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November 7, 2021 10:58 AM   Subscribe

Are people with last names that can also be first names more likely to give their children first names that can also be last names?

Lately I have been meeting a lot of people whose first names can be last names and whose last names can also be first names. I'm not very good with names, and I find this confusing and hard to keep straight. I'm thinking of names like this:
MacMillan Francis
Taylor Geoffrey
Ames Abbott
Godfrey Mack
I'm wondering whether this phenomenon has a name, and why it happens as often as it apparently does. If your last name is "Geoffrey", why would you name your child "Taylor"? Do you not notice the ambiguity, or just not care, or is it actually a positive?

I'd also appreciate any insights from people who have doubly-ambiguous names.

I realize this question may not be answerable, but every time I see another name like this I wonder about it, so I figured I'd ask.
posted by Winnie the Proust to Society & Culture (19 answers total)
As someone with a very definitely first name /last name combo, I've always loved and envied people with more ambiguous names. Bonus points if they're relatively gender neutral. If I had a kid, they'd get one. In my eyes, it's a positive.
posted by coldbabyshrimp at 11:10 AM on November 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I don't know if it applies in this case but usually the answer to "Why are they doing that?" is "People don't think about things that much".
posted by bleep at 11:30 AM on November 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

My partner has a first name/first name combo, and gave his daughter first and middle names that are traditionally last names (think Madison, Taylor). So she has a last name/first name combo.

Her first name is also gender neutral.
posted by jeoc at 11:30 AM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

My first name last name combo is the inverse of fairly well known actor though with a different spelling for my first/his last.
posted by Ferreous at 12:07 PM on November 7, 2021

My sibling however does not have a reversible name though.
posted by Ferreous at 12:07 PM on November 7, 2021

My family name is Thomas, and my parents gave the three of us names that I have certainly seen used as surnames but are not distinctively so.

I've found having a usually-a-given-name for a surname to be more of a pest than anything, and would therefore require overwhelming motivation to inflict a more-usually-a-surname given name on anybody I was responsible for naming.
posted by flabdablet at 12:11 PM on November 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: My family name has got way more popular as a given name during my 50 years while my given name has fallen out of fashion. Now I often get called by my family name, and it annoys the shit out of me. Put me down as not favouring given names that are also common family names.
posted by biffa at 12:12 PM on November 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: One factor to consider is that you’re primarily thinking of people with Anglo last names, thus ruling out wide swaths of people and various cultures. Lots of Anglo last names work as first names. In my observation, it seems to be a trend with babies right now.
posted by Comet Bug at 12:14 PM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

I'm with bleep -- I had a friend named Killian who named her son Ian. Ian Killian. She said she hadn't noticed the unfortunate meaning until my little daughter pointed it out.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 12:48 PM on November 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It’s quite common in a number of US social groups to use family names as first or middle names. Courtney was originally a surname from the French, as was Marshall, Madison, Sawyer, Flynn Harper, Sloane…..
posted by Ideefixe at 12:59 PM on November 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Hi, my name's Stewart Russell, and I wonder what my parents were thinking about that decision every damn day of the 52 years I've been on this earth

(They don't have particularly reversible names, though you might argue that Russell is. From where I'm sitting, it's a great family name.)
posted by scruss at 1:36 PM on November 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I’m female, but my last name is an uncommon but not unheard of, especially regionally, male first name. I named my son with a different common family name as his first name, although his family name (different from mine) is not used as a first name. Both my father and my brother (who share my family name) have first names that are common last names if you add an s (similar to William). None of us have ever had confusion about this and my brother named both of his sons with first names that could be family names. But perhaps it’s just enough different from your examples that it’s not quite on point.
posted by Sukey Says at 1:46 PM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My name is like that and it's been a minor problem in my life, because people reverse it all the time. They also blend the names together to get a new name. I get mis-filed alphabetically if they guess wrong. And I basically did the same thing to my child, in spite of the annoyance. My thinking was that it might be better these days to be able to lose yourself on the internet by having a bit of a mixup available.

Also, let's say that you are starting out in this world with the surname of Geoffrey. What name could you possibly give that child that would NOT result in confusion? If you name them "Chris," people won't know which is the first name. If you name them "Lane" or "Moss," people will assume that Geoffrey is the first name.
posted by xo at 2:17 PM on November 7, 2021

Takes me back to my database management days, when I spent a lot of time googling people to make sure they hadn’t filled in the name fields backwards. Especially if the subject was from a country where I wasn’t familiar with the language or naming conventions. I did catch a few, but for the most part my caution turned out to be unwarranted.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 7:57 PM on November 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

You might be interested in reading more about surname names; they're on the rise broadly speaking, which might be why you are hearing more. One thing to consider, too, is that the more surname-y first names you hear, the more surnames sound like first-name candidates, so it sorta compounds itself.
posted by Charity Garfein at 9:53 PM on November 7, 2021


Jennifer Dawson?
posted by markbrendanawitzmissesus at 2:07 AM on November 8, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you for all the responses. It's nice to know I'm not the only person who has thought about this. I've marked a few best answers, but the whole discussion was enlightening, especially hearing from people who have doubly ambiguous names.

As Comet Bug pointed out, I'm looking at this from an Anglo perspective. That's where this seems to come up (at least for me). It was also interesting to be reminded that family names are often used as middle names, as a way to include extended family connections (e.g. stepparents, cousins) when naming a child.

I'm going to make this resolved, but feel free to add more comments and stories.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 9:33 AM on November 8, 2021

This musical number has been niggling in the back of my mind ever since this question was posted.

"All of the girls are staking their claims
On the pinup man in the picture frames,
On the man with the two front names:
Harry James!"

posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:13 PM on November 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

I found a website that you can put names into and see how popular they have been over the last century, its UK only, tracks the top 100, here.

The good news is that the popularity of my family name as a given name looks to be on its way out after its burst into the top end of the chart in the 1990s/2000s.
posted by biffa at 3:14 AM on November 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

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