Origin of the Name DARWIN

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 Yorkshire.

 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).

 A "Derwin" 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 (1707-86) originated.