Tag Archives: Protestant names

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!


Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

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

We’re in the home stretch with the Biblical names! In this our final post on this sub-topic of our monthly topic, we look at the New Testament men’s names of Greek and Roman origin.

Names of Greek origin

The first batch we can set aside as being unable to tell us anything unique about Protestant naming practices for the same reason we set aside the names of the four evangelists in the previous post: The names of the apostles. Among the apostle names of Greek origin we have we have Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Simon, all of which were popular throughout the Middle Ages across Europe; for similar reasons, the name of the first martyr, Stephen, was also a continual favorite.

So, what New Testament names of Greek origin seem to have gained a new popularity in the 16th C?

Cleopas: The name of the disciple who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus, this name was rarely used in England in the 16th C.

Epaphras (entry still being written): The name of a disciple from Colossae, we have one example of this name from the Protestant Church at Caen in the 16th C.

Theophilus: The name of the person to whom the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts were addressed, we also have a single example of the name from Caen in the 16th C.

Timothy: The name of the recipient of two epistles by Paul, Withycombe and Bardsley differ on the use of this name in England; Withycombe notes that the name didn’t come into use until after the Reformation, while Bardsley includes Timothy in the list of Biblical names in use before the Reformation (p. 36). Further research will allow us to arbitrate this question, but in the meantime, we certainly have clear evidence for the use of the name in 16th C England and 16th C French.

Curiously, we don’t (yet) have examples of any of these four names in Dutch Protestant contexts.

Names of Roman origin

In this class of names we have Paul, which like the names of the disciples and Stephen, was used throughout medieval Europe. It was never as popular, though, in England, until the 16th C, though it doesn’t show us quite the same spike in usage that some of the other names we’ve discussed have had.

Which leaves us with Crescent, the name of a minor character, of which we one example from 16th C England.

From this we can see that, yes, amongst the Biblical names that first came into use among Protestants in the second half of the 16th C, there was a special predilection for names of Hebrew origin, but the fad for Biblical names was not exclusive to the Hebraic ones, especially amongst the women’s names. Any minor character was fair game — and we have no doubt that as we continue to collect data, we’ll find both more examples of the names we’ve covered in this series, and new examples of obscure Biblical names.

Though we’ve come to the end of the Biblical names, we are not quite done with this series. There is one final class of names which have a right to be called distinctly Protestant names, which we will devote our final postin this series to: Virtue names!

Leave a comment

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Protestant names: New Testament influences on men’s names (part 1)

The month is nearing the end, but what we have to say about Protestant influences on naming practices in the second half of the 16th C certainly isn’t! The list of men’s names drawn from the New Testament is long enough that we may not get through all of it in one post, but let’s give it a go and see how far we can get. As we did with the woman’s names, we’ll organize these according to linguistic origin — Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and Other — with the exception of two groups of four names.

If there’s one group of Biblical names whose popularity was thoroughly entrenched in Christian Europe from a relatively early date, it’s the names of the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Two of the names are Hebrew in origin, one is Greek, and one is Roman: And all four were enduringly popular. It is hard to say, given our current data, when their popularity dates from, specifically, but there is clear evidence that there was a sea-change in naming practices across Europe in the 12th C: At the beginning of the century, secular Germanic names are still numerous throughout much of continental Europe, while by the end, John in all its variants is clearly beginning to be favored; this century marks the beginning of ascent to the position of “most popular name”, a position it dominated in pretty much every western Christian culture from then until the late 20th C. The names of the other evangelists were never as popular — in comparison, Luke was relatively rare — but the names were equally embraced by Protestants, Catholics, and Puritans alike.

The other group of four names is mark out by the conspicuous absence of one of them: Of the names traditionally given to the four archangels, only Gabriel, Michael, and Raphael ever made it into common use (all three were used throughout Europe, but only Michael can be said to have been popular). In the more than two decades that I have been researching names, I have not yet found a pre-1600 person named Uriel. (Which is not to say we won’t still, in our research: If there is one thing I have learned over the years, it’s to never say never. If you hunt long enough, you’ll find pretty much any name.)

Names of Hebrew origin

Ananias: In our previous post we noted that Ananias was so closely associated with Puritanism in England that it became a cant term, and we also pointed out that both Ananias and his wife Sapphira are surprising choices of people to name your child after. So it is especially interesting that the one example of this name that we have so far isn’t even from English contexts, much less Puritan. Instead, our single example is French.

Joachim: This name was both the apocryphal name of the father of Mary as well as the name of a number of minor Old Testament characters, so it could be classified as either a NT or an OT name. Evidence that it was the father of Mary more than the Old Testament characters that influenced the use of this name comes from the surprising lack of examples of this name in the three Protestant contexts that we are particularly interested in. We have no English examples, and only one each in Dutch and French contexts. This name was markedly loss popular than a lot of other otherwise obscure Old Testament names.

Nathaniel: The name of one of the disciplines, we find it in 16th C Dutch and English contexts, but it was rare elsewhere and elsewhen (interestingly, hearkening back to our discussion of nicknames, there are a number of 16th C diminutive forms of it in 16th C Estonia). A curious fact about the name: The earlier spelling of the name was Nathanael, more clearly reflecting the Hebrew form, but it was later altered to match the spelling of Daniel.

Tobias: Not strictly speaking a New Testament name, this was the name of the main character in the apocryphal Book of Tobit. The name was rare in England before the Reformation, and we have no French examples, but in the 16th C, it was a moderately popular Dutch name (and continues to be so today).

Zacchaeus: The data we have for this name is singularly curious: A single 16th C citation from England, a single 12th C citation from Germany, two 13th C examples from Italy, and a 13th C example from Poland. Quite why this name was used when and where it was — rare, but dispersed — we wouldn’t even want to hypothesize. However, its English usage does provide some confirmation: It was not used before the 16th C, and became quite common in the 17th, according to Withycombe. [1]

Names of other origin

All the names we consider under this heading are Aramaic, and two of them were originally nicknames.

Bartholomew: The patronymic by which the discipline Nathanael was better known. It is instructive to compare the use of this name with Nathaniel above: While Nathaniel suddenly became significantly more popular in the 16th C, Bartholomew was perennially popular throughout Europe. While it is always extremely tricky to speculate about intentions behind the choice of names, one might be tempted to say that Nathaniel could be seen as a Protestant alternative to the popular Bartholomew.

Thomas: Another nickname, meaning ‘twin’, Thomas is one of the few names that can rival John in popularity, in certain data sets at certain times and places, and even when it wasn’t more popular than John, it remains one of the solid choices for a man’s name throughout most of Europe in the Middle Ages.

Thaddeus: This name doesn’t fit any of the patterns we’ve seen so far: It’s the name of an apostle, but it was never popular; it was rare pre-Reformation, but does not seem to have become any more popular afterwards. This is another name where only more data collection will allow us to have a better understanding of when, where, and why it was used.

This gets us through about half the list, so we’ll pick up the names of Greek and Roman origin in the next post!


[1] Withycombe, E.G., The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd. ed. (Oxford University Press, 1977).


Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Protestant names: Old Testament influences on men’s names (part 3)

In this post we finish up looking at Old Testament names, and whether we can see evidence of correlation between Protestant influence and the use of these names by men in the Middle Ages. You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.

Manasses: This name, the name of a patriarch and a king of Judah, seems almost designed to ruin all of our hypotheses. It is a relatively obscure Biblical name, and yet we have no 16th C citations of it (yet). Instead, the name was moderately common in France in the 12th and 13th C, with a few examples earlier and a few examples later.

Meshach (entry available in next edition): The second of the three brothers who visited the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel (we saw the first one two posts ago, and the third shows up later in this list), Meshach was spelled Misaac and Mysaac in the Wycliffite Bible of 1395, and the former spelling is also the French spelling; we have one instance of Misaac in Caen in 1563.

Mordechai (entry available in next edition): The name of the father of Esther, we have one example of the name in 16th C France.

Moses (entry available in next edition): Moses wasn’t unheard of in England before the 16th C, its use amongst non-Jews attributable to the popularity of the story of Moses in medieval mystery plays. But in the 16th C, all our examples come from Protestant contexts, with one exception — a Swedish citation of Moisze in 1582. Was this Moisze a Jew? Was he a Protestant? Neither? Who knows!

Nathan: The name of a number of Old Testament characters, we have one example of Nathan in 16th C England.

Noah: Bardsley notes (p. 35) that this name was used in England prior to the Reformation as a result of the medieval mystery plays, but we have not yet collected any English examples. The two examples from 16th C Caen clearly reflect the pattern under investigation.

Sampson: This name was moderately common in France and English in the 12th C, due in part to the 6th C Welsh Saint Sampson who travelled from Wales to Brittany. After a period of reduced use, the name shows up again at the end of the 16th C.

Samuel: The name of the eponymous character of two OT books, Samuel was quite popular among Jews, and the 12th C examples of the name in England that we have are likely borne by Jews. The name experienced a resurgence in French, Dutch, and English contexts in the 16th C.

Shadrach: The third brother from the fiery furnace, our single example of this name was not identified as such until we researched how the name shows up in early vernacular Bible. In the Wycliffite Bible of 1395, the name is spelled Sidrac, which our identifictation of the 1583 English citation of Sidrack that we have certain.

Solomon: The son of King David and author of the Proverbs and some of the Psalms, his name was nearly as popular as his father’s name throughout the Middle Ages; in comparison with other Old Testament names, this name saw a reduction in use in England in the 16th C.

Uriah: The name of a number of minor OT characters, this name was spelled in a variety of ways — Urie, Vrie, and Vrye in the Wycliffite Bible, and Ury, Urye, and Urias (like Josias and Elias that we’ve seen earlier) in 16th C England.

Zachary: This name could be treated as either an OT or a NT name, since it shows up in both, the name of a prophet in the former and the father of John the Baptist in the latter. This name was not exclusive to the 16th C, and what is most curious about it is not when and where it was used, but how it was spelled when it was! The early medieval form in England dropped the Z-, leading to Latin spellings such as Acharias and Middle English spellings such as Acris. Not many names have variants at both the beginning and the end of the alphabet!

With this we’ve come to the end of our tour of the influence of the Old Testament on men’s names in Protestant contexts. Next up: The New Testament!

1 Comment

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

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!

1 Comment

Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Protestant names: Old Testament influences on men’s names (part 1)

Having looked at women’s names from the Old Testament in our previous post, in this one we turn to the men!

Except, first, the rectification of an omission — because we forgot a rather important name in our previous post! She’s a Hebrew girl turned Persian princess, she’s the cause of one of the most important Jewish festivals, she’s the eponymous character of one of the OT books…how could we forget to mention Esther? Spelled Esther, Ester, Hesther, or Hester, the name sprang into popularity in England and amongst Dutch and French Protestants in the second half of the 16th C, being virtually unknown in other linguistic, geographic, and temporal contexts. We have quite a large number of citations, but the entry for the name is not yet ready for publication because the etymology of the name is proving difficult to ascertain. There are plenty of theories — from the Median word astra meaning ‘myrtle’, from the Latin word astra meaning ‘star’, or related to the goddess name Ishtar, ultimately deriving from a root meaning ‘star’ — but we prefer good hard evidence rather than speculation when we can get it. Sometimes, though, conclusive data cannot be found, and we may simply end up having to present what information we have, and its relative merits. I suspect that it will be awhile before we have a satisfactory solution for this name.

Digression aside, let’s look at the men’s names drawn from the Old Testament! There are so many of them, we’re going to have to slit this up into multiple posts.

Aaron: The name of the brother of Moses and the first high priest, this name is curious because it doesn’t provide much evidence for the “Old Testament names became more common in the second half of the 16th C” hypothesis — not because it was already in use before then, but because, unlike so many other OT names, it never became common. We have two 16th C English examples and one from the Protestant Church in Caen, but this name was nowhere near as popular as some of the other more “mainstream” OT names. It was occasionally used in England, and elsewhere, earlier, but often by Jews rather than Christians. One exception to this is Wales, where the form Aron was not uncommon in the 15th C. The cause of this is unknown.

Abednego (entry available in next edition): The name of one of the three brothers thrown into the fiery furnace in the book of Daniel (his brothers’ names show up further down in the list!). When we first found the name Abdenago in France in 1565, given the context and the spelling our first thought was of Abednego, but the difference between bed and den seemed difficult to explain — until a bit of sleuthing revealed that in the Wycliffite translation of 1395, the Middle English form of the name was Abdenago. We are not sure when the den form switched to the bed form in English, but this is one of the questions that our investigations into early vernacular translations of the Bible will hopefully illuminate!

