Note: This is a special Saturday Baby Name of the Day for an expectant mama!
There’s the actor. The aircraft. And yet has this Scottish heritage choice lost his dash?
Thanks to Bridy for suggesting a family name she’s considering for her baby on the way. Our Baby Name of the Day is Douglas.
Douglas begins on the map, the name of a river derived from the Gaelic dubh – dark and glas – stream. The river gave its name to a nearby village, and the village shared its name with a castle. The castle was the stronghold of the Earls of Douglas, once Scotland’s most powerful family, the heads of Clan Douglas.
Legend has it that the clan was founded by an eighth century knight named Sholto Douglas, the hero of a decisive battle. There’s not much in the way of historical evidence for Sholto, though family members have used the name since. The first Douglas on record as a landholder appears in the twelfth century. Early leaders fought alongside William Wallace and Robert the Bruce, rising to prominence over the years. By the 1400s, they were such a big deal that it became rather hazardous to be the top of the family – if you didn’t die in battle, there was a decent chance others would conspire to send you to your death.
It’s no wonder that the family’s name filtered into use as a given name, too. Douglass is a valid variant, and the first female Douglas appears in the history books in the 1540s, an English noblewoman likely named after her godmother, a member of the powerful Scottish family.
It is impossible to list all of the notable bearers of the name, but a few highlights include:
- Explorer Douglas Mawson reached the South Pole in the Antarctic in 1909;
- Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, the 14th Duke of Hamilton. The well-born double Douglas distinguished himself as a member of the Royal Air Force, taking part in the first flight over Mount Everest and organizing the air defenses of Scotland during World War II;
- Actor Douglas Fairbanks played Zorro and Robin Hood, and with wife Mary Pickford, was part of the original Hollywood super couple. (The name of their legendary Hollywood estate, Pickfair, presages smooshes like Brangelina by nearly a century.) Fairbanks also co-founded United Artists and the Motion Picture Academy. He and wife Mary were the first pair to ever put their handprints in cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theater;
- General Douglas MacArthur remains one of the most decorated military leaders in US history;
- Writers like Douglas Adams and Douglas Coupland take the name in a creative direction.
If that’s not enough history, there name is wrapped up with the entire aeronautics industry. In 1921, Donald Douglas, Jr. founded the Douglas Aircraft Company in 1921. Four of their planes were the first aircraft to circumnavigate the world by air in 1924. Chances are good that you’ve flown in a DC-9 or DC-10. The company merged with McDonnell Douglas and then Boeing, taking the name out of the skies.
Despite all of this history, Douglas is falling fast these days. From 1929 through 1989, he was a Top 100 staple, reaching as high as #23 in 1942. Today he comes in at just #485. You might have an Uncle Doug, but odds are you don’t know many little bitsy Dougs.
But could Douglas be revived? Boys today answer to Daniel and William, not Danny and Bill. While Doug feels dated, Douglas seems to retain much of his daring past, combined with a certain surname style. If you’re looking for a classic Scottish option that is instantly familiar, but relatively underused, Douglas could be a surprisingly fresh choice.