In the last quarter two of the most exciting sources that we’ve been working through are The Registers of the Protestant Church at Caen, volume 1: Births & Marriages 1560-1572, ed. C. E. Lart. (Huguenot Society of London, 1908) and The Marriage, Baptismal, and Burial Registers, 1571 to 1874, and Monumental Inscriptions, of the Dutch Reformed Church, Austin Friars, London, ed. William John Charles Moens. (Lymington: Privately Printed, 1884). These, along with the many English parish registers that we’re always continuously working through provide an insight into a unique trend in naming practices in the second half of the 16th C — the naming patterns of the Protestants. What we’ve found has been so interesting, we’re making it the monthly topic for January.
True aficionados of historical onomastics will likely be familiar with Bardsley’s Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (London: Chatto & Windus, 1880) — the coffee-table book of names, the sort that you have lying around to open up at random pages to read off to your guests. (What, doesn’t everyone do this? Your guests are missing out…) Bardsley’s focus in this book, as is obvious from the title, is Puritan naming practices, specifically in England, so his focus is both narrower — we’re looking at Protestants in general, not just the Puritans, — and broader — we’re looking beyond just England, whereas his focus is almost exclusively English; additionally, we focus on the pre-1600 period, rather than spreading into the 17th and 18th C. Nevertheless, his book still provides a foundation upon which any study of Puritan names, or indeed Protestant names more generally, should be built, so we begin our month by looking at some of his conclusions.
Curiously, Bardsley argues that
we must at once draw a line between the Reformation and Puritanism. Previous to the Reformation, so far as the Church was concerned, there had been to a certain extent a system of nomenclature. The Reformation abrogated that system, but did not intentionally adopt a new one. Puritanism deliberately supplied a well-weighed and revised scheme (pp. 42-43).
While there is no doubt that the Puritans took this new scheme of naming practices to the extreme, particularly in the 17th and 18th C, it is a mistake to take these new practices as being confined to the Puritans. The Reformation didn’t happen merely in England, but also on the continent, and we can see the same sorts of trends in naming patterns amongst the Dutch and the French as well.
We will be devoting individual posts to (at least) three distinct classes of given names which are specially evidenced in the French, Dutch, and English sources noted above:
- Old Testament names
- New Testament names
- Virtue names
These classes are not unique to the second half of the 16th C (or thereabouts); examples of all of them can be found earlier. In particular in England, Bardsley notes that the Biblical stories enshrined in medieval mystery plays were a popular source for names, so already before the Puritan and Protestant influence we can find examples of Samuel, Noah, Judith, Esther, etc. (p. 35) However, these names were never common before the 16th C, and we also see many of the more obscure names first showing up amongst Protestant families. One important cause of the new take-up of both Old and New Testament names is the translation of the Bible into vernaculars over the course of the 14th and 15th C, thus making these names accessible to everyone. Bardsley dates the influence of the English Reformation on contemporary naming practices to 1560, “the year when the Genevan Bible was published”, which was “not only written in the vulgar tongue, but was printed for vulgar hands” (p. 38), though hints of the new trend can be found as early as the 1540s. 60 years may not seem like much, and certainly it’s a small percentage of the period the Dictionary covers, it will still provide us with plenty of names to study over the course of the rest of the month!