Abraham: The name of the patriarch of Israel, this name can be found as far afield as Hungary, yet it was always rare in France before the 16th C, and almost unheard of in England or the Low Countries before then.

Absalom: The name of the son of king David, this name is a curiosity as the only Protestant uptake of it that we have evidence for is in France; yet, the name was used sporadically before the 16th C across Europe, with most examples found in the 12th-14th C.

Adam: Like the name of his wife (see previous post), Adam was commonly in use throughout Europe before the Reformation. There is little need to explain the universal popularity of this choice!

Adiel: You can be forgiven for not recognizing this name, it was borne by a handful of unremarkable characters recorded in 1 Chronicles (27:25 4:36; and 9:12). The Adiel recorded in London in 1593 can be nothing other than a witness to the Protestant penchant for indiscriminate choice. Obscurity is not an issue, here!

Balthasar: Better known as one of the names of the three wisemen, Balthasar was common outside of England, France, and the Low Countries prior to the 16th C (often in conjunction with forms of Casper and Melchior — either two or three brothers with these names, or father/son(s) pairs), within our area of focus, there is a clear jump in the uptake of this name in the second half of the 16th C.

Benjamin: While our data doesn’t yet reflect this, the name Benjamin was in use in England througout the Middle Ages, albeit sporadically. It was popular enough to give rise to a surname found as early as the 12th C [1]. Outside of the second half of the 16th, the name was rare throughout Europe.

Caleb: The name of a minor character, this name was rarely used in 16th C England.

David: The name of one of the most important Biblical kings, David can be found quite early throughout Europe in ecclesiastical contexts; the popularity of the 7th C Saint David in Wales is the reason for the popularity of the name in Wales throughout the Middle Ages, and as the name of two kings of Scotland, its use there was also assured. The name was spread widely throughout Europe; this name’s use in the 16th C cannot be attributed exclusively to Protestant influences.

Daniel: The case of this name of an eponymous character of one of the prophetic books is similar to that of David, though here it is clearer that its popularity in England certainly increased in the second half of the 16th C.

Eleazar: This name could be classified as either an OT name (in this form) or a NT name (in the Latinized form Lazarus). While Lazarus and variants are not uncommon in Italy, the specific OT-influenced form Eleazar shows its face in England and France in the second half of the 16th C (the two 12th C instances in the Dictionary are from records relating to the Crusades in the Holy Land, and may be the names of Jews).

Elias: Elias (this spelling reflecting the influence of Greek) was one of the most popular Biblical names in the Middle Ages [2]. We cannot look to the use of this name as evidence for a Protestant pattern, but we can look to something more nuanced: In the 17th C, the spelling Elijah became specifically taken up by the Puritans in England (and the New World) [2]. We have yet to see an example of this spelling in the pre-1600 scope of the Dictionary.

Enoch: The name of an ancestor of Noah who walked with God and “then he was not”: He was taken up to heaven without ever having suffered earthly death. We have one example of it, from the Dutch Reformed Church in 1589.

Ezekiel: The name of a Biblical prophet, we have one example of this from the Protestant Church at Caen in 1561.

The remainder of the alphabet will be covered in future posts, but what we can see from these names alone is that the correlation between the use of OT names and Protestant influences is much lower among men’s names than among women’s names. However, if we look beyond the names of well-known, popular Biblical characters, like Adam, David, Elias etc., it is clear that there is a correlation between the use of obscure Old Testament names and English, Dutch, and French contexts from the second half of the 16th C.


[1] Reaney & Wilson, A Dictionary of English Surnames, s.n. Benjamin.

[2] Withycombe, Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, s.n. Elias.


Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic

Protestant names: Old Testament influences on women’s names

In our previous post we highlighted three types of names which are distinctly Protestant, by which we mean that the majority of them came into use (or came into common use) in the second half of the 16th C as a result of their uptake by Protestants. The first class of these was Biblical names, and we’ll devote this post and the next three to these — separating out Old Testament from new Testament names, and separating out women’s names from men’s names. In this post, we kick things off looking at women’s names from the Old Testament, surveying the ones in the Dictionary that we have found used in French, Dutch, and English Protestant contexts.

