Darling Surname Meaning, History & Origin

Darling Surname Meaning

The Darling name derived from the Old English deorling, meaning “darling” or “one dearly loved.” It would probably describe the young noble of the house, the eldest son in all likelihood, on whom all expectations rested.

An early record was that of a Saxon noble Aelmaer Deorling found in 1016 in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles. Deorling or Dyrling was quite a common Old English byname and remained in use as a personal name into the 14th century. The name also developed as a surname at a number of locations in both England and Scotland.

Darling Surname Resources on The Internet

Darling Surname Ancestry

  • from Scotland and Northern England
  • to America, Canada and Australia

Scotland. The surname Darling, or variants thereof, seems to have been first found in Roxburgh on the Scottish borders and then moved up to Edinburgh and to points further north:

  • Waldevus Derling was recorded as a charter witness in Roxburgh around 1338.
  • John and Andrew Derling were burgesses of Edinburgh in 1381.
  • while Sir John Derlynge was precentor of Caithness in 1368.

The Scottish borders and Edinburgh accounted for two thirds of the Darlings in Scotland by the time of the 1881 census. 

Scottish Borders.  The main location for Darlings has been Duns in Berwickshire. One family there has been traced back to John Darling, a weaver, who married Margaret Robertson in the early 1700’s. Henry Darling was born in Duns in 1776 and David Darling in 1796.

John Darling migrated from Duns to Edinburgh in the 1820’s and was the father of John Darling, the man who emigrated to Australia in 1855 and started up the Darling mercantile empire there.

Edinburgh.  George Darling was born in Lasswade parish near Edinburgh in 1584. A subsequent George, thought to have been his son, was captured by Cromwell’s troops at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650 and sent away as a prisoner to the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Later Darlings from Edinburgh were:

  • William Darling a prominent printer and bookseller in the mid/late 1700’s.
  • George Darling a doctor who trained in Edinburgh in the early 1800’s and married the sister of the Chairman of the East India Company. Their son George worked in the Indian Civil Service; and their grandsons Kenneth and Douglas were both distinguished and decorated British army officers.
  • William Darling, the son of an Edinburgh fancy goods seller, who emigrated to Montreal in 1840 where he did well as a merchant.
  • and James Darling who started the Temperance Hotel on Waterloo Place in 1867. The hotel remained in family hands until the 1930’s.

Sir William Darling was an Edinburgh MP for the Conservatives from 1945 to 1957. His name has lived on in the Sir William Darling Memorial Prize awarded annually to Edinburgh University students for good citizenship. He was the great uncle of Alistair Darling, the Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer from 2007 to 2010.

England. Darlings were also noticeable south of the border in Northumberland and Durham in NE England.

NE England.  Two notable Darling families here spent much of their time abroad, either with the army or in the colonial service.

This was true of Major-General Henry Darling from Embleton in Northumberland. The monumental inscription at his local church reads:  “In memory of Major-General Henry Darling who died on the 7th of September 1835, aged 81 years. He served his King and country for 58 years, a great part of which time he was employed abroad.”  

Sergeant Christopher Darling, born around 1750 in Durham, died in 1795 of yellow fever in the Caribbean while on service with the 45th Regiment. Two of his sons became colonial administrators – Sir Ralph Darling as Governor of New South Wales from 1825 to 1831 and Henry Darling as Lieutenant Governor of Tobago from 1833 to 1845. Henry’s son Charles was the Governor of Jamaica in 1857 and later of Victoria in Australia.

More famous than these Darlings was the Darling who stayed at home – Grace Darling the lighthouse keeper’s daughter at Bamburgh in Northumberland. Her act of heroism in saving lives from a shipwrecked vessel in 1838 won her the hearts of Victorian England.

Elsewhere.  There were Darling lines elsewhere in England, most notably in Berkshire. The first sightings there were in Wantage, now part of Oxfordshire. By the time of the 1881 census the largest number of Darlings in England were in London.

America. The early Darling arrivals were into New England, covered in William Clemens’ 1913 book The Darling Family in America.

New England.  There were four main Darling lines here during the 17th century.

Two of these were in Salem, Massachusetts. John Darling of probable English extraction married Mary Bishop in Salem in 1661 and they had one son, Thomas. George Darling, on the other hand, was a Scottish prisoner brought to work at the Lynn ironworks in the early 1650’s. He later became a tavern owner in Salem. George and his wife Katherine raised ten children there.  

