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Buried Treasures: Vintage names from lost New England towns

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lost1938

by Angela Mastrodonato of Upswing Baby Names

Ever since I was a kid I’ve been fascinated by lost civilizations, towns that have been wiped off the planet for one reason or another. And I happen to live near lost towns–with the added allure of being submerged under water.

The sacrifice of the town residents, most who are long gone, cannot be overlooked. They left their beloved small towns so that people living 65 miles away in Boston could have drinking water.

These towns’ disappearance was a part of recent history. In 1938 four central Massachusetts towns in the Swift River Valley were disincorporated to create the state’s largest inland body of water, the Quabbin Reservoir. The towns were: Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott.

Anything left from these towns, the artifacts, the relocated buildings, the old photos, the names of these towns’ last residents are all forever stuck in the 1900’s – 1930’s.

As a fan of old-fashioned names, I couldn’t help but notice some of the names as I read about the people who left these early 20th century small towns.

Some of their names were expected for the time such as Annie, Arthur, Fred, Florence, George, Ida, June, and Minnie. Some of their names were uncommon–but not unusual–by early 20th century standards such as Burt, Cyrus, Effie, Elmer, Homer, Ola, and Willis.

And then there were the names that stood out back then and stand out even more now.

Girls:

Annis – Here is a little-used Ann-name that is also a variation on Agnes. While not on many modern parents’ radar, this name was at the bottom of the U.S. top 1000 until the mid-20th century.

Clementina - For those who like the idea of Clementine but can’t get past the fruit, the folk song or the nicknames (Clem or Clemmy), Clementina offers a great alternative. The name can also bring back Tina–as a nickname.

Leola – With Leona possibly coming back in fashion, this variation might have potential on a modern baby.

Marietta – has an impressive resume as a name. This Italian version of Maria is the name of cities in Georgia and Ohio. The city in Ohio also has a college by the same name.

Orissa – This name of a North Dana resident is very rare, but seems familiar due to its sounds. Being similar to Odessa and Ophelia, the name has a classic literary feel, and yet it also manages to seem modern, like an inventive name inspired by Alyssa and Olivia.

Boys:

Cyprian – was the name an Russia immigrant who was also a prominent resident of Greenwich. Cyprian Uracius had served the town in many different capacities for over 20 years. This was also the name of a 3rd century bishop who died a martyr.

Elbridge – An early 20th century resident of Dana shared a name with Declaration of Independence signer and fifth U.S. Vice President Elbridge Gerry.

Felton – C.W. Felton was a name of a building in the center of Enfield’s business district. The name has some history as a given name in the U.S. ranking in the lower top 1000 for most years since 1888.

Linwood – An old surname-name that has faded into obscurity but has lots of style.

Lowell – is fitting for a little boy living in early 20th century New England. Might come across as literary, inspired by 19th century poet James Russell Lowell. Yet the name’s meaning, “wolf”, gives it a rugged wild side.

Lucius – is a compelling Roman name derived from the Latin “lux” which means light. An excellent find which has been absent from the U.S. top 1000 since the mid-20th century.

Prentis – is a variation on the surname Prentice, which could have been derived from the word “apprentice”.

Unisex:

Ellis – One of the lesser used members of the popular El-group, which includes Ella, Ellie, Eleanor, Eloise, Elliott, Elijah, and Elias. This name is historically more common on boys. While Ellis has never left the top 1000 list for boys, it has only charted once on girls, back in 1883.

Floy – was the name of a girl in an early 20th century Prescott school photo. Could this be a diminutive of Florence perhaps?

Lost towns intrigue me because they inevitably invite the question,“What if?” Imagine what these towns could have become. And discovering creative names from over a century ago is like discovering antique housewares and artwork from that time. I like to put them on display and inspire a few people to use them again.

Angela created Upswing Baby Names to help parents find that different but not too different name. She muses about names on their way in and on their way out in her book, The Top 22 in 2022

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upswingbabynames

Angela Mastrodonato created Upswing Baby Names to celebrate names on the upswing. She is a big-time name watcher, and has a growing list of names she watches by tracking their popularity each year. Sign up here to get your copy of this Watch List.
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