Secret names: Remembering rather than hiding (Part 3)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is below.

Secret names: Remembering rather than hiding (Part 3)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Ultimately, these sorts of codes were made to be seen, and the names encoded within them were meant to be remembered. This was the intention of the eighth-century abbess who wrote this message by substituting the vowels with abbreviations for ordinal numbers:

Ego una Saxonica nomine Hugeburc ordinando hec scribebam

I, a Saxon nun named Hugeburc, wrote this.

This message appeared in the prologue to Hugeburc’s own work, the Hodoeporicon: a life of the Anglo-Saxon missionary saint Willebald. In it, she called herself ‘a little ignorant creature’, but both her skilled Latin and her use of code showed how untrue this was. [1] While claiming modesty, she ensured that she would be remembered for her learning.

Most ciphers seem to have been written by adults – even high-status ones, who composed their own works and were entrusted with the copying and decoration of books. But we do have one instance of a cipher used by a child, in a ninth-century manuscript of poetry probably used in an early medieval classroom. At the beginning of the book, there is a marginal note, written in a cipher in which dots were substituted for vowels. Here, however, they are also arranged roughly in the shape of the vowel itself. The note reads:

Bernardus puer me fecit.

Bernardus, a boy, made me [i.e. the note]

Many of these ciphers were written by substituting vowels, which was both common and not difficult to crack. But concealment wasn’t the point. Medieval ciphers can be compared to computer languages, encoding and recording metadata about manuscripts, and the people who made them. Ciphers were therefore meant to draw attention, to communicate their contents, and ultimately to ensure that names – and the people behind them – weren’t forgotten.

References

[1] https://thijsporck.com/2017/05/15/anglo-saxon-cryptography/.

2 Comments

Filed under guest post

Mystery Monday: Jarand

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today we have a Polish masculine name from the early 15th century:

Jarand

There’s a (modern) Polish city called Jarandowo, which is likely related, etymologically, to the given name, but this doesn’t tell us anything about what their shared etymology might be.

Do you have any thoughts? Please share in the comments!

3 Comments

Filed under crowd-sourcing, dictionary entries, mystery monday

Secret names: What’s in a name? (Part 2)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is here; Part 2 is below; Part 3 is here.

Secret names: What’s in a name? (Part 2)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Not all monks were quiet or modest! In this manuscript from France, containing some works by St Jerome and dated to 806 CE, the scribe Agambertus covered an entire page in ciphers.

The first is a monogram, a series of letters joined together and spelling out the name of the woman who commissioned the manuscript: Hlottildis or Theodildis (since the final S is missing, this interpretation is uncertain). The monogram also contains the abbreviation ‘abbat.’ for ‘abbatissa’, meaning ‘abbess’, indicating that Agambertus’ commissioner was fairly powerful.

The second code is Agambertus’s name and an invocation, all written in Greek letters mixed in with a made-up alphabet (known as the alphabet of Aethicus Ister) and ‘Marcomannic’ runes.

After that, there is a plaintext referring to the sixth year of Charlemagne’s imperial reign, followed by a request to the reader to pray for the scribe, written by replacing each vowel with the following consonant.

The lower part of the page is filled with palindromes: three squares playing around with the words SATOR, AMOR, and AMEN; and two anagrams of the scribe’s name, one of which is arranged in the form of a cross. [1]

Agambertus evidently enjoyed experimenting with ciphers, which enabled him to show off his skill as a scribe. This page of puzzles would have intrigued its readers in the ninth century, as it does today, but it was also a more serious sign of a belief in the written word as the Word of God. This was reflected in human language and in the stories of the Bible, but it needed decoding and interpreting before it could be truly understood.

Agambertus wasn’t the only one who enjoyed visual puzzles. Monograms and monogrammatic writing, in which letters nestle within or on top of each other, were especially popular in the early Middle Ages. In this book, made in ninth-century France, the scribe Audgarius first wrote the title of the legal text he was copying. At the bottom, he added his own name and the Latin word ‘nomen’, ‘name’, as if they were also part of the title – but in a much more complicated arrangement on top of each other.

References

[1] I. Garipzanov, Graphic Signs of Authority in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, 300–900 (Oxford, 2018), pp. 260–62.

