Tag Archives: Puritan names

Hello, I’m Zeal-of-the-land Busy: Satire and Puritan Names

Earlier this summer, I did a lot of research with Dr. Uckelman about Protestant names and Puritan names. Much of the evidence supported Dr. Uckelman’s theory that Puritan names were less common than many believe, and definitely less common than the more general Protestant names that appeared across many countries. It seems England simply didn’t transform its naming pattern much more than any other Reformed country.

But why then, did these “Puritan” names leave such a distinctive mark on onomastic impressions? Certainly, they are distinctive enough to stand out in a person’s memory, but every culture has some proportion of distinctive names. Not every culture warrants books discussing the strangeness of their names, as in C. W. Bardsley’s The Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. 

Percy Scholes provides his interpretation of this phenomenon in his book, The Puritans and Music in England and New England.  

“I should suppose that the whole of this legend about Puritan names comes from the public’s acquaintance with that popular figure Praise-God Barebone plus dim recollections of Mr. Zeal-of-the-Land Busy in Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair and perhaps one or two other characters of pre-and-post-Commonwealth plays” (115). 

“Praise-God Barebone,” one of the few real occurrences we can evidence of a Puritan name, is distinctive, but fairly tame in comparison to the over-the-top names people seem to associate with Puritans. This suggests to me that Scholes is more on the money with the influence of satire. He minimizes his interpretation of its influence, pointing to “dim recollections” of two or three plays, but we have evidence that Puritan names were mocked in satire much more frequently than this. 

Stephen Wilson also discusses satire against Puritans in The Means of Naming, and quotes Bardsley’s own discussion of plays by “Ben Jonson, Cowley, and Beaumont” (Wilson 195),  but Bardsley positions these satires as an effect of the Puritan naming trend, rather than a cause of its perceived prevalence. 

Bardsley suggests hypothetical names that probably inspired the satirists, such as “Search the Scriptures Robinson” (185), but provides no evidence that such names actually existed. Was Bardsley misled by the very satire he sought to study?

Let’s take a look at the plays Bardsley mentions. He interprets them as evidence for actual Puritan naming trends, but satire intentionally distorts and exaggerates the features of its targets. I think we should consider these plays as a possible explanation for why Bardsley and others could mistakenly see Puritan naming trends as more prevalent than they really were. 

Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist— “Tribulation Wholesome, our very zealous pastor” (Wilson 195)

Here, the inclusion of the epithet “our very zealous pastor” clarifies Jonson’s strong satiric intent. Pairing the name with an obviously satiric and exaggerated epithet– (I doubt any Puritans literally referred to their pastors this way)– indicates that the name is likely also exaggerated for satire.

Additionally, “Tribulation” is overtly negative, a common trait of Puritan names as defined by Bardsley; however, many recorded Puritan names were fairly positive, including “Believe, Increase, [and] Remember” (Wilson 194). These positive Puritan names rarely come up in discussions of Puritan strangeness, and tellingly, they rarely come up in satire either. 

Ben Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair— “Zeal-of-the-land Busy” and child “Win-the-Fight” (Wilson 195)

These names sound like real Puritan names with their dashes and prescriptive sentiments, but they connote more power and initiative than many actual Puritan names do. They encourage their bearers to fight and work hard, whereas most recorded Puritan names focused on obedience to God. The closest real name I could find was “Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith” (Wilson 194), which emphasizes the religious nature of the fight with two words, “good” and “faith,” notably missing from the satiric version.

Jonson uses names that sound to the ear like Puritan names but lack the spiritually meaningful content. This allows him to show the ridiculousness of the Puritan’s seemingly grand and prescriptive names once religion is removed from the equation. But if the author intends to portray the names as ridiculous, we should hesitate to consider them indicative of real Puritan names. 

Abraham Cowley’s The Cutter of Coleman Street— “Fear-the-Lord Barebottle” based on the real “Praise-God Barebone” (Bardsley 190)

Cowley provides perhaps the most obvious evidence that satire greatly exaggerated Puritan naming customs by including a name based on a specific real one with comical exaggeration. “Praise-God Barebone” becomes “Fear-the-Lord Barebottle,” a name that more aptly demonstrates supposed Puritan naming customs than the real inspiration. The name is longer, now with the word “the,” better fulfilling the wordy nature often attributed to Puritan names. The sentiment also turns from positive and reverential to prescriptive and intimidating, indicating the harsh and severe nature people often assume in Puritan names. 

Here, a satiric, fictional version of a Puritan name better matches the Puritan name stereotype than the real Puritan name does. To me, that suggests that the cultural conception of Puritan names stemmed from the satire written about them rather than the other way around. Perhaps we would not consider Puritan names so onomastically significant and distinct from other Protestant names if not for the likes of Jonson and Cowley. 

Bonus question

John Fletcher’s Women Pleased— “Hope-on-High Bomby” (Bardsley 189)

Bardsley considers this play very strong evidence of Puritan naming trends.

“[There] is no exaggeration of name, for we have Help-on-High Foxe to face Hope-on-High Bomby. The Rector of Lydney would be about twenty-five when this play was written, and may have suggested himself the sobriquet. The names are all but identical” (189). 

I would disagree with this last point, as “Bomby” has arguably more comedic value than “Foxe,” but otherwise this is indeed an example of satire including a realistic Puritan name. Unfortunately, I am having trouble finding evidence of a real  “Help-on-High.” Has anyone found record of a person with such a name? If so, I would love to hear about it in the comments!

Citations

  • Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. London, Chatto and Windus, 1888. Accessed via Internet Archive.
  • Scholes, Percy Alfred. The Puritans And Music In England And New England: a Contribution to the Cultural History of Two Nations. London, Oxford University Press, H. Milford, 1934. Accessed via HathiTrust.
  • Wilson, Stephen. “First Names 1500– 1900: I.” The Means of Naming. UCL Place, 1998, pp. 185-214. Accessed via ProQuest Ebook Central.

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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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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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