Category: 19th century baby names
Looking at names that were popular in the early days of the U.S. gives us a chance to reflect on how much we have changed and evolved over the last two centuries. We are clearly more multicultural as a society in terms of how many different countries, languages, ethnicities and cultural traditions we draw from in choosing names for our children.
Most of the common names in the early nineteenth century in this country came from the British tradition, and in fact, the lists of popular names would be almost identical for England and America. And yet names were chosen from some of the same sources as today: family histories, celebrities, religious traditions and popular entertainment. The lack of variety or originality of the name lists from this period belies the fact that names were chosen to denote respectability rather than the individuality valued today.
I still remember my first Jane Austen experience. I was turning twelve, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, when my mother bought me a collector’s box of Austen novels. As I read my fresh copy of Pride and Prejudice – well worn and loved by now! – I was captivated by Miss Austen’s eloquence, truth, and charming wit. But, I soon learned that Jane’s books were a treasure trove of another kind. Beneath the tales of heartache and true love lay another gem – the names!
The first names chosen by Austen are very much reflective of the early 19th century England. These names embody the traditional, conservative styles preferred by Englishmen at this time, and they convey a sense of strength, sophistication, and substance. Monikers used by Austen continue to thrive on today’s popularity charts, yet, like Austen’s novels, they will always be regarded as classics.
Handsome, sturdy choices for boys include Charles, Henry, James, John, Thomas, and William. Names with a slightly more vintage sound include Edward, Edmund, Frederick, and George. All of these names, in addition to sounding distinguished and elegant, come with immense nickname potential. Tired of Freddie? Your little Frederick could just as easily become Red or Fritz.
Some of the names chosen by Austen reflect the growing trend towards using nicknames as names. Most notably, perhaps, is Mansfield Park’s Fanny Price. Not so keen on using Fanny as a full name? Try its longer form – Frances! Other nickname names for girls include Kitty and Lizzy, for the lovely Bennet girls of Pride and Prejudice. Moving on from these shortened forms, we enter a world of demure sophistication and understated feminine charm in the form of classic names for girls.
When it came to looks and style, Marvin had it all. Decked out in saddle shoes, mustard yellow corduroy pants, and a maroon V-neck sweater, he had a commanding presence, and owned any room he entered. A creature of few words, Marvin was a cartoon connoisseur who also enjoyed more serious fare like Punky Brewster and Silver Spoons. An avid athlete, Marvin delighted in playing Frisbee, and never flinched, even when the plastic disc was speeding directly toward his forehead. Granted, to most, Marvin was only a three-foot-tall stuffed monkey with Velcro hands, but to me, he was my silent partner in crime and constant companion throughout my childhood. He was the Sonny to my Cher.
While Marv and I shared many adventures, from the time we earned a whole dollar selling warm lemonade to parched pedestrians, to the summer during which he accompanied me to overnight camp (because taking a giant saddle shoe-wearing stuffed monkey to camp is totally cool), our best times were definitely had together on family vacations.
When Marvin and I were in first grade, my parents took us, along with my older brother, on a trip to Boston, Massachusetts, where I quickly developed a love of American History. I adored the architecture and historical sites (never mind that I thought Nathaniel Hawthorne’s House of Seven Gables was actually “The House of Seven Gay Bulls”), and Marv and I enjoyed wearing Minutemen hats while walking on the Freedom Trail and visiting Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market.
The boys’ names that ranked among the Top 1000 in 1880, the first year for which statistics were kept, include hundreds of choices no longer in use – or at least very rarely heard. Some of the categories of lost names overlap with the now-obscure girls’ names, while others are different.
Nickname-names, for instance, so packed with lost names for girls, include some lost choices for boys, though more of the nickname names in use in the late 19th century are still widely used today: Joe, Jack, Jake, Jim, and so on.
Those nickname names we’re not hearing much of any more but which were popular in 1880 include: