tufa at 10:43 PM on November 14, 2008

Suggestion: whatever you choose, google your new name combinations first.

Friend of mine did this (pre internet) and now shares her name with a porn star. You can choose your google doppelgangers here, so choose wisely.

I'm not sure why you're changing from your current name, but one strategy I've heard for people getting married who choose a third new name was to take all the letters from both last names, run an anagram generator, and then pick the combination they liked best. That way the name had something of both original names.

Also probably good to go with a name that'll only be spelled one way; you've already got a hyphen in your first name so you're probably used to this difficulty.
posted by nat at 10:48 PM on November 14, 2008

I knew someone once whose last name was "Citizen".
I think it has a nice, strong, responsible sound to it, and it's not hard to spell or pronounce.
posted by exceptinsects at 11:25 PM on November 14, 2008

posted by GleepGlop at 12:09 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]






Seriously, it would be pretty badass to pick the name of a spy, even a fictional one. And then Danger really would be your middle name! You could even hyphenate.
posted by brain cloud at 12:11 AM on November 15, 2008

My last name is kinda clunky but I still like it, so I'll stick with it. In my family tree, however, is the surname "Ravenswood" which I think sounds fantastic. It works with your first names too!
posted by h00py at 12:35 AM on November 15, 2008

Digging out from my family tree, one I've always liked is 'Cannon'.
posted by ArkhanJG at 1:35 AM on November 15, 2008

posted by triggerfinger at 3:07 AM on November 15, 2008

A family friend got married to a fellow scifi/fantasy nerd and they both decided to change their last names to Lorien. As in "Lothlorien" from Lord of the Rings.

I thought it was a great pick - short, pretty easy to pronounce and spell, and something with a special meaning for the two of them. Maybe there's something like this that would work for you guys?
posted by Orrorin at 3:52 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

From Ms. Vegetable:

What about neighborhoods? There's a section of Chicago known as Ravenswood - then there's Lakeview, Lincoln Park, West Side, Englewood, Kenwood, Hyde Park, etc.... Some of those (or parts of them) would be perfectly dandy last names.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:27 AM on November 15, 2008

Here are some actual last names of people I've known, that I always liked (the name, that is, if not necessarily the person):

posted by Kangaroo at 6:11 AM on November 15, 2008

Use my last name: Darling.

It's not super common but not so unusual that someone will say "Huh? That's not a name."

Everybody loves it - it has a way of disarming people somehow when they hear it.
posted by davey_darling at 6:35 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

Use my last name: Darling.

Hey, wait, that's my line!

Seriously, I was going to suggest Darling, and it is MY last name and everyone does love it and when they ask you how to spell it (Because nobody believes you the first time) you can say "Just like sweetheart".

Barring that, however, Finch, as in Atticus.
posted by qldaddy at 7:02 AM on November 15, 2008

posted by pracowity at 7:35 AM on November 15, 2008

posted by Phanx at 8:36 AM on November 15, 2008

How about going really old-school and creating a name that describes where you are from, what you do, or your family, or some other aspect of yourselves. So in English someone was called Smith because he was a smith, or Richardson because he was Richard's son, or Hackney because she was from Hackney, or Red because she had red hair. Someone in Shakespeare's past was obviously known for his poor hand-eye coordination when handling weapons.

Quite often in Medieval and early-modern records people don't have fixed surnames, and they really were used to describe the individual ('which John are you?' 'Me, I'm the one from Warwick.' 'Ah, ok, I'll put down John from Warwick then').

So, how about choosing something that has some relevance to the both of you and turning it into a name (place you were born, favourite holiday spot as kids, hair/eye colour, common character trait you both share, occupation, hobby)? Perhaps look up what some aspects of old names mean to tag on there as well, for example the -ton at the end of my name means town.
posted by Helga-woo at 8:57 AM on November 15, 2008

posted by sondrialiac at 9:08 AM on November 15, 2008

Remember you are not choosing a new name for just yourselves but for your family line as well. I think future generations will appreciate a meaninful or symbolic name but a silly or humorous name might be resented.

I would urge you to pick a name that is both suitable for male and female. Your suggestions of Honeywell and Roseberry might be great for you but might cause some little boy down the line to suffer a great deal of teasing in school.

Depending on your relationship with them and what their names are, you could use your parents first (or original surname/maiden) names to create a new last name for yourselves, either by splicing them together or using the letters to create an anagram.

Trying looking back in the family line to see if there is a last name you like or even a first name that might work as a last name.

My hubby's father and uncle changed their last name. They each chose a different last name but both names were a variation in a different language of the original family name. Your name might not be suitable for that, but if it is, it might be fun to see what it is in various languages.

Try getting a baby name book or going to a baby name website and looking at boys names. A lot of them make great last names.

A few names I always liked are Phoenix (which is symbolic, too), Masters, Grant, and Elliot.

I think it's great and courageous that you are doing this. Most people just live with the name their born with no matter what. Good luck with it!
posted by sapphirebbw at 9:50 AM on November 15, 2008

posted by Afroblanco at 10:28 AM on November 15, 2008

You want something with a little style.
You want something simple, so you're not spelling it to pea-brained clerks and bureaucrats all the time.
You want something with a slight hint of sin to it, but not too obvious.
You want something memorable, so people aren't always calling you Kristy-Lee whats-her-name.

Put all this in the CSG (Cool Surname Generator), set the dial to Eleven (what else?), wait a few seconds, and you get:

The name of a star in the constellation Lyra which means "swooping eagle";
The name of the coolest character from Pulp Fiction;
The (shortened) name of the flashiest city in Western Civilization;
The name of the "Spanish Ninja" from Street Fighter;
The name of the latest launch vehicle from the European Space Agency:

Your new surname: Vega.

Kristy-Lee Vega. Game over. Don't thank me.
posted by dinger at 10:41 AM on November 15, 2008 [2 favorites]

posted by redsparkler at 11:12 AM on November 15, 2008

Two real-life last names I myself have coveted: Southern and Romantic.
posted by saucy at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2008

Also, logistically, do you think this is possible? Is there anything we're not considering?

An addition to what Ms. Saint mentions:

The logistics depend on where you're located. If you're in the US or Canada, there are probably no further complications. However, in some countries such as Denmark there were (and probably still are) laws requiring you to serve public notice of your intention to change your family name. If any existing Honeywells take issue with you wanting to be a Honeywell, your request can be denied.

So, inquire at your local courthouse.
posted by CKmtl at 12:05 PM on November 15, 2008

Tom Lord
Dr Lord
K-L Lord
posted by Xhris at 12:45 PM on November 15, 2008

Von Trapp
Mufti Mattah
posted by GleepGlop at 1:36 PM on November 15, 2008

Yesterday I met someone with the surname Fortune. I was really struck by what a lovely name it is and I think it fits your criteria well.
posted by goshling at 3:33 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'll give you some suggestions, but first let's go through some rules of thumb we've learned from sociology about the significance of names. All the rules deal with how you can turn social discrimination against certain kinds of names to your advantage.

1) Surnames are subject to "alphebetical discrimination". If you choose a last name it should start with a letter closer to the beginning of the alphabet. The paper above shows that scientists with names closer to the beginning of the alphabet are more likely to receive honors such as the Nobel Prize, and higher academic rank such as tenure. This is likely due to the greater prominence of these names when they are listed alphabetically on papers. Sometimes this applies to other important areas of life where alphabetical systems are used too, like some elementary school students who get to be first in line at lunch. Nobel prizes and lunch!

2) Surnames are also subject to "commonness discrimination". If you choose a last name it should be rare and unique. The paper above shows that uncommon surnames in Spain are associated with higher socioeconomic status.