The third was Richard Darling who married Abigail Messenger in New Haven in 1662.  They were the precursors of the Darling New Haven line. Thomas Darling, born there in 1720, was the most famous of these Darlings. His home in Woodbridge, built in the 1770’s, is now the Thomas Darling Museum.  

The fourth of these Darling arrivals was Dennis Darling who came to Mendon, Massachusetts from England around the year 1677. This line, the most extensive of these Darling lines, was covered in Susan Salisbury’s 2003 book The Darlings of Mendon, Massachusetts.

One Mendon line through Dennis’s grandson Ebenezer Darling moved to Rhode Island in the 1740’s. Joseph Darling of this family headed in the early 1800’s to Georgia where he was a plantation owner. Lucius B. Darling meanwhile served as the Lieutenant Governor of Rhode Island in the 1880’s.

Another Mendon line migrated to Dutchess county, New York around the year 1740. Three generations and a century later, Rufus Darling headed west to Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Elsewhere. The Darlings of Long Island began with Adam Darling, possibly Scots Irish, in Smithtown. He and his family were Quakers and had gone to Nantucket during the Revolutionary War rather than compromise their principles. There they operated early whaling ships.

Descendant Matthew Darling bought land at Port Jefferson on Long Island and established a shipyard there in 1832. Later Captain Selah Darling who began his career on whaling ships ran coastal schooners out of Port Jefferson to Nova Scotia.

Canada. It was said that John Darling of the Dutchess county, Mendon line “went up country.” In fact he was a Loyalist who crossed over to Canada in the 1790’s and received a land grant in the Bay Quinte region of southern Ontario. John died in 1848 at the grand age of ninety-eight.

His grandson William left Bay Quinte for America in 1863.

“William Allen Darling, having married in 1850 and in ten years fathered six children, left both eastern Canada and his family behind in 1863. He was bound for Chicago, apparently for the purposes of fighting in the American Civil War on the side of the Union. During this time he cut off all communication with his family who eventually presumed him to be dead.”  

But he married again – a bigamous marriage technically – and settled on the western shores of Lake Huron in Tawas City, Michigan.

Robert Darling from Berwickshire on the Scottish borders emigrated to Halton, Ontario in the 1830’s, but died soon afterwards. His two sons David and George were farmers. David was sixty-five years old when he married his wife Margaret, then aged thirty-four, in 1866. They were to have five children between 1868 and 1874.

Another Scotsman, William Darling from Edinburgh, arrived in Montreal in 1840 and prospered there as a merchant. He became a prominent member of the commercial community there. After his death in 1885 his eldest son William succeeded him as the head of the family firm William Darling and Company.

Australia. John Darling, who arrived in Adelaide from Scotland on the Isabella in 1855, was the progenitor of John Darling and Son, the leading wheat merchants in Australia.

John Darling Jr. succeeded his father in the business in 1897; while another son Joe became a cricketer and captained Australia three times between 1899 and 1905. The business mantle passed to Gordon Darling who held the reins from 1914 to 1950. His son Gordon who died in 2015 was well-known for his philanthropy.

Darling Surname Miscellany

Early Darlings in Berkshire

Darling Year of Birth Place of Birth
William Darling    1630 Wantage (now in Oxfordshire)
Ambrose Darling    1640 Wantage (now in Oxfordshire)
John Darling    1650 Littleworth (near Wantage)
John Darling    1670 Wantage (now in Oxfordshire)
Joseph Darling    1690 Chaddleworth
William Darling    1723 Chaddleworth
Ambrose Darling    1730 East Hendred
Joseph Darling    1733 Chaddleworth
William Darling    1748 Chaddleworth
William Darling    1754 East Ilsley
John Darling    1758 East Ilsley

Grace Darling, A Lighthouse Keeper’s Daughter.  Grace Darling was a lighthouse keeper’s daughter in Northumberland, famed for her participation in the rescue of survivors from the shipwrecked Forfarshire in 1838.

In the early hours of September 7th, Grace – looking out from an upstairs window of the lighthouse – spotted the wreck and survivors of the Forfarshire on Big Harcar, a nearby low rocky island. The vessel had foundered on the rocks and broken in half.  One of the halves had sunk during the night.

She and her father William determined that the weather was too rough for a lifeboat to put out from Sunderland. So they took a rowing boat across to the survivors, taking a long route that kept to the lee side of the islands, a distance of nearly a mile.

Grace kept the boat steady in the water while her father helped four men and the lone surviving woman, Sarah Dawson, into the boat.  Her father and three of the rescued men then rowed the boat back to the lighthouse.  Grace remained at the lighthouse while her father and three of the rescued crew members rowed back and recovered four more survivors.