2 Comments

Filed under guest post

Introducing: Solution Saturday!

For a few years now, on Mondays we’ve been posting “mystery” entries, where we’ve harnessed the collective onomastic power of the internet to crowdsource the origin/etymology of the name. One of the big plans for our research interns this summer was to start solving some of those mysteries — that is, going through the archive of Mystery Monday posts and whether we now have sufficient information to positively identify (or positively identify that we can’t identify!) a particular name.

So we’re very pleased to introduce Solution Saturday where we go through the “solved” names and say a bit about the answer to the mystery (and thank the people who have contributed their time, knowledge, and expertise). We probably won’t have have a solution every Saturday, but we’re excited to make progress on these names over the coming months, and present some of the solutions in the next edition (currently aiming for a publication date in September 2020). Check back next week for our first solution!

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries, solution saturday

Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Editor’s Introduction: The DMNES staff are super delighted to host a three-part guest blog by Dr. Anna Dorofeeva. Dr. Dorofeeva is a historian specialising in Western Latin book history and culture, and her current work focuses on ciphers and cryptography in medieval manuscripts; you can follow her on Twitter at @LitteraCarolina. In this series of posts, she talks about how personal names were rendered in code form in the Middle Ages.

Part 1 is below; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is here.

Secret names: Cracking the medieval code (Part 1)

Dr. Anna Dorofeeva, ZKS Barker Junior Research Fellow, Durham University

Medieval people often needed to write names down. They were important for witnessing documents, recording real estate, noting who had borrowed which book or owned which slaves, and ensuring that communities of people were remembered. And sometimes, names were written down using ciphers.

This was especially common between the eighth and eleventh centuries, when much writing was done in monasteries by both clergy and lay people. In later centuries, such ciphers were dismissed as the result of bored monks playing around. But we’ve recently begun to uncover the importance of marginalia – codes, notes and signs – for understanding the social spaces of monasteries and their wider communities. In such marginalia, we can hear the echo of the words and names of people from the distant past.

So why did these people deliberately try to conceal their names in the early Middle Ages, and how did they do it?

Name that monk:

Ciphered names often appear in colophons: the notes sometimes left by scribes at the end of the manuscripts they copied. Colophons usually record why a manuscript was made, for whom or by whom, where and when, or simply express relief that the long, hard work of writing was finished at last.

The scribe of this manuscript, copied in the late tenth or early eleventh century in Luxeuil, France, left behind a colophon. It appears at first to be gibberish:

Hbfc Stfphbnxs scrkpskt p[er] prfcfptb brchkinb[er]tk mbgkctrk

But this is actually a sentence encoded using a simple substitution cipher, in which vowels are replaced with the consonant that immediately follows them: a with b, e with f and so on. The decrypted sentence reads:

Haec Stephanus scripsit per precepta Archimberti magistri.

This was written by Stephanus at the command of Master Archimbertus.

The main text above the colophon is the Life of St Deicolus (or Dicuil), containing a history of the Benedictine abbey Deicolus founded in Lure, France, until the year 990. It names other abbots of Lure, including Baltram and Werdolphus (Werdulf). Perhaps all these names were an inspiration for Stephanus to record his own, and that of his master?

A similar colophon, using the same code, appears in this early eleventh-century prayerbook. Deciphered, it reads:

Frater humillimus et monachus Aelsinus me scripsit, sit illi longa salus. Amen. Ælfwinus monachus aeque decanus me possidet.

The most humble brother and monk Aelsinus wrote me, may he have boundless health… Ælfwine, monk and also deacon, owns me.

We know that in 1031 or 1032, Ælfwine became abbot of the New Minster in Winchester, in which Aelsinus (the Latin form of the name Ælfsige) was also a monk. Aelsinus therefore wrote this manuscript before this date. Was his use of cipher for the names he mentioned in this colophon an expression of monastic humility?

Interestingly, during the twelfth century someone added feminine endings to many of the prayers, suggesting that the prayerbook came to be owned by a female community — perhaps Nunnaminster, a royal monastery founded by Queen Ealhswith, the wife of Alfred the Great.

