Thanks to Whitney for suggesting Duncan as our Baby Name of the Day.
Duncan is an ancient name, first found in inscriptions as early as the 300s, and worn by an eighth century saint. Depending on the source, the Gaelic original of the name is something like Donnchad or Donnchadh, derived from chadh – warrior, combined with donn – brown. Two Scottish kings wore the name.
The first Duncan ruled Scotland from 1034 to 1060. His reign wasn’t terribly successful, but he’s immortal anyway. Duncan I was succeeded by someone called Macbeth. Macbeth was a historical figure, but there’s little evidence of the kind of treachery described in later tellings. Instead, he appears to have succeeded to the throne without much controversy and been a middling king.
A second Duncan ruled Scotland at the end of the eleventh century, and the name has appeared in use over the centuries. It is also quite common as a surname. Perhaps that’s why Duncan has appeared in the US Top 1000 every year since 1880.
Modern usages include:
- David Bowie named his firstborn son Duncan, but called him Zowie for years. Now that he’s all grown up, he’s Duncan Jones again.
- A character in Frank Herbert’s 1965 novel is called Duncan Idaho.
- Singer-songwriter Duncan Sheik scored his first hit in 1996.
- Duncan MacLeod is Connor’s successor in Highlander.
- Lemony Snicket’s Duncan Quagmire, a brother to Isadora.
As for Dunkin’ Donuts and thoughts of basketball, well, that’s from the German dunken – to dip. Donald Duncan got into the yo-yo business in 1929, adding yet another layer to the name.
There’s something happy and serious at once about Duncan – he’s a name with heft, but with plentiful pleasant associations, too. As a given name, Duncan peaked in 1997 at #377. He ranked #799 in 2011, meaning he was given to just 274 boys – as many were called Abdiel, Alfonso, or Xavi. It’s a name everyone will recognize, but few will share. Duncan fits with surname picks like Cooper and Sawyer, but will satisfy purists who prefer to avoid borrowing baby names from the phone book.
With literary associations, impeccable Scottish roots, and his status as familiar-but-seldom-heard, it is hard to imagine why more parents aren’t using Duncan.