As news of her role in the rescue reached the public, her combination of bravery and simple virtue set her out as exemplary and led to an uneasy role as the nation’s heroine.  Subscriptions and donations totaling over £700 were raised for her, including £50 from Queen Victoria.  More than a dozen portrait painters sailed to her island home to capture her likeness; and hundreds of gifts, letters, and even marriage proposals were delivered to her.

However, Grace Darling was not to live long after her deed of heroism.  She died of tuberculosis in October 1842, aged just twenty-six.  But she has not been forgotten. There is a museum at Bamburgh dedicated to her achievements and the seafaring life of the region. 

Darling in the 1881 Census in Scotland

Location Numbers Percent
Scottish Borders
  Berwickshire    120
  Roxburgh     40
  Selkirk     50
  Elsewhere     10
  Total    220    28
Midlothian    300    37
  (including Edinburgh)
Elsewhere    280    35
Total    800   100

Darling’s Temperance Hotels in Edinburgh.  Darling’s Regent Hotel in Edinburgh was started by James Darling around 1867 at Waterloo Place as a temperance hotel. After James’s death his daughter Jane and other members of the family continued to run the hotel.  When she died the hotel was bought by North British Hotels who continued to run it until 1976.

James Darling also acquired the premises on South St. Andrews Street which became the St. Andrews Hotel, again temperance.  This was run by his niece Isabella until her death in 1942 and then continued in the family for another two generations.

John Darling of Salem, Massachusetts.  John Darling, born around 1632, married Mary Bishop in Salem in 1661 and died there in 1712.  His name was spelt in many different ways during his lifetime.

Some have attempted to attribute his parentage to John Darling of Bristol in England who had married Anne Batten around 1630.  This John was a merchant active in the Caribbean who, sometime around 1644, settled in New York. He owned several sailing vessels and traded with various New England ports. He was to be found in Boston, Massachusetts in 1648.  It is possible that he died in Pemaquid (now Bristol), Maine. 

The Misfortunes of Captain Selah Darling.  The Suffolk County News of Long Island ran the following sad story about Captain Selah Darling on September 20, 1890.

“Everyone at Port Jefferson is in deep sympathy with Captain Selah Darling who has had trouble enough to drive a less robust man crazy.  Ill fortune has been steadily in his wake, frequently overtaking and wrecking his vessel and causing him heavy losses.

About a year ago he commanded the schooner vessel John Eastwood.  She was loaded with lime one Sunday night and took fire in the Hudson river opposite Sing Sing.  The vessel was a total loss.  Less than a month afterward he lost the schooner Globe which went ashore near Wading River.  She was also a total wreck.

Last week he lost the schooner Ben Franklin off Falkner island.  He had but recently purchased her and spent $500 making repairs. He had no sooner got ashore from the wreck and reached the village than he was appraised of the death that morning of his wife from cancer.”

Things did get better.  Selah married again in 1892 and lived a long life, finally dying in Port Jefferson in 1941 at the age of eighty-one.

John Darling and Son.  John Darling and Son has been an Australian wheat merchant and flour milling company which was for many years the largest such company in Australia.  It was founded in Adelaide by John Darling in 1867.  Known as the Grain King, John set up branches throughout South Australia’s wheat belt, buying up flour mills and then establishing agencies in Melbourne and London.  As a result his company was handling most of Australia’s export grain.

John was succeeded in 1897 by his eldest son John Jr. and then, from 1914 to 1950, by John Jr’s son Gordon. Both John Jr. and Gordon also acted as Chairman of the Australian mining company BHP (Broken Hill Proprietary).

The Darling family now represents old wealth in Australia. Their net worth has been estimated at $650 million.

Darling Names

  • Sir Ralph Darling served as Governor of New South Wales from 1825 to 1831. He left his name to the Darling river and Darling Harbour in Sydney. 
  • Grace Darling was a lighthouse keeper’s daughter who became famous in Victorian Britain for her participation in 1838 in the rescue of survivors from a shipwrecked vessel. 
  • John Darling arrived in Australia from Scotland in 1855 and was the progenitor of what became the very wealthy Darling mercantile family.

Darling Numbers Today

  • 4,000 in the UK (most numerous in London)
  • 8,000 in America (most numerous in New York)
  • 4,000 elsewhere (most numerous in Canada)

Click here for return to front page

Written by Colin Shelley

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *