Thanks to Jess for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day, and to Jenny for requesting an update.
Saint Odhran, sometimes written Odran, was a fifth 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 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.
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 different spellings include Oran, an early Anglicization of the name.
Other spellings suggest different origins and more than one meaning of Orrin.
MEANINGS of the NAME
Or should that be meanings of the names?
The Gaelic word odhra is a color. Sometimes it’s translated as pale green, but it might also refer to dun, a brown gray or maybe a blue gray. Like roan, dun usually refers to a horse’s coat.
Adding the diminutive “an” ending is common in Irish male personal names – think Aidan and Ronan. It means little.
So besides their saintly roots, Odhran and Oran probably reference the color. If you see a meaning like “little green one,” it’s that -an ending at work.
Spelled Oren, it’s a Hebrew name that means pine tree. (Maybe that’s another point for the color green.)
Speaking of Hebrew, Oran is sometimes connected to the element Or, meaning light. (It’s shared by names like Ori and Lior.) There’s also Ran in Hebrew, which takes on a musical meaning – sometimes given as song; or possibly “filled with song.”
But, but, but … òran is also the Scots Gaelic word for son. Then again, the River Orrin is found in the Scottish Highlands; it leads into the Falls of Orrin.
Orrin might be a different spelling of any of these. It’s typically linked to the Gaelic origin.
EVEN MORE SPELLINGS and MEANINGS
Orin is yet another possibility. Some connect Orin to the Greek Orestes, a mythological name meaning “of the mountains.” Eugene O’Neill’s Mourning Becomes Electra likely gave the name to a character precisely because of the similarity to Orestes.
Some sites even list it as a variant of Aaron, but that seems like more of a stretch.
And while it probably doesn’t impact the use of Oran as a given name in the US, it’s worth noting that Oran is a coastal city in northwest Algeria. The name comes from a Berber phrase: wa-iharan, place of the lions. That suggests bravery and strength.
While they’re not common, spellings like Orran and Orren are sometimes seen, too.
Some cultures group the baby name Orrin with unisex names, and there are a few in the US, depending on spelling.
Ori could be Hebrew. But spell it Orry, Orrey, or even Orrie, and it’s either an obvious Orrin nickname or a surname related to Urey, ulimately derived from the Germanic Ulrich. Ulrich combines elements meaning “heritage” and “ruler.”
BY the NUMBERS
Pinning down the baby name Orrin’s popularity is a challenge. The US Social Security Administration shares data on any name given to at least five boys or five girls in any given year, all the way back to 1880. But each individual spellings counts as a separate name.
Time for some math!
- The most popular spelling, Oren, was given to 139 boys and five girls in 2022.
- The baby name Orrin was given to 60 boys and fewer than five girls.
- 17 boys and fewer than five girls were named Oran.
- Another nine boys were named Orren.
- Seven boys received the authentically Gaelic nameOdhran.
- Fewer than five boys were named Orran, but it has been used in the US.
Many of these spellings were far more popular in the past.
Orrin ranked in the US Top every year until 1947, and disappeared entirely after 1961; Oren was gone after 1953; Orin after 1951 and Oran after 1949. So you were more likely to meet an Orrin – choose your spelling – in the early 1900s or mid-20th century than today.
In recent years, the baby name Oran appeared in Ireland’s Top 100. It’s fading there, too. However, accent-free spelling Odhran as well as the Gaelic name Odhrán are both more popular. In Northern Ireland, Odhrán has ranked in the Top 50 over the last decade.
If you’re seeking a name that celebrates Gaelic culture, Odhran and Oran feel like the logical choices. Oren suggests Hebrew roots. And Orrin might feel a little bit Scottish.
Perhaps Orrin’s strength, though, is the ability to effortlessly cross cultural barriers. It’s a meaningful name, but a flexible one, too; the name of a river and the name of a saint. While it was a more popular choice in the past, the baby name Orrin remains familiar enough to hit the sweet spot for many families.
FAMOUS FICTIONAL CHARACTERS and NOTABLE INDIVIDUALS
Maybe because the baby name Orrin is so flexible, it’s been given to many famous fictional characters. A handful of real-life Orrins also come to mind.
Orrin Hatch, a long-serving member of the United States Senate from Utah, might be the most famous bearer of the name in recent memory. Other Orrins include:
- Orrin Miller was a prominent Mormon leader in Utah at the turn of the twentieth century
- Jazz aficionados might think of Orrin Keepnews, co-founder of influential jazz record labels, Riverside Records
- There’s also jazz pianist Orrin Evans
- Orrin Pilkey is a well-known environmentalist and conservationist at Duke University
- Louis L’Amour used the name Orrin Sackett in several stories and novels
- 1960s television sitcom Petticoat Junction added the kind, but bumbling Orrin, in later seasons
- Journalist and comic book publisher Orrin C. Evans created the first comic imprint created by and for an African-American audience
Spell it Orin, and that brings up:
- Orin Smith, former CEO of Starbucks
- Motorcycle-driving dentist Orin Scrivello in Little Shop of Horrors
- DC Comics associated the name with Aquaman, often using Orin as Arthur Curry’s Atalantean name
- Video game series Touhou Project features a character named Rin – called Orin as a nickname
- There’s also a video game character known as Orin the Red in the Baldur’s Gate universe; it sounds like something out of Norse mythology, but that’s one heritage this name cannot easily claim
- Parks and Recreation included a minor character by the name
And then there’s Oran:
- Oran Milo Roberts served as governor of Texas in the late 1800s.
- Oran “Hot Lips” Page was a jazz trumpeter in the first half of the twentieth century
This is just a smattering of famous people with some variant of the name.
VERSATILE and RARE
Recent trends have pushed more O names into the spotlight. Besides Oliver and Owen, O names like Otto and Otis, Ocean and Oakley, Onyx, Oscar, and Omar are all on the rise. If a single spelling of Orrin dominated, odds are this antique gem would return to the Top 1000.
But for now, it remains both versatile and rare. It’s easy to imagine the baby name Orrin with Gaelic roots or a completely separate cultural significance. It’s the kind of name that suits a jazz musician as easily as a businessman.
If you don’t mind correcting the spelling – probably with some frequency – the baby name Orrin makes for a very wearable choice for a son born now.
What do you think of the baby name Orrin?
Originally published on August 6, 2008, this post was revised and republished on September 8, 2023.