Origin of the Surname ‘Darwin’
THE SURNAME DARWIN has two
principal sources in England. The more common derives from the River Darwen, representing the Old Welsh river name Darwenydd (='oak (river)'). Four such rivers bear
the name in northern England, and variations on the surname include Darwen and Derwent.
The family name also arises from the given or
nickname Dêorwine (later "Darwine", with numerous spellings such as "Darwenne," "Darwyn"
etc.), Old English for dear friend (Cottle, Dictionary
of Surnames, 1978).
But from whichever source, the surname is
relatively infrequent. A survey in 1890 showed the greatest concentration of Darwins in Nottinghamshire, where the frequency was
nonetheless only 8 per 10,000 of population (Guppy, H.B., Homes of Family
Names in Great Britain, 1890). The 1992 telephone directory for Greater
London (population 11.3 million) lists only 15 Darwins.
Current telephone directories imply that the greatest concentration of modern
British Darwins is centred on Sheffield, South
Despite the relative rarity of the name, its
multiple derivations mean that kinship cannot be assumed between occurrences
separated by geography and time. The custom of taking hereditary surnames
became established in Britain roughly between 1250 and 1450, originating with
the ruling classes in Southern England, spreading over several generations to
the North, and in the latter part of the period adopted by other social strata.
The very earliest appearances of our surname we have so far found date from the
10th Century and are most likely of the "Dêorwine"
("dear friend") derivation (Reamy, P.H., Dictionary
of British Surnames, 1958).
appears in the Essex Pipe Rolls of 1170, another "John Derewin"
in Essex in 1219, and a "William Derwyne"
in Buckinghamshire in 1248. In 1225 in Somerset, a
"Mabel, daughter of Derwin" appears in a
legal transaction wherein her brothers William, Nicholas, Henry and Hugh are
also named, and who have also taken the name "Derwin"
from their father. But there is nothing to suggest any other kinship
amongst these early "Derwins" of widely
separated counties, nor is it likely that they are progenitors of any surviving
families of the name.
The Northern English "Derwen" derivation (from the river name) occurs in
British records later, when surnames were adopted more generally by all social
classes. It is much more frequent than the sprinkling of instances in the
South, and thus it is far more likely that our earliest traceable ancestors are
to be found amongst the yeomanry of Yorkshire or Lancashire, or perhaps among
the branches of the name in Lincolnshire (presumed, but not documented, to have
migrated from further north).
Nothing found to date in the American records
gives any indication whatsoever of where in England the family of William Darwin