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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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Medieval roots of modern names: The US 2015 top 26-50 for boys

Moving on to nos. 26-50 on the list of top boy’s names in the US for 2015, we continue the trend of the largest category being the names of Biblical, providing a nice mix of both Old and New Testament names. First we have John (26), a name regarding which we can be surprised for finding it so low. Since the 12th century it has been, almost without fail, the most popular man’s name across Europe, and it’s only in the last few decades that it has fallen out of favor in America. Part of the reason it has dropped rankings is because of the rising popularity of variant forms and diminutives, which the US Social Security tracks separately, but which we include in a single entry. Thus, here we should also note Jack (no. 40), a diminutive which has its origins in Middle Dutch Jankin. Other names in this category include Luke (no. 28), which we saw in an earlier post in the Greek-influenced variant Lucas; Andrew (no. 30), which we could also have included under the “Greek” heading below, and which was relatively common throughout Europe; and then various Old Testament names like Isaac (no. 31), more commonly used earlier by Jews but becoming popular amongst Protestant Christians in the 16th C; Joshua (no. 33), Caleb (no. 37), Nathan (no. 38), Jonathan (no. 48), and Isaiah (no. 49), names almost unheard of before the 16th C and still rare then; and Levi (no. 42), used almost exclusively by Jews medievally.

The next most common type of name in this group are the ones deriving from medieval surnames: Hunter (no. 41), an occupational byname deriving from Old English hunta ‘hunter, huntsman’; Jaxon (no. 44), a purely modern spelling of Jackson, which we saw in an earlier post; Landon (no. 46), a French surname found (among other examples) in the early 15th C in the city of Choisy; and Grayson (no. 47), a Lancashire and Yorkshire form of Graveson ‘son of the greyve (steward)’.

Of equal number are the names of Germanic origin. Two are classics: Henry (no. 29) and Charles (no. 50), the names of kings, emperors, and saints. In particular, the eight English kings named Henry have helped ensure the popularity of this name in the English-speaking world, and Charlemagne, one of the Nine Worthies, was a well-respected figure throughout Europe. The third, however, may surprise people by occurring in this category: Wyatt (no. 34). This is an English form of French Guiart or Wiard, with W- forms being typical of Normandy and Picardy, which in turn derives from two German elements. (Despite this, the name was vastly more popular in France than anywhere else).

We next have four names, two of Greek and two of Latin origin. The Greek names are names of saints: Christopher (no. 32) and Sebastian (no. 35), both of which were used throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Finally, we have one religious and one secular Latin names: Christian (no. 43), identical in origin to the proper adjective, never extremely popular but found more often in Germanic and Scandinavian contexts; and Julian (no. 45), a name of imperial status, most common in Italy and France and found rarely elsewhere.

We’re left with a handful of origins each witnessed by one name. We have another name of Irish origin: Ryan (no. 39) is an English form of the Old Irish name Ríán, which was used during the 9th-11th C. It then fell out of use, and was revived in modern times. And in this batch of names we get our first name of Welsh origin: Dylan (no. 27) is a name found in Welsh mythology, and like many such names, we have no evidence that it was used by real people during the Middle Ages.

Finally, we have one name which is best described as complicated: Owen (no. 36). This spelling is a modern English form of a name which occurs in medieval Welsh as Owain, deriving from Old Welsh Ou(u)ein. This name is often connected with Old Welsh Eug(u)ein, explained as an adoption of Greek Eugene. The early Welsh Ou(u)ein or Eug(u)ein was the name of an Arthurian character, a son of Urien, with the result that the name was also used in French, developing into Yvain. It has been questioned, though, whether Ou(u)ein is related to Eugene — for it would make it an unusual example of a Greek name imported into Old Welsh at a very early date. It may be that the name has an independent origin, only later retro-actively connected to the Greek name. Hence, as we said, it’s complicated!

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Protestant names: Old Testament influences on men’s names (part 2)

In this post we continue where we left off, with the next installment of Old Testament names and where they show clear influence of the rise of Protestantism in the second half of the 16th C.

Gabriel: The name of one of the archangels, this name was moderately common in France, Italy, and Iberia throughout most of the later Middle Ages, but was rare in England before the 16th C.

Gamaliel (entry available in the next edition): This could be considered an Old Testament name or a New Testament — a minor character by this name appears in each — but either way, this name typifies the pattern that we are investigating. It’s the name of a minor Biblical character, it was essentially unheard of before the end of the 16th C, and in the 16th and 17th C, we can find it used amongst both French and English Protestants.

Gideon: The judges were a popular source for names, and Gideon is another example of this. Our examples are spread across all three of our sources, from the 1560s on.

Hezekiah: The major and minor prophets were another popular source. Our single example of the name, Esechias, shows the typical medieval spelling of names which in modern English are often spelled with -iah (for example, as seen with medieval Elias as compared to modern Elijah) — we’ll see this quirk of spelling again below.

Isaac: The name of the son of the great Hebrew patriarch, Isaac shows up in the medieval mystery plays, so the name was not unheard of in England prior to the 16th C, and outside of England it can be found in the 12th and 13th C, but in the 16th C, it is especially associated with the Protestant contexts that we’ve been investigating.

Isaiah: The name of another prophet, perhaps one of the most important in the Old Testament, we find it in a variety of French spellings in the registers from Caen.

Israel: The name given to the Biblical patriarch Jacob, after he wrestled with God. Unlike the name Jacob itself (which was, throughout the Middle Ages and after, so popular that there is no plausible way we can appeal to it as evidence for our pattern! A similar story can be told of John, so we will be omitting both from consideration in the present context.), Israel was never so popular, but we have a handful of examples in English and Dutch at the end of the 16th C.

Job (entry available in next edition): Another eponymous character of one of the Old Testament books, Job’s story of perseverance in the face of adversity made it a popular choice after the Reformation for parents seeking meaningful names. However, prior to the 17th C, it still remained rare.

Jonas (entry available in next edition): Better known in modern English in the form Jonah, the medieval form Jonas reflects the Greek spelling of the name. While the name was used rarely in Germany and Switzerland in the 12th and 13th C, in the 16th C, our examples all come from Protestant contexts.

Jonathan (entry available in next edition): The name of the beloved friend of King David, Jonathan can be found in Dutch contexts in the 16th C.

Josaphat: The name of one of the kings of Judah, we have a single example from Caen in 1565.

Joseph: A curious name in that there is no clear time of context in which it was ever especially, or ever especially rare. It, unlike many of the other names that we’ve considered, was not especially taken up by the Protestants.

Joshua: This name is the same in origin as Jesus, but the two names were almost uniformly treated as distinct. The name was never popular, but the handful of instances that we have are all from Protestant contexts.

Josiah: Like Hezekiah above, the medieval spelling of Josiah was generally -ias rather than -iah, and we can see this spelling appearing in Dutch, French, and English.

That’s enough of the list for now, we’ll return to it again in our next post!

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