Thanks to Maia for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
In Hebrew, David means beloved.
Or possibly uncle.
But the first meaning is the most often cited, so let’s stick with that one.
The name goes back millennia, to the Old Testament. The Biblical character is a towering figure. King David reigned as the second king of Israel from around 1010 BC to 970 BC.
Even if your knowledge of Christianity is non-existent, you know his story.
Well, maybe not all of it.
David is born a nobody, the son of a shepherd. But he ends up at the court of King Saul. When Israel goes to war with the Philistines, they’re challenged to send out their mightiest champion to face the Philistine contender, Goliath.
Goliath is a giant among men, tall and strong. David is puny by comparison, and he even refuses to wear armor.
You know how this goes …
Small but faithful David defeated the giant Goliath, taking down the powerful warrior with a slingshot.
The story has long been a favorite, with many a re-telling over the years. The phrase “David and Goliath” is often used to describe any underdog match-up, in sports or business or politics.
Artists have been capturing the moment for eons.
Those artists include Michelangelo.
His famous sculpture was created right around the year 1500, one of many depictions of the hero. In Renaissance Florence, David symbolized the city-state’s ability to hold its own against its bigger, badder rivals. (The statue’s position meant that David’s eyes glared in the general direction of Rome.)
So it wasn’t just an artistic triumph; it was rich with meaning, too.
SAINTS and KINGS
- Welsh-born bishop Dewydd or Dewi served around the sixth century, founding monasteries and churches. He’s considered the patron saint of Wales, and the patron saint of vegetarians.
- Armenia counts David of Sasun among their national heroes. An epic poem tells of Armenia’s attempt to resist Arab rule, and his leadership. The story was passed down by word of mouth until the 1870s, when an Armenian bishop wrote it down.
- It’s been the name of two kings of Scotland, the first in the 1100s, and the second in the 1200s. Nine kings of Georgia have also answered to the name.
- Influential philosopher David Hume worked in the eighteenth century.
- Missionary David Livingstone explored much of Africa, likely the first European to venture into many parts of the continent, in the nineteenth century.
- Charles Dickens gave the name to the main character in his 1850 novel, David Copperfield, inspired in part by his own life.
- Speaking of Copperfield, the famous magician was born David Kotkin.
- Frontiersman Davy Crockett was known as King of the Wild Frontier, and in real life, died at the Alamo during the Texas Revolution.
- Born Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, and referred to by his family by his seventh! name – he reigned briefly as King Edward VIII of England. The reluctant monarch created a scandal when he abdicated the throne to marry American Wallis Simpson in 1936.
STAR of DAVID
The six-sided Star of David is a widely-known symbol of Judaism. While it has ancient roots, it slowly became more common during the Middle Ages.
Also called the Magen Dawid, the hexagram shape wasn’t originally exclusive to the Jewish faith.
But it’s now at the center of the flag of Israel, and for many reasons, is powerfully associated with both the nation and the faith.
BY the NUMBERS
Famous Davids multiply in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
It’s a wildly popular boy name, ranking in the US Top 30 names nearly every year since 1900.
Daves you know – or at least know of – almost certainly include:
- Actors like David Duchovny and David Schwimmer, as well as Tennant, Bautista, Hasselhoff, and Franco.
- Former late night talk show host David Letterman.
- Comedian David Spade and Dave Chappelle.
- Historian and television presenter David Attenborough.
- Athletes, including David Beckham.
- Filmmaker David Lynch.
- Musicians David Gilmour, Dave Grohl, and the legendary David Bowie – just for starters.
Bowie, of course, adopted his stage name because he didn’t want to be confused with Davy Jones, the singer of The Monkees.
He’s gone on to be a legendary singer and songwriter, the innovator behind everything from Ziggy Stardust to Hunky Dory to Blackstar.
Fictional Davids make this list even longer.
Alvin and the Chipmunks bedeviled their human parent, Dave Seville. Schitt’s Creek gave us the unforgettable David Rose.
With all these namesakes, it comes as no surprise that the baby name David appeared in the US Top Ten from 1936 through 1992, peaking at #1 in 1960.
Travel to Spain, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, and Israel and you’re likely to meet a little David. Pronunciations vary; in French, it’s DAH VEED. In German and Dutch and Czech, it’s more like DAH vit.
But the name travels remarkably well, and with little translation required.
WELL-BELOVED BOY NAME
Surnames like Dawson and Davis might serve to update the name. But for sheer classic staying power, it’s tough to beat Old Testament David.
While it has slipped to #30 in United States as of 2021, this remains a rock solid classic.
If you’re after an enduring name that can take your son anywhere he wishes to go, classic David is one to consider.
What do you think of the baby name David?
First published on April 9, 2014, this post was revised substantially and re-published on November 22, 2022.