It looks like a simple name, but the story behind this moniker is actually a bit of a tangle. Thanks to Jess for suggesting we look into Orrin.
Saint Odhran, sometimes written Odran, was a 5th century companion of St. Patrick, and helped bring Christianity to Ireland. Legend has it that he drove Patrick’s chariot – and died at the helm during a pagan ambush. About a century later, another Saint Odhran, or Otteran or Oran, accompanied Saint Columba to Scotland and helped establish his monastery. The “d” in Odhran is silent, so even the old school spelling leads to a reasonably familiar pronunciation: O rahn, not so far from today’s OR en.
When a name has been around for more than a millennium, landing on the most common spelling can be tricky. Beyond Odhran, Odran and Otteran variants include:
- Orrin, familiar to many as the name of long-serving Utah senator Orrin Hatch;
- Oran, an early Anglicization of the name;
- Orin, worn by Orin Smith, former CEO of Starbucks and the motorcycle-driving dentist Orin Scrivello in Little Shop of Horrors;
- Oren, which is, strictly speaking, a completely separate name.
While they’re not common, we find a scattering of Orrans and Orrens, too.
Most forms of the name trace back to the Gaelic word odhra, for pale green. Adding the diminutive “an” ending is common in Irish male personal names – think Aidan and Ronan. Spelled Oren, it’s a Hebrew name that means pine tree – not so far away from green, actually.
There are a few claims that link to the Greek Orestes, a mythological name meaning “of the mountains.” Some sites even list it as a variant of Aaron, but that seems tortured.
Chances are that all the versions have mixed and mingled over the years; the only Oren we’ve ever met had a decidedly Irish surname. They’ve fared similarly in terms of late 19th/early 20th century popularity in the US. Orrin was steadily ranked until 1947, and disappeared entirely after 1961; Oren was gone after 1953; Orin after 1951 and Oran after 1949.
This makes Orrin a problematic name: while it ought to be simple and straightforward, it is almost impossible to land on the correct spelling. It can be taken as an authentic Irish heritage choice, or perhaps a subtle nature moniker.
For parents weary of hearing Connor and Ryan, but seeking a Gaelic-tinged appellation, Oran might be the best spelling. As of 2006, he was a Top 100 choice in Northern Ireland and records suggest this was the original Anglicization. Oran is #72; Odhran actually comes in at #39, but in the US, that would lead to pronunciation headaches.
If your heritage is Scottish, Orrin is the name of a river flowing into the North Sea. Because Senator Hatch is a well-known Mormon, it might also be taken by some as reflecting that particular religious affiliation. And, of course, if you’re Jewish, Oren presents himself as the most likely choice.
But they all lead off with that ever-so-fashionable vowel O, and will meet many parents’ desire for something different, but not too sharply removed from current favorites for boys.
I’m an Orrin – Last name. My father was raised in Mexico City with his Father & Mother to include my great grandfather. I’ve never meet any other folks with the last name Orrin
Orrin D. Jennings says
An interesting bit of Oran/Orrin/Orin/Oren trivia is that one of DC Comic Character Aquaman’s names is “Orin”. Although it’s said to be of Atlantean origin. If you Google, Aquaman and Orin, you’ll see the data.
Dani hitch says
There is now an Orren playing Australian Rules Football for the Geelong Football Club (reigning premiers). Will definitely lift the names profile here down under!
He said in an interview he was named after a character played by Tom Selleck in a western.
Orrin Byland says
Haha thats my name. Im scottish
Dani Hitch says
My five month old son is also called Orrin, and we are Australian – trust me there aren’t many Orries down here 🙂 We named him after the river in Scotland, and we also found a source which said it meant ‘otter’ in Old Irish. He is a brother to Freya and April. Suits him to a tee – can’t imagine him as anything else. To me, Orrin is synonymous with loveable and easygoing.
My 4 month old is Oren Gabriel. We are Jewish.
Congrats on the new baby, Kaila! Great name.
My 5 month old sons name is Orrin!
Congrats on your little guy, Ashley. Is he your first, or does he have nicely named siblings? 🙂
Orrin Douglas Jennings says
I was born in 1960. My mom named me after her maternal grandfather, Oran who was born in 1880 (d.1975). She said she chose to use “the Irish spelling” of “Orrin” for me. The funny thing is that my parents and family always called me “Dougie” and eventually “Doug”. “Douglas” is my middle name after my mom’s favorite uncle on her dad’s side. I was fortunate to be able to spend several Summer breaks with my Great grandfather Oran. He always called me “Orrin Douglas”, using both names. He was happy, I think, that my mom named me after him. And I’m proud of my name even though usually I am called “Orrin” only at the doctor’s office or the DMV.
