Carter, Mason, Hunter: Vocation Names for Boys

vocation names for boys, baby boy name trends,

I’m fascinated by connections between disparate things. It’s the curse of a strange mind and has gotten me into many improbable discussions. So I may not be on to anything here. But it strikes me that increasingly popular names for baby boys are vocation names. Nearly all these occupations are obscure or long gone, so we don’t associate them with the work they once described.

Names have a powerful effect on a child’s future. I wonder about our current naming trend. Maybe we’re unconsciously hearkening back to a time when a man was identified by the work he did—often the occupation passed down from grandfather to father to son—when a man was known for his expertise and good reputation. In a time of warp speed change and uncertainty, these are indeed strong names to send our boys into manhood.

Here’s a partial list of the names I’ve noticed. Interested in a particular name? Check out its popularity rank in the U.S. over the last 200+ year. (Keep in mind, even names without current rankings may be trending.)

How many names are becoming more common among kids you know?

Archer: huntsman

Banner: flag bearer
Bard or Baird: poet
Barker: lumberjack, carnival announcer
Baxter: bread baker
Booker: book binder
Brenner: distiller, charcoal burner
Brewster: brewer

Carter: transporter of goods
Carver: one who carves
Chandler: candle maker
Cooper: barrel maker
Currier: leather worker

Deacon: church official

Ferris: iron worker
Fletcher: arrow maker, arrowsmith
Fisher: angler
Foster: woodsman

Gardener: gardener
Granger: farmer, overseer of farm laborers

Harper: harp musician
Hunter: huntsman

Jagger: wheel maker

Marshall: groomsman, farrier, high military rank
Mason: brick layer, stone worker
Mercer: merchant
Miller: miller, mill owner
Major: military rank, mayor

Palmer: palm bearer, pilgrim
Parker: park guard, gamekeeper
Porter: carrier of loads, gatekeeper
Prentice: apprentice to tradesman
Proctor: official
Pryor: a prior, leader of monastery

Reeve: bailiff, senior official, manager
Rex: king

Sadler: saddle maker
Sawyer: wood cutter
Sayer: woodcutter
Shepherd: folk tender
Spencer: steward, shop keeper
Stewart/Stuart: steward, estate manager
Sumner: officer who summons people to court

Taylor: tailor
Tanner: leather worker
Thatcher: roof builder
Tinker: traveling repair person
Tucker: clothing maker
Turner: wood turner, wood worker
Tyler: tile maker

Vance: thresher

Warner: warden, guard
Webster: weaver
Weaver: weaver
Wheeler: wheel maker
Wilder: woodsman

12 thoughts on “Carter, Mason, Hunter: Vocation Names for Boys

  1. Yesterday I saw a photo of toddler twins in the New York Times, and the caption was something like “Their nanny takes Grayson and Alden sledding in Central Park.” Your theory is optimistic, but I tend to think the last-names-as-first-names phenomenon is more about sounding wealthy that seeking meaning.

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  2. How do you think of these things? This was like mental floss for me. Like many, I’m an enthusiastic student of history, and so I know what a Sawyer and a Fletcher are…but I never thought about their rising use as boys’ names now that we’ve disconnected them from their original meanings. Full points, Laura.

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  3. What interests me about those names is how many of them are being taken over by girls now. I know two Tylers – one a young man, one a girl. Harper and Taylor have long been more girls’ names. Also … I come from another country, and if you call your child one of these names, it shows you are Americanised.

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    • Clicked publish too soon. To clarify, “being Americanised” reflects a lower/middle class origin or attitude. Being trendy is probably a better way to put it. Wealthy people here tend to call their children traditional British names.

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      • Totally agree on the way traditionally male names have been co-opted for females. In the US, names that were once solidly male are now used almost exclusively for girls (Leslie, HIlary, Darcy, Kim, Reese. Shelly, Leigh, LInsday, ad infinitum). I think that trend is really accelerating.

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  4. Of course these are all surnames. It wasn’t that long ago that if a child was given one of these names as a first name, it was usually because it was the mother’s maiden name or there was some other family connection. Just by knowing a person’s name you could know something about their family. Nowadays it seems to me to be rarely the case that when a child is given what is usually a surname for a first name the child is being named for a family member.
    Interesting trend–as is the tendency you mention to give girls names that were once exclusively male names, like Sidney, which became Sydney and a popular name for girls.

    Liked by 1 person

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