Other ciphers were much less formal than these colophons. One example was left by a scribe called Ekkehart the Fourth (c. 980–1056), who lived in the monastery of St Gall in Switzerland (and was the fourth of a series of scribes called Ekkehart). At the back of the manuscript, on a page used for doodles and pen-trials, Ekkehart left a code he called ‘clophruna’, from the Old High German verb klopfon ‘to knock, to tap, to rap’, and the word for ‘rune’. But this ‘knock-rune’ code has nothing in common with runes: it is based on the Latin alphabet. Each letter is numbered according to its place in the alphabet, and these numbers are then indicated by dots: a = 1, b = 2 and so on. [1]

In the manuscript, the series of dots marked 5-10-10-5-8-1-17-19 can be decoded as E-K-K-E-H-A-R-T (taking into account that i and j weren’t distinguished in the medieval Latin alphabet). This code enabled monks to exchange messages when they were keeping their compulsory hours of silence alone in their individual cells — tapping the messages out on the walls, letter by letter.

References

[1] R. Derolez, Runica Manuscripta: The English Tradition (Bruges, 1954), pp. 134–35.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Ireland vs. England: Are Protestant Names Different Than Puritan Names?

In the process of finding literature for Dr. Uckelman’s project on Protestant and Puritan names, I came across a very interesting paper about naming customs in medieval Ireland and how they compare to medieval England: 

Tait, Clodagh. “Namesakes and Nicknames: Naming Practices in Early Modern Ireland, 1540-1700.” CONTINUITY AND CHANGE, vol. 21, pp. 313–340. https://search.proquest.com/openview/00ff26214014a0f70a55c2e539f048ce/1?pq-origsite=gscholar&cbl=37442

It goes into some interesting ideas about individuality and naming, but what really drew my attention was its analysis of the impact of Protestant naming trends after the Reformation in Ireland, a country that “retained a majority Catholic population” (Tait 320). 

She starts with a surprising fact: in the 1540s, some Protestants cared less that their child was baptized by a Protestant than that their child was baptized with a Protestant appropriate name. This goes to show how important people considered names in terms of their religious identity. Tait remarks that in addition to connecting people to members of their own religion, names could also distinguish people from those of other religions, highlighting religious differences. In short, names can bring people together… and tear them apart.

Tait’s paper draws from baptism records from the Church of Ireland and the Catholic Church to analyze the distribution of names across different Christian ideologies. She remarks that many of her findings about Catholic names draw only from one register, so they could be attributed to one overzealous priest, but she did find some supporting evidence from other sources. 

Tait found that in an Irish Protestant population, half the children baptized received one of the top 5 names— “John/Jonathan, James, Jane/Janet, Mary and Elizabeth” (315). Similarly, in England at the same time, half the children baptized received one of the top 6 names— “William, John, Thomas, Elizabeth, Anne and Mary” (315). Although Puritan naming is often considered unique, Protestant naming trends in Ireland seemed to progress similarly in terms of most popular names. 

Still, the two countries were not wholly alike. Tait lays out three types of naming traditions observed in pre-1500s Ireland: the Gaelic names already popular in Ireland, saints names commonly used by Catholics, and names brought by settlers, including English names. 

Gaelic: Tait says one might expect the saint names, pushed by the Catholic church during the Reformation, and English names, handed down to descendants of settlers, to overtake and eradicate the use of Gaelic names as it did in England (315). She found this was not the case. Irish natives and settlers each retained their own naming systems, preserving them both. In the 1660s, she finds the top 6 names used by native Irish families remained largely Gaelic– Patrick, Bryan, Hugh, Owen, Thorlogh, and Shane, while the top names used by the descendants of settlers remained largely English– John, Thomas, William, Robert, James, and Richard (316). This supports her idea of names serving to bond communities while revealing their differences from other communities. 

Settler: It makes sense that English settlers would continue to use English names, but Tait observes that their naming practice evolved differently than it did among people who stayed in England. In Ireland, many English settlers used English names that were no longer popular in England, such as “David, Gerald, and Maurice” (315). This demonstrates how the names create connection between the settlers and England, while also revealing differences between them. 

