Origin: English
Gender: Unisex
Meaning: Diminutive of Robert; The bird
Pronunciation: RAH-ben
Other forms: N/A

What came first -- the name of the bird, or the diminutive for Robert? I always assumed that the red-breasted bird's name was perhaps of a different origin than that of the nickname for Robert, but as it turns out, they are one in the same!

Robin started life as a short form for Robert in Medieval England, ala Wilkin or Hopkin (for William and Robert again, respectively). Sometime in the the 15th century it was à la mode to name animals human names, and the little bird became known colloquially as "robin redbreast". Other English names for it included ruddock and robinet. The scientific name for the European robin is Erithacus rubecala, with rubecala coming from the Latin for red -- ruber. Its American brother is in fact no brother at all! The American and European robins might be called the same thing, but are not closely related, with the former belonging to the "true thrush" genus, and the latter a member of the "Old World flycatcher" family.

Robins have long been associated with winter and Christmas. In the Victorian era, postmen wore a red jacket and were called "robins", and many have suggested that the robin appearing on Christmas cards was a way of saying thanks to these hardworking individuals. However, robins feature in several stories about not only the birth of Christ, but with the cruxifixion. 

One fable tells of a valiant robin who put himself between a fire and the baby Jesus while Mary wasn't paying attention, thus protecting him but scorching its breast in the process. In another, a robin took a thorn from Jesus' crown, and that it is his blood that stained its breast. St. Surf of Kinross was said to be accompanied by a robin any time he preyed. The other disciples became jealous and killed it with a rock, only for it to be resurrected by St. Mungo who preyed over its body.

For boys there are two famous Robin's, that of legendary Robin Hood, and Winnie-the-Pooh's good friend, Christopher Robin. While Hood's historicity has been a hotly debated topic for centuries, there is no doubt that the tale of the nobleman who steals from the rich and gives to the poor has taken on a life of its over time (and adds a hint of adventure for those interested in using it for a boy!)

I think Robin would be such a refreshing name -- for a boy or girl -- and would love to see it used more often. What are your thoughts on Robin?

A statue of Robin Hood in Nottingham


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