Bicentennial Park, Darwin, Australia
Bicentennial Park, Darwin, Australia; Image by yeowatzup via Flickr

He’s a brainy surname with a quirky, cool vibe.

Thanks to Silent One for suggesting Darwin as our Baby Name of the Day.

Ages ago, I thought someone had requested Darwin, and started working on a post in an idle moment, briefly mentioning it somewhere out there. But it wasn’t so – it was one of those names floating around in the back of my brain. Silent One was kind enough to remember my offhanded comment, and so this post is finally seeing the light of day.

Darwin has two possible origins:
  • The -win ending was very common for Anglo-Saxon men: Baldwin, Edwin, Oswin. All three of those names were worn by kings, and so are visible in the historical record. Darwin is far less prominent, but not unknown. The -win ending comes from wine – friend, and the first syllable from deor – dear;
  • Lancashire’s River Darwen is immortalized in a John Milton poem, and lent its name to a town built on its banks. This Darwen has a separate origin. An earlier spelling – Darwent – suggests it relates to the Old Welsh derwenyd – valley of oaks – or possibly a combination of the Old Welsh for water – dwr – plus gwyn – fair, for the meaning “clear water.” However, Darwen is now pronounced without the “w” sound, like Darren, so chances are it isn’t inspiring parents to consider Darwin today.

But mostly, Darwin brings to mind Charles Darwin. His grandfathers were Erasmus Darwin, a noted physician and social reformer, and Josiah Wedgwood, the potter-turned-industrialist. Charles considered a medical career, but found his studies dull. He sidestepped his father’s attempts to persuade him to train as a clergyman.

Instead, Charles studied the natural sciences, publishing his sketches of beetles, taking a trip to Wales with his geology class. Eventually signed on to the crew of the HMS Beagle as a gentleman naturalist, paying for the privilege of spending five years sketching and collecting fossils while the Beagle conducted its survey of the South American coast, as well as several islands.

It was a game-changer. A beginner when the Beagle set sail, by the time he’d returned, Darwin was established in scientific circles. He edited the five volume set, published between 1838 and 1843: The Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle Under the Command of Captain Fitzroy, R.N., during the years 1832 to 1836. Later, Darwin’s theory of natural selection was promoted in his 1859 On the Origin of the Species, and he changed the very bedrock of how we think about evolution.

Choosing Darwin for a son could honor the scientist, or possibly one of the places named in his honor, like:

  • A glacier in Antarctica;
  • Colleges in England;
  • An oil field in Azerbaijan;
  • In California, a waterfall and a protected wilderness area in the Mojave Desert;
  • A town in Zimbabwe;
  • One of the Galápagos Islands.

That’s at least one place on every continent, including Darwin, Australia – pictured above.

Darwin has ranked in the US Top 1000 more years than not, peaking in 1938 at #297. Today he stands at #729, a modest comeback since the early 90s, when he teetered on the edge of obscurity.

His modest revival may be attributed to the 2009 biopic Creation, featuring Paul Bettany as Darwin.

If kids in your ‘hood answer to offbeat, geek chic picks like Dexter, Rufus, and Linus, Darwin will fit right in.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

You May Also Like:

What do you think?


  1. I know a man named Darwin who looks like Ichabod Crane, so that ruins the association for me. Otherwise, it’s a nerdy name like Newton.

  2. I have to agree with pdxlibrarian on this one – Darwin sounds too much like a political statement to me. And, as a good majority of my husband’s family are born-again Baptists and firm “Creationists”, it would definitely be interpreted as such, were we to ever use Darwin (which of course makes hubby like it more 😉
    I can see his nerd appeal and for that I like Darwin, but it just feels a bit loaded.

  3. I like Darwin, in theory. I, too thought: monkey, Naturalist & Australia long before “awards”, but it still strikes me as a bit geeky ( smart monkey & Naturalist combined) and as such, I’ll never consider it as anything but a middle name. But I *do* like Darwin, he’s fun to say! 😀

  4. Thanks for doing this for me. It feels like I’ve been waiting forever… probably because I’ve been expecting it since September.