Saint names: Tait observes that “16th and 17th century Catholics, especially those with Old English backgrounds, [kept using] the medieval idea of personal ‘name’ saints, a practice that was further encouraged by the Counter Reformation clergy” (317). These names were often chosen by proximity of the Saint’s feast to the child’s birthdate. People devoted to these name saints and associated honoring them with honoring themselves. This commitment to date association affected even the otherwise most popular names, creating a noticeable difference between Ireland and England, as well as between Protestants and Catholics. Anne and John, very popular names among Protestants and in England, only see usage around their Saints Days for Irish Catholics, according to the Wexford register. 

Despite this, older Protestant traditions still cropped up amongst Catholics. Tait remarks that some children were baptized into both churches either because of mixed marriages, to avoid fines from the Protestant clergy, or as a relic of past beliefs (318). This reflects the way some names were used by both populations, such as Anne and John. This implies that Protestants, despite being outnumbered, still had significant sway over naming practices in Ireland, so one might expect to see Protestant naming trends become more mainstream. 

In the 17th century, Tait observes Protestants began using more Old Testament and virtue names, but she highlights that they did not begin to use the “Puritan-meaningful names like ‘Fear-God’ and ‘Lord-is-near’ that were briefly popular in later-sixteenth century England” (319). Is this because Ireland’s predominantly Catholic population discouraged such naming practices? Or did the Irish Protestant population, otherwise able to exercise markedly Protestant naming customs, simply not gravitate to this style of naming? Does this mean that Puritan naming customs were prevalent in England, but failed to translate to Ireland the way other naming trends did? Or was their prevalence exaggerated even in England?

Although Tait noticed a distinct style of naming amongst Catholics, with their preference for saint names, she did not notice the old-fashioned sounding Puritan names commonly believed to be popular among Protestants after the Reformation in England. This suggests that Puritan names were either exactly as limited to Puritans as many scholars believe, or that they were never as prevalent as previously thought. If the “distinctly Puritan” names were common albeit limited to England, though, what explains the use of other English and Protestant names in Ireland while these Puritan names were ignored?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mystery Monday: Idosia/Ydozia

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name is a lovely 14th C feminine name from Picardy. Our single record of it is a Latin genitive form, and involves two of the rare letters of the alphabet — y and z!

Ydosia

We have hypothesized Idosia as a normalized nominative form — we haven’t actually found any instance of this spelling. We would love to have other instances/variants of this name. Do you know of any? Please share in the comments! We also don’t have even the first guess as to what it’s origins might be; if you have any thoughts, we’d love to hear them!

4 Comments

Filed under crowd-sourcing, dictionary entries, mystery monday

What makes the Apocrypha apocryphal?

As I continue doing data-collection and reading for the paper on Protestant vs. Puritan names I’m working on, I’ve run up against an interesting issue about the categorisation of Biblical names, especially those of Hebrew origin.

You might think that every Biblical name could be neatly categorised into “Old Testament” or “New Testament” (or maybe “both” if it turns up in both), but it turns out, this classification will only get you so far, because some of the traditional “Biblical” names are not actually found in the Bible! Or rather, not found in the canonical Bible…Three classic examples are Judith, Anna/Anne, and Susan. The Judith and Susanna whose popularity translated into use of their names are not mentioned in the canonical Old Testament; nor is Mary’s mother’s name given in the canonical New Testament. Nevertheless Judith, Susan(na) and Anne are generally counted as “Biblical” names, because of their occurrence in books that used to be considered canonical but no longer are (the Apocrypha).

As we try to provide an analysis of the distinctly Protestant Biblical names used in the 16th C, we are thus faced with the question of “what counts as Biblical?” That is, what apocryphal and deuterocanonical books would the Protestants have accepted as canonical? This question led us to the article we’re discussing in today’s post:

Floyd C. Medford, “The Apocrypha in the Sixteenth Century: A Summary and Survey”, Historical Magazine of the Protestant Episcopal Church 52, no. 4 (December, 1983): 343-354.

(Isn’t it great when you’ve got a concrete question and someone has a targeted article that is basically designed to answer your question?)

How — and why — then did this shifting understanding of the Apocrypha come about, and how — and why — did it affect the changing namepools? Medford starts out by laying the scene that motivates his investigation:

the sixteenth century witnessed the first serious reconsideration the problem of the Biblical canon in over a thousand years (p. 343).

