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.
Have been meaning to come back to this site and comment again, Douglas Fox Baney was born September of 2011 and is now running around exploring life, we stuck with our favourite name and nobody could imagine him being called anything else, I often get lovely comments on the name, no negative ones so far. All manner of nicknames are used by everyone, my favourite being ‘Dougalicious’. I find the name to be popular, uncommon for the age group and very versatile and fun with plays on words like ‘Snug as a Doug in a rug’! I’m sure the usages of the name will change a bit once Douglas is older, for now I’m having fun with the cutsie uses :).
Congrats on your lovely son! And Douglas Fox is just dashing … great name. 🙂
O. Douglas Jennings says
My parents named me Orrin Douglas Jennings (after mom’s grandfather and uncle respectively) but always would call me “Dougie” or, later, “Doug”. I was born in 1960 and knew at least a couple of other guys named Doug all throughout grade school and high school. But, as the above article points out, it seems like I never hear of the name being used anymore. So I’m glad to read that it still has some positive sentiment behind it. My nephews and nieces on my wife’s side call me “Uncle Douglas” which I think is cool. Using the long form of the name for today’s generation is a good idea.
I’m still loving this name, especially since I came across a baby named Douglas on a blog or forum ( cant remember now) and the mother wrote that she tended to use the shortened ‘Dougs’ rather than Doug or Dougie. Thinking of Dougs and Douglas I’m now pretty committed to this being the top of the list now (with the middle name Fox).
Thanks for discusing my favourite name, I greatly appreciate it. 🙂
My brother’s name is Douglas–my father chose it after Douglas MacArthur. He was born toward the end of Douglas’s run in the top 100, and he hated his name growing up (the teasing options are endless: Dung, Bug, Lassie…). I think he’s made peace with it and almost enjoys being the only 20-something Doug he knows. I’m betting it would work much better for a little guy now, with the ends-in-s names gaining popularity and the overall acceptance of a wider variety of names.
Since I’m from the Northwest originally, my first thought with Douglas is always the botanist David Douglas. Douglas Fir trees are very prevalent there and easy to identify because of their distinctive pine cones. There’s also a very large high school in Portland named David Douglas.
According to my book of Scottish forenames, Dougal has a different origin than Douglas. They’re both from Gaelic, Dougal from ‘dubh-gall’ (dark stranger), Douglas from ‘dubh-glas’ (dark water). ‘Dubh-gall’ was probably first given to the Danes by the natives of the Hebrides. “Dubhgall, son of Somerled of the Isles and his wife Raghnaid, daughter of Olaf of Man, was given the lordship of Lorne and was ancestor of the MacDugals or MacDougals. Dugal, or variant spellings such as Dugald and Dougald, became popular in the Highlands and Islands. Doug is a pet name [for Dougal].”
Maybe not much to be gained by using Dougal instead of Douglas, as Doug might still be the short form used by others. I much prefer Douglas; for me, it’s a much stronger sounding and much more familiar name.
I know a baby Douglas! His name got very favorable reviews when it was announced. I love Douglas, but Doug will definitely always be a Nickelodeon cartoon to me. I just don’t know if there is anyway to avoid the shortened version. There is always Dougal which is lovely as well.
Congrats on your baby, Bridy! Verity, you asked yesterday on Facebook if there are names that the full name is appealing, but a nickname is not. This is one of those names for me. Love Douglas! However Doug makes me think of King of Queens, which is not really a reference I’d be looking for with my child. I can hear Keri in her nasally voice saying, “Dougie!”
Lady Gwyn says
My dad’s middle name is Douglas, as was his fathers. If I did use it, I would relegate it to the middle as well. It is a nice name, but not one in my personal style. I would consider it because of it’s history of family use.
Douglas was the name of the black cat I had for 15 years…he was a wonderful cat. I always called him Douglas or Snuggless Douglas, but never Doug. Naturally I like the name.
That’s Douglas in my icon!
Like many of those in my generation, I grew up watching Doug Funnie every day on Nickelodeon, and while I absolutely loved the show, I could never bring myself to use the name of sweater-vested, perpetually befuddled Doug.
Douglas is my father-in-law’s name. I think because of that it feels pretty dated to me, although the association is a positive one 🙂
I like Douglas too, but wouldn’t use it as such. His nemesis I named Douglas, as mine is Karen.
Dougal, the Scots version seems less ” middle aged guy” to me, and would be what I might be able to slide past Him, if any.
But I like the solid darkness that is Douglas. Maybe I’ll spell it Douglass and use it on a girl (in the middle)!
Nook of Names says
Douglas tumbled out of favor here in the UK quite a bit before it did in the US, and it’s such a shame that some would dismiss Douglas (and many other names) just because he’s seen by some as ‘dated’. Personally, I don’t like talk of fashion and style when it comes to names — it reduces them to the level of consumer items. Names should always be judged on their own merits, particularly how these relate to what each individual is looking for in a name. And Douglas is a great name, with a lots going for it!
love your site! I’ll be visiting.
Sarah A says
At first glance I didn’t really like it, since Doug feels pretty dated, but by the end of the post I was sold on Douglas! There is so much amazing history 🙂
I also think Douglas could fit in with other -s enders like Rufus even if he doesn’t feel as stylish. I personally wouldn’t ever use the name because I work on Douglas campus, but I think it’s a great name!
I too have liked Douglas since childhood, but I’m not sure why… maybe a children’s book? Maybe I just like the name because it feels cozy and friendly?
Another interesting namesake for the name is Stephen Douglas, who engaged in the Lincoln-Douglas debates over slavery with Abraham Lincoln. I did Debate in high school and college, so while I can’t say Stephen Douglas would be a hero of mine… it does add some bookish charm to the name.
I think Douglas is very usable. It’s a strong, classic Scottish male name and as noted above, fits in with other classic names used without nicknames, eg., David, Daniel, Douglas. “Baby Name Wizard” calls Douglas “a classic surname borne by one of the great families of Scotland” and concludes that “Douglas is still handsome but now more respectable than adventurous.” I think Douglas is a fine-sounding name, and especially if Douglas were a family name, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.
I’ve liked this name ever since I was a little girl. Perhaps because Doug was one of my favorite cartoons? I prefer the full name Douglas to the nickname Doug, though Dougie is sort of cute. This is one that I’d never use myself, but appreciate on others.