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.

    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. I looked up this name, as two out of 14 kids in my son’s preschool class are named Gavin! I had no idea it was as popular as that, maybe because I find it so boring and had never noticed its place in the rankings. There’s also a Tesla and an Urban!

    2. I know a Gavin; he’s a sweet little boy in my church. I don’t know him well; he isn’t old enough to be in the group I work with in Vacation Bible School, but I know his older brother Logan quite well and he’s one of my favorite kids in the world, so my main association is very positive. They also have a soon-to-be-born younger brother, tentatively named Aidan, though I’m not sure about the spelling. I think Gavin lucked out and got the best name of the three. Logan sounds wimpy to me and Aidan is so overdone, but Gavin, though trendy, is charmingly medieval. I love the Gawain association.

      I may also be influenced by a dear friend of mine who is absolutely in love with the name and dying to use it. Her fiance likes showy, somewhat eccentric Biblical names, like Zechariah and Ezekiel, but she’s all about the two-syllable, ends-in-n crowd, though her tastes aren’t as awful as some. I sometimes how they are ever going to come to an agreement regarding their children’s names. 😀

    3. My apologies, Emmy Jo!

      You’re absolutely right that Gawain was your suggestion, not the watered-down Gavin! (Sorry – I deleted it from the draft at some point – probably while agonizing over the Gwalchmai connection – and never put it back in!)

      As for GOW in versus ga WAYN? I think you’d get ga WAYN. And, of course, the unrelated Wayne has done well in the 20th century. But you’d be fighting an uphill battle to get GOW in to catch on. Then again, Gawain is so rare maybe you’d get away with it. Because GOW in seems inspired. 🙂

      Here in DC, I don’t think I’ve met a Gavin. Ever. I knew one growing up in Eastern PA, so there’s at least one 30-something Gavin out there. (Okay, more than one. Statistics and all that. And Nessa and Lola, you seem to know a bunch!)

      JNE, you’re right about Gavin/Kevin. That’s probably a big part of his popularity.

      Allison, I thought the EXACT SAME THING while watching that ep! I watched it in a re-run, though, so I haven’t mentioned it here. But yes, there is a Beatles connection to Astrid, but I can’t recall it … let’s make Astrid NotD on 4/16 and I’ll go find out. 🙂

    4. Do you have Astrid on your list for NOTD? I was watching “The Office” last week and was delighted to see that was the name Jan gave her baby. Wasn’t that the name of the German photographer who was Pete Best’s girlfriend? Or was it Stuart Sutcliffe? Either way, what a cool name.