This reconsider was triggered, Medford argues, by a long-running discrepancy between what the learned fathers of the Church maintained as canonical (that is, the canon of Jerome) and what was incorporated into actual ecclesiastical practice, a broader collection (p. 343). Many medieval Bibles incorporated the Apocrypha without distinction from the canonical books (p. 345), and as a result only scholars could have distinguished the canonical from the apocryphal.

The books labelled as apocryphal in the King James translation of the Bible (and hence typical of the Protestant apocrypha) are:

  • I Esdras
  • II Esdras
  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • “the rest of Esther”
  • Wisdom
  • Ecclesiasticus (also known as the Wisdom of Sirach, or Sirach)
  • Baruch, with the epistle of Jeremiah
  • the Song of the Three Children
  • the Story of Susannah
  • The Idol Bel, and the Dragon
  • The Prayer of Manasses
  • I Maccabees
  • II Maccabees

In this list, all except I and II Esdras and the prayer of Manasses are books that were considered canonical by the Catholic church.

Medford surveys how over the course of the 16th C the apocryphal books were successively separated out from the canonical books in various Protestant vernacular translations. Luther’s 1534 translation included the books, but provided explanatory prefaces on a number of them decrying them; concluding that “while they are not placed on the same footing as the Holy Scripture, [they] are yet profitable and good for reading” (p. 347). The first edition of the Bible to separate out the apocryphal books from the rest, putting them into their own section, was the Van Liesvelt translation into Dutch (p. 347). Other editions separated them out even further, by moving them after the New Testament in order.

This suspicion (or perhaps “concern with” is better) of the apocryphal books was not specific to the Protestant denominations, with similar sentiments being expressed by Catholic scholars in the early part of the century (p. 348). But the fact that the Protestants abrogated these books was — by the middle of the century — sufficient to reinforce their canonicity in the Catholic tradition, as witnessed by the Council of Trent (p. 348) which affirmed od as the author of all the books of the Old and New Testament as well as the Apocryphal books noted above.

Medford concludes his discussion with a survey of English translations, discussing how and where the apocryphal books were put, and whether they were introduced with a preface (and if so, whether it is the preface of Coverdale or Calvin). From this survey, he concludes:

Thus the sixteenth century English translations generally retain the Apocrypha for church use, while carefully demarking their secondary status by title, preface, position, and/or other means (p. 353).

This holds true for the Protestant tradition; but he goes on to say that the Puritans separated themselves out from the general Protestant tradition “with a complete rejection of the Apocrypha, resulting in the exclusion of those books from many editions of the King James Version since the middle of the seventeenth century” (p. 353). Here then we have the basis for a conjecture: If there is a distinctive Protestant vs. Puritan name-pool, we would expect to see apocryphal names in the former but not in the latter — no more Judiths or Susans or even possibly Annes…

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Mystery Monday: Hleb

Every Monday we will post an entry that hasn’t yet been published with a view towards harnessing the collective onomastic power of the internet. If you have any thoughts about the name’s origin, other variants it might be related to, other examples of its use, etc., please share them in the comments! If you wish to browse other Mystery Monday names, there is an index.

Today’s name is found in a record that comes from a place in modern day Ukraine, and turns up as a rarish surname and given name in modern Belarusian:

Hleb

This is definitely something of Slavic origin, which means most of the info out there is in the Cyrillic alphabet…which none of the DMNES staff are experts in.

Do you have any pointers for our research? Any insider intel? Please share in the comments!

2 Comments

Filed under crowd-sourcing, dictionary entries, mystery monday

What makes a name a Puritan name?

One of the projects we hope to resurrect this summer with the help of our research interns is a paper on Protestant vs. Puritan names. One of our interns, Adelia, is currently collecting relevant literature, and I’m making an effort to prioritise reading through the fascinating looking articles she’s finding. What better way to do that than to write up commentaries on them as I do so?

Today’s article is

Daniel Kilham Dodge, “Puritan Names”, New England Quarterly 1, no. 4 (1928): 467-475, http://www.jstor.org/stable/359527.

