One of the delights of my job has been collating the various indexing projects carried out by our team of Archives volunteers, involving the collections of parish registers and records, and in particular the Poor Law Settlement Examinations. These provide a wealth of detail about people’s names and families, occupations and places of origin – all extremely valuable to family historians.
But along the way, I have noted down some of the weird and wonderful names that appear in the records.
Most people used a very limited number of conventional names – Anne, Mary/Maria, Jane, Elizabeth and Sarah for women, and John, William, Thomas, Henry and George, for men, with spikes in usage in line with royal names.
Some oddities might be transcription errors – spelling wasn’t fixed and the parish clerks may have just written down what they heard, eg Fidusha for Fiducia, Pellaja for Pellagia or Easter for Esther. But is Mordecia Jones an error for Mordecai, or an early appearance of Morticia?
There are some common abbreviations: Wm, Danl, Jno, Chas, Thos, and the less usual Xpfer and Xian for Christopher and Christian – the X and P are the Greek letters Chi Rho, but there are less usual abbreviations that can be mistaken for weird names in their own right, eg Cors – Cornelius, Fras – Francis/Frances, Sush – Susannah, Hart – Harriet if for a girl, Hanh – Hannah etc.
Why do people choose particular names for their children? We are used to celebrities doing this (Zowie Bowie, Nolan Bolan, North West etc), but it is amusing to know that throughout history ordinary people have also done so. Sometimes the names are inherited through the family, but why would any parent call their child Stamp Brooksbank? Or Freelove Picket? Or Wharton Pigg Nind? Believe me, they really did.
Foundlings – babies abandoned on church steps or in the street – were named by parish officers, and were usually given a biblical or religious name, often taking the name of the church or street as their surname. For instance a baby girl picked up on the steps of St Martin-in-the-Fields might be called Mary Martin, or a boy found up in Curzon Street might be called John Curzon.
There is also the tradition of giving the eldest son his mother’s maiden name or a significant family name as a Christian name: Brereton Poynton Mitchell, Hindmass Sowerby, Gatley Jenkerson’, Urquhart Hay and Musgrave Hopwood.
Many Non-conformist families chose biblical or religious names, virtues, or aspirations: Hepzibah Woolston, Jochabet Hart Crafer, Jehu Dunn, Shadrack Spurritt, Deodatus Collis, Constant Heart Barberson, Silence Sparrow, Virtue Cave, Paradise Smith, Record Lyons and Modesty Stannard, Although you wonder what was going on when the parents of Satisfaction Lewis, Repent Scarth, and Repentance Smith made their choice!
Some people chose classical names: Iphiginia Morse; Julius Caesar Smith, Hercules Hill, Senacherib Sacris Stone. Sometimes you find fitting combinations: Humility Meeks, Comfort Lack, Makepeace Goodman, Rise Price, Noah Flood, Damsel Quiver.
Amusing, unfortunate or just plain weird: Harmonious Budding, Amorous Hesse, Mrs Titt and Widow Fling, Peter Breast and Thomas Manhood, Tempus Hazard or Tempesthazard Carey, Canker Boswell, Dorkes Sharpe (perhaps this should be Dorcas?), Err May, Brogden Poplet and Mr Gusheroons.
All the examples and illustrations above are from the 18th and 19th Centuries, and from the parishes of St Martin-in-the-Fields, St James, Piccadilly and St Clement Danes. What interesting names do you have in your family’s past?