    Sometimes I can sort of see Darwin’s appeal. But in the end, it always feels just a little bit too nerdy for me. And any child of mine has a decent chance of being a nerd, which could make things worse.

    1. See, SilentOne, we anticipated having geeky kids, too. Like begets like, right? So we were very careful not to name them anything that sounded at home with coke-bottle glasses and braces with headgear. (Though both my husband and I were, I think, more weird than geeky.) It is part of why he discarded names like Dante. (Our kid won’t be cool enough to be a Dante – it will make being a scrawny little thing harder.) Except that we ended up having a really athletic son. He’s only 6, so who knows? Blood could win out. But I am beginning to think that naming for who you suspect your kid could be is just as impossible as naming for who you want him to be …

  5. Aside from the Charles Darwin and Darwin awards, for me there is a strong association with the chimpanzee on the show the Wild Thornberries… haha. Nevertheless, I really love this name. It’s probably the “w”. I’m a sucker for w’s.

  6. I mentioned this on the site “You Can’t Call It ‘It” before, but I knew a man named Darwin and would recommend against it. If you are living in the United States, it could be seen as a highly political statement, akin to naming your son Global Warming, or Abortion. I grew up as a Baptist and there was a man named Darwin who attended our church. He found his name very embarrassing and it immediately tagged him as an outsider. In general, I would recommend against any name that would be a statement name. You don’t know what your child will grow up to believe or like and even if you would prefer that he or she follow in your footsteps, it might be more gracious to give a name that has a bit of wiggle room.

    1. That’s my concern as well. It’s a great name, but living in a smaller town with a conservative bent, I fear Darwin would lead to some unwelcome comments. If we were still living in a metropolitan area, I would be far less worried about the reaction. Although there is something to be said about learning the strength of character when standing out in a crowd.

      1. I’m from Oklahoma, and I have a feeling Darwin would have a similar reaction here. Evolution is a very taboo subject here. In my public high school, when we got to the evolution chapter in my science book the teacher said, “We are going to skip this chapter, but you are welcome to read it on your own. Remember, this is just a theory.” It’s a pretty widespread belief here that Darwin was full of it (even though that’s a very uneducation assumption – that’s what people believe) and I wouldn’t want my child to have to deal with that his whole life. In other parts of the country/world though… this name would probably be super-cute.

        1. WOW! My eyes just bulged out of their sockets, cartoon-style. I guess it really is more political than I would ever have thought.

        2. Chantillylace, hate to disagree, but it’s no longer “theory”. It began as a theory, but ” Today, the modern evolutionary synthesis is accepted by a vast majority of scientists. However, evolution remains a contentious concept for some theists”

          1. @ironarm – Chantillylace didn’t say that SHE doubted evolution. She said that in many places, including the place she lives, it would be a controversial name because many people quarrel with evolution. She’s talking about reaction to Darwin as a given name, not his scientific legacy.

  7. One problem I could see potentially facing a child with this name is that too many people will think “dumb” when they hear the name rather than “brainy” due to the popularity of the Darwin Awards.

  8. I’m not sure if it is named after Charles Darwin (but I’m guessing so) but you forgot a very prominent place named Darwin….the capital city of the Northern Territory in Australia! I suppose for me, being an Aussie, it sort of rules it out…it would be weird if my son was to one day live in Darwin being called Darwin…..

    1. I did, didn’t I? And the photo is from Darwin, Australia, so I haven’t got a clue why I didn’t bother to put it in the body of the post … That’s fixed. Now if I could only figure out why the spacing isn’t working right …

  9. Darwin is the capital of the Northern Territory (Australia), that’s the first thing I think of when I hear Darwin.

    1. Haha, same here! I just imagine someone saying: “Here are my sons, Darwin and Sydney, and this is my daughter, Adelaide!”

      1. Sydney and Adelaide are both in use here stateside, so I could see this sibset happening.

  10. I don’t think I could use this one. It might be okay, I guess, on the right kid but I don’t think that kid will be born to me 🙂

    1. They are used here too, but not usually all at once. To put it in context, try to imagine that someone introduced you to their children Boston, Chicago and Miami. 😉