Dodge kicks things off by summarising popular suppositions about Puritan names:

  • They are “now regarded as old-fashioned” (p. 467).
  • “Most of them come from the Old Testament, especially from the minor prophets” (p. 467).
  • “The New Testament is almost as carefully avoided as mine pie at Christmas” (p. 467).

But his purpose in this article is to question this popular opinion:

But what if our modern historians and writers of fiction were wrong in their assumption that, in the naming of their children, the Puritans were a people by themselves and that they were as old-fashioned in their names as in their dress? (p. 467).

Dodge adopts two principles for collecting evidence to demonstrate that this assumption is wrong: that the data be both representative and sufficiently large. A list of a hundred names is not large enough to draw any conclusions from, while a much larger list of names of clergy men will not be representative. With these principles in mind, Dodge draws his data from “copies of official records extending from the earliest entries of the Massachusetts Bay Company in 1628 throughout the seventeenth century and including various church and town lists and the graduates of Harvard College from 1641 to 1700” (p. 468). With this, Dodge places himself in the century after the terminus of our interest; given the significant cultural differences in England (and English colonies) between the 16th and 17th century, we must be chary of taking for the 16th century any of his conclusions concerning the 17th century.

The data that Dodge collected he divides into four categories (p. 469):

  1. Old Testament names
  2. New Testament names
  3. Non-descriptive profane names
  4. Descriptive names (including such names as Deliverance, Hopestill, Satisfaction, and Tremble)

When he considers names in his data that occur 10 or more times, there is a slight preference for Old Testament names (18 vs. 11 or 12, depending on where Joseph is categorised); the numbers shift somewhat when the individual occurrences, as opposed to the distinct names, are counted: 2062 occurrences of New Testament names vs. 1193 occurrences of Old Testament names (p. 469).

The cause of this strange reversal, is, however, not unexpected: It is due to the popularity of the given name John (around 20% of all instances), which was not unique to the Puritans and whose historic popularity even shifting priorities and practices could not shift it from the Puritan naming pool. As Dodge puts it:

the given name John, most popular of names among the Puritans, was not a Puritan name at all (p. 471).

Dodge’s feminine data shows the trends he wants to highlight somewhat stronger than the masculine data, as “the proportion of Biblical names is larger and the Old Testament is more generously represented”, though the smaller numbers overall mean that of names occurring ten times or more, “five are from the Old Testament and four from the New Testament” (p. 472). The clearest demonstration of the trends, though, is the fact that the most popular “profane” (by which Dodge merely means “neither Biblical nor descriptive”) feminine name, Margaret, is only the 10th most popular feminine name (p. 472), compared to the most popular profane masculine name, William, which was the third most popular masculine name (p. 471). From this, Dodge concludes:

early New Englanders, and possibly other Englishmen as well, depended upon the Bible to a greater extent in naming their daughters than their sons (p. 472).

Of the descriptive names, Dodge argues that they were never common and that their status as the “supposedly typical Puritan names” (p. 473) is due to psychological rather than ontological reasons: It is a fact of human consciousness that we tend to fixate upon the unusual and atypical and give it more prominence than it necessarily desires. As he says, “we are all given to generalizing from insufficient data” (p. 473), and when we look at actual numbers and statistics, it is clear that “In the majority of cases Puritans, like Anglicans, chose names not as Puritans but as Englishmen” (p. 473). More controversially, he argues that

Faintnot and Hopefor, Faith and Prudence are quaint, but they are evidently not so typical Puritan names as John and William, Mary and Elizabeth (p. 474).

But while it may be true that these names were all more common amongst Puritans than the descriptive names or names of obscure Old Testament characters, one must be careful what question one is asking when considering the question of whether there is a uniquely or distinctively Puritan pool of names. For it could be either of the following:

  1. What is the probability that a person is a Puritan, given the name they bear?
  2. What is the probability that a person bears a Puritan name, given that they are Puritan?

It may be that the answer to the former question is “rather low” while the latter question might be “quite high” — there could be names which are distinctively Puritan not in the sense that many Puritans were named this name, but in the sense that no non-Puritans were. It is these latter class of names that are apt to give us a pool which is uniquely or characteristically Puritan.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized