About Names: Dr. Evans on the Name “Darren”

Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation (Photo: Public Domain)
Darren Walker, President of the Ford Foundation (Photo: Public Domain)

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his May 7th column, he discusses the name “Darren”.

Do you watch Ralphie ask The Old Man for an air rifle every December?

Darren McGavin (1922-2006), who starred as Ralphie’s dad in “A Christmas Story” (1983), was born 101 years ago today.

Darren’s origin as a first name is hard to track down. In Ireland, Darren is a rare variant of surname Darragh, Gaelic for “like an oak; steadfast.” A few Irishmen surnamed Darren came to America, but it stayed very rare.

The last name Darrin is slightly more common. A Darrin family from upstate New York are descendants of Ephraim Darwin, born in Connecticut in 1646. Darwin’s an English surname, either from Old English Deorwine (“dear friend”) or the river Derwent (“oak forest stream”).

These rare names don’t seem to have inspired the first name. Instead, Zane Grey did by creating Daren Lane, hero of his 1922 novel “The Day of the Beast.”

Unlike most of Grey’s works, “Beast” isn’t a Western. Daren is a soldier returning from World War I who is disturbed by Jazz Age immorality. Perhaps Grey created “Daren” from “daring.” Daren’s often addressed as “Dare.”

Though modern readers find Daren prudish and prejudiced, fans named sons after him. Middle names were rarely recorded in the census, but 10 examples of combination “Daren Lane” are found from 1930 onwards, showing the book’s impact.

The first year, at least five Darens were born was 1932. Alternate spelling Darren followed in 1936. Both stayed rare. In 1949, 12 Darens and five Darrens were born.

At birth, Darren McGavin was William Richardson. He took up acting after being a Hollywood set painter. Around 1946, he moved to New York to further his career. McGavin never wrote memoirs, and no full biography has appeared, so why he chose “Darren McGavin” as his stage name is a mystery. He did this before July 7, 1950, when the census found him living in Manhattan.