Thanks to Katie for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
MEANING OF THE NAME STARLING
Starlings are friendly, outgoing birds. They’re chatty, too, and can mimic other sounds – including car alarms!
Native to Europe, Asia, Africa, and few other places, they were introduced to North America. (There’s a rumor that a Shakespeare society first released them in Central Park; while there’s some truth to the story, it’s mostly urban myth.)
One possible way Starling became a name: an outgoing ancestor might’ve been given this surname, just as brunettes became Brown and the tallest person in the village became Long.
As for the bird, starling comes from an Old English word: stærlinc, or starlinc.
It’s a surname from early days, sometimes recorded as Starlinc and Starlingus. The Pipe Rolls of Cambridgeshire, financial records from the 1100s to the 1300s, show the name used as early as 1166. (Jordon Starling was the exact name recorded.)
One possible drawback: starlings travel in flocks, and they love to party. If you’re a farmer, having a big ol’ murmuration of starlings assemble on your field is not ideal. They can wreak havoc in cities, too – a particularly large group of the birds descended on London’s Big Ben in 1949, and slowed the famous clock.
Still, as a baby name Starling now feels like a peaceful nature name, fitting right in with River.
Or maybe even Nova and Luna.
While Starling isn’t related to stars or star-gazing, it’s easy to hear this and look to the sky above for stars, as well as wings.
Or maybe Starling makes you think Silence of the Lambs.
The 1991 movie would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Anthony Hopkins score the Best Actor award for portraying the terrifying Hannibal Lecter, while Jodie Foster earned the Best Actress award as Clarice Starling.
Clarice is a rookie FBI agent. She’s called in to interview serial killer Hannibal Lecter, in hopes of using his knowledge to hunt down another killer, still at large.
In 2021, CBS revisited the character with the series Clarice, about Starling’s early days at the FBI post-Lambs.
But while we remember her first name, and strongly associate it with the movie, the surname Starling isn’t quite as well known.
Other famous figures include:
- Back in the 1810s and 20s, Starling Tucker represented South Carolina in Congress.
- Nineteenth century botanist William Starling Sullivant was an expert on moss.
- Starling Burgess was an early twentieth century design innovator, winning awards for aviation, but also designing racing yachts and naval ships. His daughter, illustrator Tasha Tudor, was also originally named Starling.
- Dominican Republic-born MLB outfielder Starling Marte plays for the New York Mets.
BY the NUMBERS
Any last name will sometimes be used as a first. And so the record shows Starling used as a baby boy name way back in 1880 – the very first year for which the US Social Security Administration reports data.
Girl Starlings first appear in the data in the 1930s.
The name peaked in 1920, with 26 boys given the name. There was a 1919 novel called The Starling, but it looks like the main character – the starling in a cage – was a sheltered professor’s daughter named Sarah.
As of 2022, nine girls and fewer than five boys were named Starling. In 2021, those numbers were eleven girls and five boys.
BIRDS of a FEATHER
Nature names are everywhere. That includes avian-inspired picks, from standbys like Robin and Raven to new favorites like Wren.
Starling fits right in. Because the last name Starling is familiar, it’s easy to spell and pronounce. And the bird helps, too, ensuring that we hear the name in the same category as Magnolia or Fern.
Or possibly Rowan and River, because Starling is truly unisex.
In fact, Sterling ranks in the current boys’ Top 1000. (And to make things even more confusing, the English origin Sterling does mean star.)
Stirling, yet another possible spelling, is also the name of a city in Scotland. It was given to twelve boys and fewer than five girls in 2022, so it’s similarly obscure.
A common bird, but an uncommon name, the baby name Starling remains an undiscovered gem. It’s unisex, clearly borrowed from the natural world, and a well-established surname, too.
If you’re looking for a distinctive sound and an on-trend meaning, Starling might belong on your list.
What do you think of the baby name Starling?
First published on October 14, 2014, this post was revised and re-posted on August 30, 2023.