Tag Archives: Faith

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.

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Looking into history: Unexpected finds

In this post, we take a look at some of the names in the ONS girls’ names data from England and Wales (up through the first 300) which may surprise some people by turning up in the Middle Ages.

First up is no. 41 Imogen — historically thought to have first appeared post-1600 as a typo in a Shakespearean play, the name has an alternative history, dating back to medieval Germany.

Ancient Greek name Penelope (no. 48) came into use in England in the 16th, part of a fad for classical names. (Nickname Penny (no. 198) is more modern, though.)

No. 65 Ada has an old-fashioned feel to it — but did you know it’s roots go back at least to the 9th C in France?

Biblical names Lydia (no. 130), Leah (no. 136), Esther (no. 173), Naomi (no. 178), Rebecca (no. 186), Tabitha (no. 204), Lois (no. 215), and Rachel (no. 323) became popular amongst French, Dutch, and English Protestants in the 16th C, as did virtue names like Faith (no. 135). Interestingly, Hope (no. 139) is a virtue name that we haven’t yet found any pre-1600 examples of, though Esperanza from Latin sperantia ‘hope’ is found in 15th-16h C Spain and Italy (but not in the ONS data!)

Modern name Ottilie (no. 164) is a variant of medieval Odile, popular in France especially in the diminutive form Odelina.

No. 169 Laura first became popular after Petrarch as the poetic name for his love; it spread from Italy to France, Italy, and England over the 14th and 15th centuries.

Here’s a surprising one: Maia (no. 176). The DMNES entry is still in draft form, but we have two Low German examples from the 16th century; variant Maja (no. 192) is not an unreasonable alternative medieval spelling.

French-origin name Amy (no. 189) was popular in England from the 14th C onwards.

No. 196 Alba occurs in Catalan in the early 16th C.

Golden name Aurelia (no. 212) was used in Renaissance Italy. While name no. 361 Sapphire is generally interpreted as a gem name, when the medieval form Sapphira was used in 16th C England, it was more likely in reference to the New Testament character.

Did you know that Alana (no. 216) is a medieval name? It’s the Latin feminine form of Alan, and appears rarely. (Variants that add extra ls or ns or hs, such as Alannah (no. 472), Alanna (no. 650), Allana (no. 1788), Alanah (no. 1887), and Allanah (no. 3178) and compounds like Alana-Rose (no. 2901) and Alana-Rae (no. 5666) are not generally medieval.)

Nickname Effie (no. 236), usually a pet form of Euphemia (no. 4684), shows up in 16th C England (as does the full name itself) — a rare instance of an -ie or -y diminutive ending in medieval England!

Name no. 243, Talia we have examples of in 13th and 16th C Italy; there’s no entry for the name yet, as the etymological origin of the name is uncertain.

Names of classical gods and goddesses became popular in the Renaissance, including Diana (no. 275) found in both England and Italy (Diane (no. 3178) is a French form; Dianna (no. 3985) and Dyana (no. 48684) are modern forms). In general, the Latin names were preferred over the Greek — which means while we don’t have Athena (no. 239), Atene (no. 5666), Athene (no. 5666) (or the compound Athena-Rose, no. 4684) in the DMNES data, we do have Minerva (no. 2187). (The compound Diana-Elena (no. 5666) is also modern.)

Modern-day Melody (no. 312) is found in the Latin form Melodia in England during the fad for fanciful Latinate names in the 13th C. It’s during this period that we also find Amanda (no. 602).

Name no. 213 Remi shows up in medieval France — but as a masculine name, not a feminine name. Similarly, Alexis (no. 323) can be found right across Europe, but only as a man’s name.

The roots of Christmas name Natalie (no. 354) go all the way back to the early Middle Ages — it shows up multiple times in the 9th C, which makes it an incredibly well-witnessed early French feminine name!

We’ll tackle names from no. 400 down in a future post.

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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 51-100 for girls

While the top 100 boy’s names were all relative homogeneous amongst the groups that we looked at, the girl’s names are much more varied. We’ve noted in the previous groupings how rare names of Biblical origin are compared to the boy’s names; that’s not the case for this group of names in which names of Biblical origin are equal first with names deriving from surnames. This just goes to reinforce the great diversity in feminine names!

So let’s look at those Biblical names first. Sadie (52) is of American origin, originally a nickname of Sarah (58). Sarah itself is a relatively late spelling; the intrusive -h wasn’t found before the 16th C in England. Gabriella (54) is not a Biblical name, but it is a feminine form of one. While it’s masculine counterpart was used moderately commonly, the feminine form was rare outside of Spain and Italy in the Middle Ages. Madelyn (59) and Madeline (90) are two of the many variant spellings of Magdalene, originally a byname meaning ‘from Magdala’. One might view Madelyn as a prototypical ‘modern’ spelling with the y replacing i-e. And yet, Madelyn can be found in England in 1598. It’s actually Madeline that would be an atypical spelling, medievally! We include Genesis (65) in this list not because it is a Biblical name but because it is a name with Biblical origins. The penchant for naming children after book chapters is definitely a modern one! Returning to more traditional names, Eva (75) is a Latinized form of the name; it was never especially common, but it can be found in the Czech Republic, England, France, and Italy. The spelling Naomi is a post-medieval one; before the 17th C, the usual English (and French) form was Noemy or Noemi (77). Lydia (81), like Magdalene, could also be classified as a surname, given that it was originally a locative byname referring to a kingdom in Asia Minor. The name has historically been quite popular amongst Dutch-speaking communities, particularly Protestant ones. Isabelle (94) could also perhaps go into the names of French origin; you’ll struggle to find any Isabelle in the Old or New Testaments — but you’ll find plenty of Elizabeth‘s, and Isabelle derives from an Old Provençal form of that name. Similarly, one might expect to find Gianna (96) under the Italian names, but we have included it here as it is a feminine form of John. Both it and Giana can be found from the 13th C on.

It’s an eclectic group of surnames that turn up in this group. First we have the locatives: Kaylee (61) can be from either the French Cailly or the Lancashire Cayley. Hailey (64) is either from Hailey in Oxfordshire, or a descriptive for anyone who lives near a clearing filled with hay. Peyton (72) is the name of cities in both Essex and Suffolk, and Ashley (85) ‘clearing filled with ashes’ is the name of many medieval English placenames. In this subgroup we can perhaps also include Kylie (66). The origin of this name is disputed, and certainly we have no evidence that it was used in the Middle Ages. However, it is sometimes considered to be a feminine form of Kyle, which itself was a medieval placename, in Scotland. Next we have the occupationals, with Piper (68), of Old English origin and found from at least the 12th C on, and Taylor (76), of French origin, and also found from the 12th C on. The last four are all Irish patronymics in origin. Kennedy (57) is a an English form of Cennétig or Cinnéide, a rare name in Ireland used in the 12th and 14th C, and which first shows up in Scotland in the reign of William the Lion (1165-1214). Mackenzie (73) is an English or Scottish form of the patronymic byname mac Coinnich ‘son of Coinneach’. An earlier form of Coinneach, Cainnech, was used in Ireland between the 6th and 11th C. Quinn (97) is an English form of Irish Cuinn, the genitive (possessive) form of Conn, a masculine name used from the 10th to 16th C. Reagan (99) is also an anglicized form, of the masculine name Riacán used from the 9th to 12th C.

The next two biggest groups are those of Latin and Greek origin. The former kicks off with a name we’ve discussed before: Despite what many modern baby name websites nad books might say, Stella (51) is not a modern name, but can be found in 15th and 16th C Italy. Lucy (55) is a vernacular English form of a popular saint’s name, Lucia, though even in England Luce was the more typical form than Lucy. Bella (74) can be a pet form of any of various names including Isabella and Jacobella, but it can also be simply the Latin word for ‘beautiful’. The root of Ruby (83) is the gemstone name, but the name of the gem itself derives from Latin rubeus, rubea ‘red’. This is another name which many people consider to be a modern coinage which is not. With imperial roots, it is no surprise that Julia (89) has had a long history of use from classical Rome to the modern era. Some people credit Shakespeare with the introduction of the name into England, but this is false; the name was already in use there by the 13th C. Vivian (95) as the name of two early saints, but despite this the name was rarely used by women medieval. We have one late-period Italian example. Clara (98), on the other hand, enjoyed steady, if not excessively popular, usage throughout Europe.

Turning now to the Greek names, we’ve see two variants of Arianna (56), as well as one of Khloe (100). Maya (69) and Aurora (79) are two names of Greek origin (though Maya actually has more than one origin!) for which we have not yet found any evidence of medieval usage — though this is not to say that we won’t! Melanie (80) has also already shown up on this blog before, when we discussed names deriving from the color black. It was only rarely used medievally, in significant contrast to Katherine (84), one of the most popular women’s names of all time. Next, we have Alexis (86); a name which was found in the Middle Ages, but which was exclusively masculine. Its use as a feminine name is modern. Finally, we have Cora (88); we haven’t yet found an instance of the root name, but it gave rise to diminutive forms which are witnessed, including Corella and Corina.

There is but a handful of names of German origin. Mila (53) is a feminine form of Milo. The masculine form was quite common, but the feminine form was almost unused. Caroline (62) is a diminutive of Carol, a feminine form of Charles. We haven’t found any medieval examples of Caroline, but the diminutive forms were much more common than any of the full forms, with both French Charlotte and Italian Carlutia found in the late period. French-influenced Aubree (78) does not have the same origin that Aubrey has; the root name is Germanic Alberada or Alberadis. Alice (87) is an English form of a name that was popular throughout Europe in many different variants and diminutives; Alyssa (93) is one such, and while we haven’t yet found an explicit medieval instance of it, we would not be surprised to do so.

Next we have a group of names which have medieval roots as words, but were not used as names before the 19th C. The word Hazel (63) is Old English in origin, and you can read the entry for it in the Middle English Dictionary here. Autumn (67), on the other hand, is from an Old French word, used in Middle English from the 14th C. Medieval names were not generally taken from the stock of ordinary words; but one exception to this is the rise of virtue names such as Faith (91) in the 16th C. Serenity (71) is a modern coinage (it derives from Latin Serena); this word was not used in Middle English and only imported into English later.

Two names have long historical lineages but need to be classified as uncertain in origin. The usual tale of Eleanor (60) is that it’s from the phrase alia Aenor ‘another Aenor’, but this is unlikely given the early examples of the name, many of which include a -d-. Annabelle (92) has been in use in Scotland since the 12th C, and appears to be either a variant of or a misspelling of Amabel.

Brianna (82) is a feminine form of Irish Brian, and another name people point to as a modern coinage. However, Briana occurs as a name of a character in a 16th C Spanish romance, Espejo de Principe y Cavalleros. This poem was translated into English in 1578 and published under the title of The mirrour of princely deedes and knighthood: wherein is shewed the worthinesse of the Knight of the Sunne, and his brother Rosicleer, sonnes to the great Emperour Trebetio: with the strange loue of the beautifull and excellent princesse Briana, and the valiant actes of other noble princes and knightes. Now newly translated out of Spanish into our vulgar English tongue, by M.T. On an onomastically unrelated note, the “M.T.” here is one Margaret Taylor, the first woman to translate a Spanish romance into English and the first woman to have published a romance in English.

As the month draws to a close this is probably our last post in this series (perhaps until next year?), and it only seems fitting that we end with a name which in a sense epitomizes modern-day American naming practices, and which has no medieval roots whatsoever: Nevaeh (70), which is simply ‘heaven’ spelled backwards.

We hope you enjoyed this tour of the medieval roots of popular modern names!

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Protestant names: Virtue names

The final place where the influence of distinctly Protestant naming practices can be seen are in virtue names. Virtue names were rare before the 16th C, but from about 1550 on, a wide variety of virtue names, some still in use today, spring up. They were most common in English, but a handful can be found in other languages, as well. Withycombe points to the popularity of virtue names in England as a specifically Puritan — rather than more broadly Protestant — practice: Since the Protestants had co-opted a number of the obscure Biblical names (as we’ve seen in previous posts), those religious zealots who wanted to truly distinguish their child by their names opted for a wholly new category.

First, we have the three cardinal virtues: “feith, hope, and charite” (as the Wycliffite Bible of 1395 gives them; though the 1525 Tyndale New Testament has the more usual “fayth hope and love”). Faith is perhaps a quintessentially English name: It is extremely unlikely to be found elsewhere given that its root is Anglo-Norman feid, feit, fait (about which you can read more in the Anglo-Norman Dictionary‘s entry: fei). Hope too is uniquely English, as the modern word derives from Old English hopa (from Proto-Germanic *hupōną, the root of German hoffen (v.) and Dutch hopen (v.)) in contrast with the usual forms on the continent deriving from Latin spes. We do not yet have any examples of the name, but it’s only a matter of time before we do; Bardsley notes a child baptised Hope in 1598 in Cambridge (p. 140). The Old English word for ‘love’, lufu, was a common Anglo-Saxon name, but mostly fell out of use with the Conquest. Instead, it was Charity, deriving from Latin caritas ‘love’, that was used. This name can be found in England as early as 1540, and we have not yet found any examples outside of England.

Virtue names can be one of two types: They can either name the virtue itself (as in the three above), or they can ascribe the virtue to the child adjectivally. In general, the nominative forms were more common in England, and when virtue names were used outside of England, adjectival forms tended to be more common. One virtue name that we found outside of clearly Protestant contexts derives from Latin sperantia ‘hopeful’. It was used both by men (Esperance) and by women (Esperanza) in Italy and Spain.

While Grace, like other virtue names, wasn’t used much in England before the 16th C, unlike the others it was used earlier on the continent, showing up in France, Italy, and Portugal as early as the 13th C, and in Spanish not much later.

Memorantia, identical to the Latin word for ‘remembering’, is a beautiful and unusual virtue name found in Dutch Protestant contexts. It’s one of the few non-English Protestant virtue names.

Mercy: This virtue name came into use in England in the late 16th C (not the 17th C, as Withycombe suggests).

Patience: Another virtue name in use in England at the very end of the 16th C, which Withycombe places in the 17th C.

Pleasant: A rare virtue name in 16th C England, this name can occasionally be found much earlier in France. Along with this we might also count as a virtue name the name Savory, from Anglo-Norman sauverré, savure, savré ‘sweet, pleasant, fragrant’.

Prudence, from Latin prudentia ‘prudence; discretion; good sense’, is found in both England and in Italy.

Sapience is another rare and unusual virtue name; we have found one instance of it in England at the end of the 16th C.

Temperance, another name found only in England so far, was somewhat more common than some of the other virtues.

What is curious is that the virtue names are almost exclusively feminine. We suspect this is an accident of data, for certainly there are virtue names that were used by men, but we simply have not yet come across any. We may have to revisit this post in the future after we have!


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