Orrin Clark says
Wow! That’s very similar to my story. I was named after my great-grandfather. His name was O.K. Fowler. The O.K. stand for Orrin Knox. My grandma alway told me that he was “ok” too, meaning she really love him.
My mom, my grandma on my dad’s side, and my most precious aunt, always called me by my first and middle name Orrin Ray.
Great history! My great-grandfather was Oran but I think I prefer the Orrin spelling. I would like to use it but I hope it does not become the next Owen, or worse, Aiden…
orrin a walker says
been named orrin for over 87 years and my father’s and grandfather’s name was also Orrin
The first appearance in my geneological tree was my Grand father: Orrin Millard and my father’s name was Orrin Millard Walker,and my son’s name is Orrin Leopold, named for me and his Grandfather. Leopold DeLandtsheer
Really nice aritcle! It’s nice that people actually like the name. I always felt so akward when i was a child because i am fairly young and the only people i knew with the name were over 50.
Really interesting article! You did me proud, to be sure! I like this name so much. And I’m really encouraged to see that others like it as well. Perhaps it will be the hip name of 2025! Thanks for researching this despite its foggy origins.
Funny to see this here. The lady across the street, already mother to Laura, Natalie & Conor is pregnant with #4 and is set on Orin if it’s a boy (they’re not finding out and she’s not due ’til April ’09).
I quite like it, actually. Easy to figure out how to say it, easy to spell, manly, strong… what’s not to love. I’m rather fond of Orry as a possible nickname, thanks to John Jakes “North & South” (which I read, long before I saw). Yeah, I’m always looking out for nickname possibilities. I like me my nicknames! 😛
I think it’s interesting that Oren is a seperate name in origin because it’s the way I want to spell the name based on sound along. The others look a bit off to my eye (says she who is trying to figure out how to use Lettice!) I agree with DH, good, simple names are hard to fiind and this is a grand one! Really fantastic. I think it’s a good “fits in yet stands out” name. with the -n ending, yet his O- beginning is awesome. I love the letter O !
Another, given your comments on Ira, I was fairly certain that would be the case. 🙂
And DH, I’m keeping this in mind for my neighbors, who already have a Connor and a Ronan – though I suspect that Oran/Odhran is too close to Ronan. (And she insists that she’s done having children, but given how wild she is about babies, well … never say never.)
Well, the Oren I know is Jewish, so it’s my bet he wasn’t named after an Irish saint. 🙂
Very interesting . . . isn’t funny how the most seemingly simple names can have the most complex histories?
I like Orrin and Oren and even his crazy Irish cousin Odran. It’s hard to find simple names that aren’t overused, and this is a good one. I don’t think it would work in my family, but I think it’s a great suggestion for parents looking for an uncommon, authentic Irish boy’s name.
my names orrin and there are hardly anyone with the name orrin and it’s pretty annoying
orrin wells says
i beg to differ!!!! my name is Orrin Wells!!!!
orrin hunter says
The GREAT ORRIN HUNTER
Orrin Brown says
So is mine…orrin brown
Orrin Gunnell says
Orrin Gunnell is the best… I’m “Rulon”… (mah middle name too)!
Good question – sorry it was unclear. IMHO, it really isn’t a separate name anymore – it seems to be used interchangeably with the other spellings. But technically, Oren *is* a Hebrew name unrelated to Odhran.
As it happens, their meanings are compatible – Oren means “pine tree” and Odhran means “green.”
So while they come from completely different linguistic backgrounds and aren’t linked, it appears that in common usage, they’re effectively two versions of the same name. I’m basing that conclusion on:
1. The fact that all of the names seem to fall out of the popularity rankings around the same time. When variants rise and fall together, it suggests (to me, at least) that parents are looking at them interchangeably.
2. My general impression from census records in the public domain, which means they’re all from the 1930s or older. I can usually spot a link between at least some bearers of the first name and their surnames’ origins. (Though I’m always cautious to read too much into what can be a false impression based on limited data.) But in this case, it appears that there was simply no consensus on the best spelling. A 19th century mother, I assume, would simply have spelled Orren/Oren/Orrin/Oran as it seemed to make sense to her at the time. Still happens today, right? Anyhow, it makes me suspect that plenty of Orens considered themselves named after the Irish saint and never heard of the other derivation.
I’m never quite sure what to do when names merge like this – it’s tempting to treat them as variant spellings, but that’s not quite the whole story. It’s that messy “What does my name mean?” question – it has so much to do with what the parents intended and what they believed about the name they chose. So while Oren has his own backstory, separate from Odhran, it’s reasonable to see them as linked.
How is Oren different? The only one I’ve ever known was Oren – he’s in his 40s. What makes it a “completely separate name”?