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Historic Baby Names: Quirky picks From Amaziah to Zebina

cemetery pic

Our star intern Hannah Tenison wanders through some New England graveyards and makes some fascinating discoveries of some great historic baby names.

I recently moved to the Hartford, Connecticut area for the summer, and one of my favorite things about this state is its long history, because it yields so many fantastic antique baby names!  The area is not only beautiful, with green rolling hills and lush forests, but chock-ful of historical, peaceful cemeteries, as well.  As many a name nerd knows, cemeteries are ripe with fresh possibilities, and the older they are, the more likely one is to find truly rare names.

With this in mind, I set out to comb the best cemeteries in my neighborhood for the most unique and undiscovered gems. In my quest, I noticed some strong preferences for virtue, occupational, and Biblical names, as well as names referencing ancient historians or philosophers. For girls, anything long and feminine was game, and the “l” sound was particularly popular. For boys, parents seemed fond of either distinguished sounding appellations ending in the fusty “us,” or jaunty, oh-so-cute names with prominent “o” sounds.

I found so many interesting names in my search that it was hard to narrow them down, but eventually I managed to come up with the following lists, which seemed to represent the best variety of Connecticut’s plentiful history and its stellar names.

The Elaborate Girls:

In the cemeteries I searched, I found that as long as a girl’s name sounded frilly and ended in an “a,” what the parents did with the rest of the syllables was fair game. With the exception of a few legitimate names like Sophronia and Antonina, the following names are unique indeed. Amongst the frills, I noticed a preference for the “Phil,”  and “Rose,” prefixes, along with a fondness for the “l” sound, a trend that is shared by today’s baby namers, who have been using Layla and Lily like nobody’s business.

The Phils:

Philanda

Philinda

Philomela

Philomene

Philura

The Roses:

Rosannah

Rosebella

Roselda

Roselinda

Rosetta

Rosilda

Others:

Althea

Alvilly

Amarilla

Antonina

Apphia

Arthusa Dethalia

Austra

Corintha

Decima

Dellaphine

Edessa

Erminia

Fairvine

Florella

Lamira

Leokaida

Lorintha

Lucretia

Lurannah

Orvilla

Parthiena

Pluma

Roena

Savilla

Sophronia

Theodotia

Tryphena

Zebina

The Cheery-O Boys:

For boys, the round and happy “O” was a fascinating baby name denominator, and made for some truly lively and unusual finds:

Apollos

Arno

Meno (the name of a philosopher—I also found a “Pliny,” an ancient historian/philosopher)

Nello

Odilio

Olin

Orestes

Orvis

Osco

Otho

The Obscure Biblical:

Today’s popular lists are flowing with Biblical standbys like Abigail, Adam, Joseph and Jacob, but in America’s early history, parents dug a lot deeper into the Bible, plumbing it for what sometimes look like a Scrabble grab bag rather than a legitimate name. If you’re a fan of the zippiness of Z names, then one place you may want to look is in the Bible, where a surprising number of names share that zesty consonant:

Amaziah

Azariah

Hepzibah

Hezekiah

Ozias

Zaccheus

Zebulon

Zenas

Zerah

Zillah

Zilpha

Zopher (Zophar)

The Word Names:

If you think the trend for naming your child after nouns and verbs, adverbs and adjectives is a new one, think again. The Puritans were big fans of word names, particularly virtue and occupational names. Some names I found particularly intriguing to see used were “Starling,” a nouveau bird name I’ve seen tossed around on the nameberry boards lately, and “Minor” — which sounds a bit cruel in comparison to Major. Here are the best of the rest:

Bishop

Butler

Charaty (Charity)

Cornish

Delight

Friend

Garland

Grove

Love

Marshall

Mercy

Mindwell

Minor

Newbold (could also be a surname)

Peal

Prudence

Royal

Salmon

Squire

Starling (b. 1806)

Thankful

Tudor

Wait

Wealthy

Word (middle name Day)

“Us” :

Finally, in contrast to the prominent “o” trend, I found several names for boys ending in the gruff and serious “us” suffix, a trend I’ve noticed coming back with contemporary baby namers in the form of Atticus and Magnus, Rufus and even Lazarus:

Augustus

Aurelius

Dositheus

Erasmus

Erastus

Festus

Jairus

Lucius

Sylvanus

Titus

So, what are my favorites from these lists? I’m a big fan of the luscious Rosebella and Dellaphine, the happy, hippy choice Starling, the distinguished Augustus, and the quirky Zebulon, which reminds me of both the Old West and outer space at the same time! What are your favorites, Berries? Any names you find particularly interesting?

Hannah will be entering her senior year at the University of Michigan in the fall. This summer, she is living in New England and loving it! Besides finding more names to love, Hannah enjoys reading fantasy, watching movies, exploring new places, playing with her Chesapeake Bay Retriever, Doggus, and running. After graduation, she plans on going to law school. 

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