Dictionary & Thesaurus
Holidays in Coal Region
Our Family Jokes
Colonial Naming Patterns
English and Welsh
Old German Naming Patterns
Old Irish Naming Patterns
Scottish Naming Patterns
|"The trend of History is often
reflected in the very names borne by the men and women who played a part in it",
according to Donald Lines Jacobus, often considered the father of American genealogy.
The history of given (first) names in early America offers a glimpse
at our forebears and their customs, as well as clues to their origins.
New England's first settlers bore names of three different
types: those of English origin, those of Hebrew derivation, and those intended to have a
Old English names, connected with the Church of England,
were not often favored by the Puritans. Puritans named their children somewhat differently
than other English-speaking settlers, preferring Biblical names. Evidently, some parents
shut their eyes, opened the Bible, and pointed to a word at random--what else could
account for a child being named Notwithstanding or Maybe?
The early Massachusetts Brewster family had two sons, Love
and Wrestling, and two daughters named Patience and Fear. The names Humility, Desire,
Hate-evil, and Faint-not also appeared in the region.
Other New England onomastic Practices included obscure
references and names that commemorated an occasion--such as Oceanus Hopkins, who was born
on the Mayflower in 1620.
Early settlers seemed to favor names for their associated
moral qualities. Among girls' names, which were no doubt intended to incite their bearers
to lead godly lives, were: Content, Lowly, Mindwell, Obedience, Patience, Silence,
Charity, Mercy, Comfort, Delight and Thankful.
In many families, the first names of the father and mother
were given to the first-born son and daughter, respectively. In the Massachusetts Bay
Colony, 53 percent of all females were named Mary, Elizabeth, or Sarah. Other popular
girls' names were Rebecca, Ruth, Anne, Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, Abigail, and Rachel.
Meanwhile, prevalent boys' names included John, Joseph, Samuel, Josiah, Benjamin,
Jonathan, and Nathan.
In Virginia, Biblical references were less common. Early
settlers often named sons for Teutonic warriors, Frankish knights, and English kings.
Favorites included William, Robert, Richard, Edward, George, and Charles. Daughters
received name of Christian saints and traditional English folk names, such as Margaret,
Jane, Catherine, Frances, and Alice, along with English favorites Mary, Elizabeth, Anne,
First-born children were named for their grandparents, and
second-born for their parents.
A popular custom in both Virginia and New England was the
use of surnames as given names. This occurred mostly with boys, but it was not unknown for
girls. Some names were also chosen for their magical properties, and astrologers were
consulted in attempt to find a "fortunate" or "lucky" name.
Among Quakers in Colonial Pennsylvania and Delaware, babies
went through a ritual called nomination. An infant's name was carefully selected by the
parents, certified by friends, witnessed by neighbors, and then entered in the register of
First-born children were named after grandparents, honoring
maternal and paternal lines evenly, often with an eldest son named after his mother's
father and an eldest daughter after her father's mother.
While this practice was not universal among Quaker
families, it was common in the Delaware Valley. Many names came from the Bible, with
favorites for boys being John, Joseph, Samuel, Thomas, William, and George; and for girls,
Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Anne/Anna/Hannah, and Esther/Hester. Also popular among the
Quakers was Phebe, which rarely appeared in New England or the South. They also favored
the names Patience, Grace, Mercy, and Chastity. One family's eight children were named
Remember, John, Restore, Freedom, Increase, Jacob, Preserve, and Israel.
Naming patterns differed in the "back country" of
early America, which was heavily populated by Scotch-Irish as well as German,
Scandinavian, Irish, Scottish, French, and Dutch families. In these rural areas, many
given names were "Americanized," making it difficult for genealogists to
identify a family's ethnic origins.
As a general rule, the patterns included a mixture of
Biblical, Teutonic, and saints' names. Among the most popular given names for boys were:
John, Robert, Richard, Andrew, Patrick, and David. Celtic names such as Ewan (and variants
Ewen and Owen), Barry, and Roy were often used, as were Archibald, Ronald, Alexander,
Charles, James, Wallace, Bruce, Percy, Ross, and Clyde. Again, eldest sons were often
named after their grandfathers, and second or third sons after their fathers-- similar to
patterns found in early tidewater Chesapeake families.
One peculiar naming pattern found among the back-country
settlers was the one bestowing unusual--sometimes made-up--given names. From an early
date, these rugged pioneers cultivated a spirit of onomastic individualism, a spirit still
found today in this country as parents search for a special, perhaps unique, name for
their baby. Others prefer to select a name from their family tree that has been passed
along for generations.