3) Now let's deal with first names. As long as you and your brother are changing your last names, you might also consider changing your first names. Or at least keep these considerations in mind when naming your children. First names, unlike last names, are subject to "uncommonness discrimination". If you choose a first name it should be a popular and common name, and it should be spelled in the common fashion. The paper above shows that popular names are associated with just about every good outcome there is, including higher income, education, and life satisfaction. It is also associated with lower crime and delinquency. Establishing causality is certainly important, and the evidence here is more mixed (and is tied up in ethnic differences that might not apply to everyone). Using a California database, Steven Levitt, of Freakonomics fame, found that blacks with unusual names earned less than blacks with "normal" names because of other pre-existing differences in background. In other words blacks with uncommon names earned less because they disproportionately came from less advantaged backgrounds. But when blacks from the same kinds of backgrounds were compared, name didn't matter. Other studies disagree. One experimental study found that resumes with "black sounding" names did not elicit the same amount of job interview opportunities as resumes with "white names" (something that likely applies to unusual names in general). Another study comparing just black sibling pairs, found that the siblings with the "black names" had lower test scores than the siblings with the more common names, which is good evidence for causation.

4) A popular first name is associated with many good life outcomes, but the popularity of first names changes over time, so you want to pick one that is either currently popular (for yourself) or one that will be popular for your children when they reach an age where they will be heading out into the "real world". Neither Thomas or Kristy-Lee are currently top 25 popular names (though Thomas is still a relatively common name; Kristy-Lee is definitely an unusual, detrimental name), so you could pick a new name from the top of that list.

And if you have children, the names that will be popular when they are older will be the ones currently most fashionable among the most educated parents. For instance, if you have children soon, here are the names that are predicted to be most popular in 2015.

5) Here are some rare, alphabetically front-loaded surnames:

Kristy-Lee Albrecht Thomas Albrecht
Kristy-Lee Augustine Thomas Augustine
Kristy-Lee Bishop Thomas Bishop

Or paired with more popular first names:

Elizabeth Caralexander David Caralexander
Lauren Beaumarchais Ethan Beaumarchais
Alexis Alef Nicholas Alef
posted by dgaicun at 4:20 PM on November 15, 2008 [5 favorites]

Oops, here are the 2015 names. Also here is how you pronounce Beaumarchais.

Here is my recent post with a link to a useful surname engine. I should have used it, because Albrecht, Augustine, and Bishop sure aren't rare.
posted by dgaicun at 5:01 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're an American, you might be interested in some of these:

A friend and I were discussing the dearth of original American surnames available to coincide with the country's unique cultural history. Names such as "Democrat," "Republican," "Independence," "President," "Boxcar," "Valuemeal," "Hollywood," "Wallstreet," "Rodeo," and "Americason" were all offered up as possibilities to fill what we saw as a need for our citizens to claim their heritage by name.
posted by Demogorgon at 8:04 PM on November 15, 2008


Your search is over :)
posted by micklaw at 9:29 PM on November 15, 2008

My Godson shelved his given surname and replaced it with his middle name. It really works and fits him well. If I were to do the same I'd be Mr. Goldsmith. Kinda blingy, that.
posted by moonbird at 5:47 AM on November 16, 2008

Dahlstrom. Lundell. Almquist. Magnusson. Cederlund. Deshoulières. Dubois. Villon. Boniface. Rousseau. Verlaine. Supervielle. Eluard. Aragon. Vallès. Thorn. Hawthorne. Langland. Marlowe. Marvell. Lovelace. Cavendish.
posted by nonmerci at 5:48 PM on November 16, 2008


It's a hue and it goes with Kristy-Lee. And Tommy Gunmetal is much more hardcore than plain ol' Tommy Gunn.
posted by Kattullus at 10:27 PM on November 16, 2008

Midnight. My friend works with a guy named Chip Midnight and thinks it's the best name ever.
posted by thejanna at 7:28 AM on November 17, 2008

Whatever you do, avoid Osmond.
posted by owtytrof at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2008

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