Who do you remember better: Murray Slaughter, news writer at WJM-TV, or Merrill Stubing, cruise ship captain?
Actor Gavin MacLeod, Slaughter on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” (1970-1977) and Stubing on “The Love Boat” (1977-1986), turns 86 today.
Gavin’s the Scottish form of Gawain. In medieval legend, Sir Gawain, King Arthur’s nephew, is a loyal and courteous Knight of the Round Table.
The most famous tale about him is “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” Here the Green Knight arrives at Camelot and asks someone to strike him with his ax, on condition he can return the favor next year.
Gawain beheads the Knight, who then, to everyone’s horror, simply picks up his head and rides off, with the severed head telling Gawain to meet him in a year at the Green Chapel.
In a year, Gawain rides to the castle of Sir Bertilak, near the chapel. Bertilak’s wife tries to seduce Gawain. She fails, but gives him a girdle that she says will magically protect him from harm.
Sir Bertilak turns out to be the Green Knight himself. He wounds Gawain only enough to scar his neck. Gawain returns to Camelot, where his fellow knights vow to wear green sashes in honor of his adventure.
In earlier Welsh tales about Arthur, Gawain is called Gwalchmei, “Hawk of May.” Some experts think English forms Gawain and Gavin confuse that with Gwalchgwyn, “white hawk.”
Though Gawain almost vanished in England by 1600, Gavin stayed common in Scotland. Bishop Gavin Douglas (1474-1522), famous in Scotland both as a member of the Council of State for young King James V and as a poet still read today, kept the name known.
In 1841, the first British census found 1,099 Gavins in Scotland and only 66 in England, though England had six times the population.
There were 120 Gavins in the 1851 United States Census — 28 born in Scotland.
American novelist William Faulkner introduced lawyer Gavin Stevens in 1932’s “Light in August,” and featured him in later books.
But it was a story by an English immigrant that started the name’s rise.
Successful British playwright John Van Druten (1901-1957) gained American citizenship in 1944. In 1945, he published his short story “Gavin” in Good Housekeeping magazine.
In November 1953, Van Druten’s “Gavin” became an episode of live television drama series “Kraft Theatre.” Here a father shows off athletic trophies and other honors won by his son Gavin. Then Gavin unexpectedly shows up — gravely affected by cerebral palsy. The father has created a fantasy to disguise his shame over having a handicapped child.
A few months later, aspiring actor Allan See decided to change his name. He chose MacLeod from his college drama professor — and Gavin from the Kraft Theatre tale that had hugely impressed him.
Gavin jumped 85 percent between 1953 and 1954 and became a top 1,000 name for boys.
Gavin’s second biggest jump, 74 percent, came in 1960, just after actor John Gavin (born John Golenor in 1931) became a star in “Imitation of Life.”
MacLeod’s fame helped the name in the 1970s. Between 1980 and 1983, handsome dance instructor Gavin Wylie (played by Mark Arnold) on soap “The Edge of Night” led to another surge.
By then Gavin had its own momentum, propelled by the fashion for two-syllable boys’ names ending in N. Its third biggest jump, 69 percent, came in 1997, when British rocker Gavin Rossdale (born 1965) and his band Bush’s album “Razorblade Suitcase” hit No. 1.
Gavin entered the top 100 in 2000, peaking at 30th in 2008. It ranked 70th in 2015.
Former San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom (1967) has been lieutenant governor of California since 2011. Singer Gavin DeGraw (1977) became famous when his 2003 song “I Don’t Want to Be” became the theme of the TV drama “One Tree Hill.”
Dallas Cowboys tight end Escobar (1991), motorcycle racer Faith (1992) and Mets short stop Cecchini (1993) bring Gavin athletic fame.
Classical piano prodigy Gavin George (2003) has been performing with symphony orchestras across the United States since age 7.
The most remarkably famous Gavin is 6-year-old Gavin Thomas of Minneapolis. Photos and videos of this cute kid displaying scores of different facial expressions, originally uploaded by his uncle on Vine and now featured all over social media, have made “Gavin memes” a favorite way to show online emotional reactions for young people everywhere.
Cleveland Evans is a Bellevue University psychology professor and author of “The Great Big Book of Baby Names.”