He might be your accountant. Maybe your dentist. And unless you grew up on Mars, the name almost certainly reminds you of a cartoon duck.

Is he best left in the past, or should we reconsider this Scottish heritage choice?

Thanks to Kate for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Donald.

Donald has had a good run. He’s enjoyed long use in Scotland. In the US, Donald ranked in the Top Ten from 1923 through 1942, and remained in the Top 100 until 1990. You probably know a handful of Donalds, most of them grown.

In Gaelic, he’s Dòmhnall. Between the 600s and 1300s, plenty of nobles answered to this name, including three kings of Scotland. They probably said DOV nahl. Medieval variants include Dofnald and Dufenald, but eventually the preferred Anglicization became Donal or Donall. Both sound exactly as you’d imagine – DON ahl – and probably better with a brogue.

The pieces of the name translate roughly as “ruler of the world.” Val or valos is related to the word for ruler. (And valor and valiant, too.) Dumno or dubno mean world, or more precisely, depths. In the first century BC, a Celtic tribe in Gaul was ruled by Dumnorix or Dubnoreix. The name contains the same elements, substituting the Latin rix for the Celtic val.

The name was worn by an eighth century saint, best known for fathering nine daughters. When his wife died, he and his girls formed a sort of religious community, remembered today as St. Donald and the Nine Holy Maidens.

The thirteenth century Domnhall Mac Raghnuill is considered the founder of the Scottish Clan Donald, and the ancestor shared by all of the MacDonalds and McDonalds worldwide. We assume this includes the brothers Richard and Maurice McDonald, who sold their innovative restaurant concept to Ray Kroc. But no, the clan’s tartan is not red and gold.

Fast forward to our times, and notable Donalds include:

  • Actor Donald O’Connor, best known as Gene Kelly’s sidekick in Singin’ in the Rain.
  • Business tycoon turned reality TV star, Donald Trump.
  • Actor Donald Sutherland, currently part of the cast of TV’s Dirty Sexy Money.
  • Walt Disney’s hot-tempered Donald Fauntleroy Duck is, of course, famous the world over.
  • Donald Rumsfeld is former US Secretary of Defense.
  • Handsome Eddie Cahill plays Detective Donald Flack, Jr. on CSI: NY.

Today, Donald stands at #322 and continues to fall. Some parents might opt to refresh this one by favoring the unrelated Donovan for a child’s name – that choice ranked #198 in 2007.

Overall, Donald is a solid, respectable name. He’s not trendy, but that’s his strength. Call your son Donald and he’ll stand out from his classmates, but not too far.

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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What do you think?


  1. He is a ‘comfy sweater’ name isn’t he?! I really like him for that, he’s such an unpretentious, kindly name not to mention completely unexpected on any child today. Thanks for making him name of the day Verity!

  2. AthGirl, I agree about the band name. I started to write something like that, but worried I’d be the only one to think that. LOL!

  3. I had a friend in elementary school named Donald who always went by Don. I remember in 5th grade, we found out his “real” name was Donald and a few kids teased him good-naturedly for a day (Donald seemed so dorky!), then let it go. Don suited him really well. He’s about 24 now so probably younger than many other Donald bearers.

    BTW, don’t know why, but St. Donald and the Nine Holy Maidens strikes me as a band name! Sorry if that is blasphemous 🙂

  4. Donald sounds a bit dated for me, plus my last name is McDonald so it totally wouldn’t sound right. lol Plus the poor boy would be asked constantly if his father was Ronald McDonald. I know because people ask me that all the time. It used to annoy me to no end, so I could imagine what would happen if I did that to my kid. I don’t hate the name, but I don’t love it either.

  5. Not blaspheme, really, watch “Band of Brothers” for Donnie & then “Max Payne” for Mark… Donnie doesn’t whine, either. Mark, he’s awesome to look at but Donnie’s the better actor. I sometimes forget he’s Donnie Wahlberg when watching him. i never forget it’s Mark. I hope that last bit made sense.

    Laney, the Donald I knew as a kid was a Donald MacDonald. I swear! And he never got picked on. His big brother Ronald did. 😛

  6. I was just thinking I forgot Donnie Wahlberg AND Donny Osmond. 🙂 But Donnie W. more talented than Mark? You blaspheme!

    A comfy sweater name – that’s a great phrase!

    I worked for a Donald in graduate school. I guess he’s just past the 70-mark now. Great, amazing guy – it’s impossible for me to hear the name without smiling.

  7. I’ll admit it, Donald’s a pleasure to see. My Pop’s best friend was a Donald/Don. Donald O’Connor has a soft spot in my heart for ‘Singing in the Rain”, he played Cosmo Brown! And Donald Duck (and Daisy for that matter) are my favorite Disney characters. You forgot my favorite famous Donald, though: Don Ho was born Donald Tai Loy Ho in August of 1930. My Pop had all his albums! And then there’s Donnie Wahlberg, born Donald Edmond Wahlberg and the more talented brother, in my eyes.

    I knew a Donald MacDonald in Grammar School, him and his older brother Ronald. The other kids had loads of fun picking on Ronald MacDonald, but he was a nice guy so I didn’t. Donald is one of those comfy sweater type names. Warm, comfortable; not too stylish but so comfy, who cares? yeah, like that. Don is pretty suave again, at least to me who likes things like Rufus, Barney, Clancy & Frank. so take Don is cool with a grain of salt or three. I would love to run across a little Donald, nn Donnie. I know Ken thinks Donald is a Grandpop name, one of his Grandfathers was a Donald (Henry was the one he liked best) . I would definitely like to run into one, probably hug mom too! Maybe invite her over for coffee. 😀 Donald, I like you!