This post is brought to you by the letter D, and the decidedly dashing choices it offers our darling boys.
Let’s start with Deacon, the name bestowed upon their starbaby son by Reese Witherspoon and Ryan Phillipe in 2003. Until then, you might’ve stumbled across a deacon at church on Sunday, but not in the local nursery school. But Deacon fits well with our love of two-syllable, ends-in-en names for boys, and the year after the famous Deacon debuted, his name appeared at #899 in the US Top 1000. As of last year, it stood at #631 – still comfortably uncommon, but gaining.
Our next name takes us from Hollywood to Medieval Europe, and right back to the major leagues. In Latin, the word durans, and the given name Durante, both mean enduring. When the poet Durante Alighieri opted to use his nickname – Dante – professionally, he launched another D-option for a son’s name. Italian families have used Dante for generations, but it is also favored among African American parents, with respellings like Donte, Dontae and elaborations like Deonte common. The original remains the most popular, at #270 in 2007, but you’ll hear all the others, too – especially in professional sports, where Daunte Culpepper is perhaps the best known of the Dantes found in the NBA and NFL. Check out our Name of the Day post on Dante for more.
It’s tough to imagine the literary Dashiell as a quarterback, but easy to see him as a track star. In 2004, Pixar released its sixth feature film, a story of a superhero family called The Incredibles. Son Dashiell had the power to run at super speeds, and hence earned the nickname Dash. The best known Dashiell was that master of the detective novel, Dashiell Hammett. In his case, the moniker came from his mother’s maiden name, the French de Cheil. Today, you’re not likely to trip over a Dashiell. It has never been in the Top 1000 in the US.
Dexter is the kind of D-name that has always been in use, but until recent years, rarely presented itself as a fashion-forward choice for a son. With the “x” and “ks” sounds so current in chart-toppers like Alex and Jackson, less common choices are emerging, too. We’ve raved about Felix; on today’s list, we add Dexter to that group. While the small screen has given us a temperamental boy genius (the animated hero of Cartoon Network’s Dexter’s Lab) and a frighteningly clever vigilante serial killer (Dexter Morgan on Showtime’s Dexter, based on the Jeffrey Lindsay novels), reach a bit farther back in history and Dexter is the name of a suave and handsome character played by none other than Cary Grant. In The Philadelphia Story, Grant’s C.K. Dexter Haven makes amends with his ex-wife Tracey (played by Katharine Hepburn) on the eve of her wedding to another. Tracey calls her ex Dex – we like it quite a bit in the short or the full form. Dexter ranked #824 in 2007.
Worn by early saints and ancient kings, the name Demetrius is quite the appellation for a small child. It’s actually a masculine version of the Greek goddess name Demeter, and might be more familiar as the Russian Dmitri or the Greek Dimitrios. But we think the full Latin version of the name has quite a bit of style – provided your surname is simple. It ranked #489 in 2007.
What is it about the name James? In Italian it becomes Giacomo and in Spanish, Diego. While assimilation once pushed towards calling both men Jim, today Diego makes for a perfectly reasonable choice for a son’s name. While it’s clearly Latino in origin, with the cartoon Diego saving animals daily on Nick Jr., it’s not impossible to imagine this name on a boy with a last name like Hanson or McClure. But know that your Diego could be one of many – this has been a Top 100 name since 2002, and today stands at #58.
From the Latino to the Celtic, Donovan is another name that is not borne exclusively by sons with ties to the mother country. While a child baptized Donovan a few decades back would’ve been plagued by classmates singing, “They call me Mellow Yellow,” after the folk singer’s 1966 hit, today Donovan is simply another of the Celtic charmers. At #198, it’s far less common than Aiden or Connor, but still comfortably familiar.
A trio of Celtic, two-syllable, ends-in-en names also make the list: Declan, Duncan and Devlin. Don’t use these for your triplets, but all three have plenty of style without being members of the overused-Aiden club. Declan is the most common, at #349. He was a 5th century Irish saint, and while the meaning of his name his name is debated, books commonly list it as “full of goodness.” We know an Irish-born toddler with the original spelling of the name – Deaglán – but far prefer the Anglicized version, especially if you are a generation or more removed from the Motherland.
Duncan is far less common, at #764, but has some serious historical and literary cachet. It is the name worn by two real life Kings of Scotland. And in Shakespeare’s famous play, Macbeth and his wife murder their King Duncan. We suppose that those of us who grew up in the eastern part of the US might associate Duncan with doughnuts – as in Dunkin’ Donuts, home of the Munchkin – but it has a long history of use. While it has never been popular, it has also never fallen out of the US Top 1000.
The third of the trio, Devlin, is by far the most obscure. It has never ranked in the Top 1000 in the US, and is most commonly heard as a surname. In the 1970s, a short-lived Hanna-Barbera cartoon featured the exploits of Evil Knievel-type motorcycle stuntman Ernie Devlin. While the meaning is debated – it’s given as both “fierce courage” and an Anglicized version of the name Doibhilin – it will doubtless bring to mind the English word “devil.” Perhaps this is why Devlin has never taken off in the US. Despite that association, we can’t help love the nickname Dev, and think that the similarity is not so close to prevent the name’s use.
As with all Alphabet posts, we have one name that we must beg you to avoid. And for D is for boys, that name is …
Yes, we acknowledge that it shares the two-syllable, ends-in-en mold with Deacon, Declan, Duncan and Devlin. But let’s be honest: this name came into use after the 1994 release of the movie The Crow. We’ll confess that we still have songs from the soundtrack on our iPod more than a decade later, but the name – actually the surname of the main character, Eric Draven, needs to go. The movie is based on a comic, in which we know our hero simply as Eric. The Crow’s writers dreamt up Draven as a mix of the word “driven” and that other black bird, the raven, and gave Eric a few lines of the famous Edgar Allen Poe poem to recite for good measure.
We think that names used in comics and scifi can be fair game if – and only if – there is a literary, mythological or historical precedent for the name. Or maybe if it is so obscure that the average person can’t look at your dimpled newborn and say, “Oh … did you choose Starbuck from the Battlestar Galactica?” then it might get a pass.
But Draven first charted in the US a year after The Crow’s release, and has risen steadily since then. Perhaps some parents are merely attracted to the sound, but we think that naming your baby boy after a risen-from-the-grave hero of a moody, cultish film is just plain ill-advised.
We know that we’ve left many a desirable D name for boys off this list, but for now, we’re clicking “post” and promising to revisit this dashing letter … after we get through the other 22.