1590s, "first appearance of daylight in the morning," from dawn (v.). Middle English words for "first appearance of light in the morning" were day-gleam (late 14c.), dayspring (c. 1300), and dawning. Dawn (n.) in the figurative sense of "first opening or expansion of anything" is from 1630s. As a fem. proper name, little used in U.S. before 1920 but a top 25 name for girls born 1966-1975.
c. 1200, dauen, "to become day, grow light in the morning," shortened or back-formed from dauinge, dauing "period between darkness and sunrise," (c. 1200), from Old English dagung, from dagian "to become day," from Proto-Germanic *dagaz "day" (source also of German tagen "to dawn"), from PIE root *agh- "a day." Probably influenced by Scandinavian cognates (Danish dagning, Old Norse dagan "a dawning"). Related: Dawned; dawning.
Figurative sense "begin to develop" is from 1717. Of ideas, etc., "begin to become apparent or evident to the mind," by 1852.
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