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?

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