Abigail: One of the wives of King David. Bardsley [1] notes that of all the OT feminine names, “none had such a run as Abigail” in England (p. 66). We find this name in all three of our contexts, from the 1560s on.

Deborah (entry available in next edition): The name of one of the Israelite judges. Our evidence so far is purely on the Dutch side, from the 1570s on, but this is an artefact of our incomplete data, nothing more. Withycombe [2] notes that Deborah was popular among Puritans in the 17th C, with Bardsley describing it as “an especial pet of the fanatics” (p. 66) — though he also says that the use of this name was the product of the Reformation more generally and not the Puritans more narrowly (as our data evidences).

Eve: The name of the second person created (and first woman), the wife of Adam. While the Biblical character went through a period of disrepute in the early Middle Ages, her name, unlike the others we were looking at, was in use prior to the 16th C, and was also used much more broadly than some of the other Old Testament names, being found in the Czech Republic, and in England and France from the 12th C. Bardsley attributes the popularity of Eve in England to the mystery plays (p. 35).

Judith: The eponymous character of one of the books of the Apocrypha. This name was also in use before the 16th C (in England as early as the 9th C!), but it wasn’t until the 16th C that it became common — common enough that the diminutive form Juda is found in England in 1577 and Judie is found in France in 1563. Outside of this 16th C Protestant usage, the name can be found in Germany, Latvia, and the Czech Republic in the 13th and 14th C.

Naomi: The name of Ruth’s mother-in-law in the Book of Ruth. Withycombe says the name did not come into use in England until the 17th C. Our single example comes from France in 1564.

Orpah: Another character in the Book of Ruth, Orpah was Naomi’s other daughter-in-law. This name was not used outside of England, and it was rare in England.

Rachel: A wife of Jacob and hence one of the matriarchs of Israel. Withycombe says the name was popular amongst Jews but not used in England until the 16th C. This name is perhaps the clearest indication of Protestant influences: Our only examples come from French, Dutch, and English contexts in the second half of the 16th C.

Rebecca: The wife of Isaac and the mother of Jacob and Esau. We find examples of this name amongst Dutch and English Protestants.

Ruth: The eponymous character of an Old Testament book, the daughter-in-law of Naomi and the sister-in-law of Orpah. It was more popular than either of these, but still never common.

Sara (entry still being written): The name of the wife of Abraham and mother of Isaac. To be honest, the only reason this entry isn’t yet available is because it’s the entry for my own name, and I feel a higher level pressure on it than any other. But we already have amassed a large number of examples of the name, which was found in England and France from as early as the 12th C. A handful of other scattered examples can be found between then and the 16th, but the appropriateness of including this name in our discussion of Protestant influences is evidenced by the huge jump in examples that are found in the second half of the 16th C, again across English, French, and Dutch contexts.

Susan (entry still being written): The name of a character in the Apocrypha, the name is found in England from the 12th C (again another result of the mystery plays), but wasn’t common there until the 16th C. It’s popularity, in England, is somewhat earlier than some of the other newly adopted Old Testament names: Our earliest 16th C example is from 1530. A similar pattern of us can be seen in France; it is found, rarely, in the 12th-13th C, and then suddenly relatively popular in the Protestant registers in the late 16th C.

Tamar: The name of three Old Testament characters, the most prominent of which being the daughter of King David, who was raped by her half-brother Amnon. As a result, Tamar’s reputation was not highly regarded in the medieval and post-medieval periods; Bardsley notes that “surely Tamar and Dinah were just as objectionable as Venus or Lais…Bishop Corbett brought it as a distinct charge against the Puritans, that they loved to select the most unsavoury stories of Old Testament history for their converse” (p. 71). Half of the fun of reading Bardsley is seeing his 19th C social commentary, which is again in evidnece when he says “Arising out of the Puritan error of permitting names like Tamar and Dinah to stand, modern eccentricity has gone very far, and it would be satisfactory to see many names in use at present forbidden” (p. 76). But Bardsley shouldn’t be laying the blame on this name with the Puritans, for the name was used by Protestants more broadly; our single example (so far) comes from France.


[1] Bardsley, C.W., Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (London: Chatto & Windus, 1880).

[2] Withycombe, E.G., Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, 3rd ed., (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1977).


Filed under dictionary entries, monthly topic