Devon coast

First there was Kevin.  Then along came this similar-sounding possibility.

Thanks to Virginia for suggesting Devon as our Baby Name of the Day.

Like many a modern appellation, there’s more than one popular spelling.  Devin has a slight edge – he entered the US Top 1000 in 1957, three years ahead of Devon.  And he stands at #173 in 2012, a healthy lead on Devon, at #397.  Devan ranked #986 for boys, while Devyn came in at #991 for girls.

There are four possible origins for the name:

  • First, there’s the Irish surname.  The masculine given name Damhán means fawn.  Dubhán means dark.  They became surnames O Damhain and O Dubhain.  Both were Anglicised as Devin.
  • As an English surname, Devin means divine – as in flawless.  Or maybe it suggests an aptitude for divination, the ability to see the future.
  • My first thought is the place name.  That’s Devon in the photo.  It comes from the Celtic tribe who lived thereabouts when the Romans conquered Britain.  They were the Dumnonii, a name that translates to something like “deep valleys.”  The area was traditionally known as Devonshire, but is officially called Devon today.
  • Then there’s one other Irish origin.  Dámh is the Gaelic word for poet.  -an is a common diminutive form, so Devan would be a little poet.

That last is the most satisfying of the meanings, and it is frequently cited on message boards by parents who gave the name to a son.

Certainly Devon – in any spelling – owes something to the popularity of Irish surname names.

But ultimately, I think he’s succeeded thanks to our affection for boys’ names beginning with the letter D, as well as the epidemic of two-syllable, ends-with-n names for boys.

Those two syllable, ends-with-n names have dominated choices for boys in the last half-century:

  • Kevin peaked in the 1960s.  By the time Kevin’s parents left him behind in Home Alone, the name was waning.
  • Another early favorite in this category was Brian.  He peaked in the 1970s.
  • Then came Ryan in the 1980s.
  • Devin’s heyday was the 1990s.

Other names that have been solidly popular in recent decades include Evan, Justin, Dustin, Jason, Jordan, Brandon, Austin, Ethan, and Logan – and that’s just a short list.

So Devon fits right in, and he’s been fitting right in for a while.  And yet, Devon was never as popular as Jason or Kevin or Ethan.  While the multiple spellings make it tough to pin down precisely how common Devon has been, there’s still something about Devon that remains fresh.  Maybe it is his place name cred, or maybe it is the fact that from Daniel and David to Dashiell and Dexter, D has always been a great letter for boys’ names.

Either way, Devon is a modern choice that remains wearable in 2013.

Photo by Goodnight London (Dominic Simpson) via Flickr

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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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  1. Devon is an English county and many are used as British male names: Warwick, York, Somerset, Avon, Kent, Surrey. They all work for men young and old.

  2. Huh. Devon has always read female to me, but then the only Devon I know is a girl (big shock in this day and age, I know!)