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.

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What do you think?


  1. @ironarm – First, this is not a forum to debate systems of belief. But it IS a place to discuss reactions to possible given names. If you want to talk names and your reactions to them – negative, positive, or in between, you are welcome. If you want to argue, well … I think there are a bajillion other sites spoiling to do just that.

  2. Ok, so 2 things. Evolution BEGAN as a theory. It’s no longer theory. And as for the confusion with the Darwin awards and people thinking “dumb” first…. Well, that doesn’t really make sense. Sure, it’s about dumb people dying, but it’s a reference to evolution and natural selection, which Darwin first theorized. That’s pretty common knowledge. Only someone who knows nothing about Charles Darwin would think “dumb” first. In that case, they’re dumb as well, so who cares.

  3. I know a Darwin who is about 30ish. He HATES his given name so much that he goes by J.R. (which aren’t even his initials). I’m not sure if it’s embarrassment over the whole creation/evolution debate. He is a Christian, though not a very conservative one by any means. Or maybe he just thinks the name sounds nerdy.

  4. Hey, the largest ball of twine is in Cawker City, Kansas! I have my picture next to it and everything! (end tangent)

    There was a little boy (a friend of the protagonist’s charge, Grayer) in the Nanny Diaries whose name was Darwin. I could see that working in that wealthy, New York neighborhood that the story is set. That being said, I agree with the others above who live in conservative area where this name would be taboo. And something about it sounds kinda blech to me, anyway.

    1. (Adding to tangent.)
      You better not say that at the Twine Ball Inn! 😉
      The ball in Darwin is the “Largest Ball of Twine Rolled by One Man.” The Cawker City one is bigger, but it was a community project. But then I love this type of silly small town attractions.

  5. My first thought is of an high-school friend’s gorgeous, older brother and an older man who attended our church when I was a child. I grew up in an evangelical christian church that denounced Evolution and yet I don’t remember “Elder Darwin” getting any grief about his name, but then Evolution wasn’t such a lightning bolt issue in the 80’s.

    There’s also the tiny, little town of Darwin, Minnesota. It’s best known for claiming to being the home to the world’s biggest ball of twine. This was “immortalized” by the “Weird Al” Yankovic song “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota”. 😉

    As for the name, I really like Darwin and it would be an handsome name for a geeky-cool little boy.