In the 1970s, he capably captained the Pacific Princess. But he’s been an adventurer for centuries and has taken on a measure of cowboy cool in recent years.
Thanks to Emmy Jo for suggesting Gavin as Name of the Day.
Most nameniks know that Gavin comes from the medieval Gawain, he of the Round Table. Trace him back a little farther and he’s probably linked to Gwalchmai, Gwalchmei or possibly Gwalchgwyn. We know Gwalchmai and variants were in use in the 1100s because a famous court poet wore the name, and passed it on to his sons. The name also appears throughout traditional Welsh tales.
As for Gawain, he’s among the most famous of the Arthurian knights. The 14th century tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight recounts his adventures lopping off heads, flirting with beautiful women and ultimately cheating death. Some read it as a simple tale of derring-do, but it has been much interpreted by scholars aplenty. The story inspired a 1978 opera and at least three film adaptations, including a 1984 version featuring Sean Connery as the Green Knight.
Gawain has never been revived in the US, but Gavin charted here starting in the 1950s. It’s tempting to link the name’s rise to the career of actor Gavin MacLeod (born Allan George See), but the name was already rising by the time MacLeod’s roles on The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Love Boat cemented his fame in the 70s.
In fact, Gavin has been used sparingly since the nineteenth century. It seems logical that the Victorians would revive him, what with their love of historical and legendary appellations. Sir Gavin de Beer, future director of the British Museum of Natural History, was born in 1899; JM Barrie’s novel-turned-play The Little Minister about cleric Gavin Dishart was written in 1891. (And became a movie co-starring Katharine Hepburn in 1934.)
By the 1950s, two-syllable, ends-in-n names for boys were just starting to gain in popularity. Brian, Jason, Ryan and Brendan were all on the rise. Odds are that Gavin had been lurking in baby name books for decades, just waiting to be discovered.
A handful of famous Gavins today includes musician Gavin Rossdale, father to Kingston and Zuma; San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsome and a handful of athletes. It is also a surname worn by actor John Gavin (he would’ve played James Bond, but Sean Connery returned to the role) and distinguished World War II General James Gavin.
Today, Gavin charts at #32 in the US as of 2007 – his highest rank yet. But this is one of those names that fares far better in certain parts of the country:
- In Wyoming, he’s #3, second only to Ethan (#1) and James (#2);
- In South Dakota, he’s #4, while Ethan again holds the top spot;
- He’s #6 in North Dakota (where Logan is #1) and also #6 in Iowa (again, Ethan is #1);
- And Gavin comes in at #9 in Minnesota, where Jacob is most popular.
His heavy use in the Western states lends Gavin a certain cowboy cachet – and highlights the style divide between different parts of the country.
Overall, Gavin emerges as a sensible choice. He’s got plenty of history and dash without being at all unfamiliar.