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.