Category: British names
At last, at last, the third season of Downton Abbey has finally launched, a further opportunity for those of us who love vintage British names to spend time with the Crawley clan et al. We’re now lucky enough to have had two recent TV period imports with great examples of character names, both for the aristos upstairs and the servants below. The time frame of both Downton Abbey and the recently updated Upstairs, Downstairs is the early decades of the twentieth century: Downton now picks up in 1920; the second series of Upstairs in 1936, six years after the initial one ended.
And if there seems to be a preponderance of girls’ names, it’s because so many of the male characters, both upstairs and down, have such common names as Thomas, Robert, Matthew, William, Joseph and John.
Here are some of the most interesting names in both series; and it’s worthy of note that the British TV names that are being revived today come equally from both social strata, as in, for example, Isobel and Ivy, Edith and Elsie.
I always love the slightly off-kilter (from the American perspective) British baby names plus the eccentric string of middle names. But including the names of brothers and sisters adds an extra dimension of style interest.
Counting first children not mentioned here too, trend watchers will want to note the names Elodie, Emilia, Florence, Isla, and Jemima for girls, and Barnaby, Frederick, Hugo, Montgomery, and Willoughby for boys. Also, diminutives such as Jack and Annie as not only full first names but middle names.
Recent British baby names and their siblings include:
Yesterday, to launch British Baby Names week on Nameberry, Eleanor Nickerson identified the five strongest current naming trends in the UK. Today we zero in on the popularity of individual names on both sides of the Atlantic, seeing which names have shared success and which haven’t.
We Yanks sometimes tend to have a bit of an inferiority complex, feeling that the Brits are a step or two ahead of us in both trends and specific names, although it is something of a two-way street, when you consider that a strictly American name like Jayden has found its way onto the UK Top 30, and Madison is in the Top 70.
So just how close are the two cultures when it comes to name popularity?
For most people outside of the UK, “British Names” are typified by the old Victorian legacy of Empire and afternoon tea, or the ethereal mystery of ancient Celtic folklore. The stereotype often favours rarefied aristocratic favourites such as Percival and Araminta, or tongue-twisting indigenous Gaelic choices like Aonghus or Caoimhe.
If you look at the most popular names that are actually used in Britain today you will see a much more varied picture. Like other Western countries there is a large influence from film and television, a popular cult of celebrity, and a growing awareness of global fashions (yes, we have many Neveahs and Jaydens, too). And yet, even in our modernised naming practices, British trends still manage to make a subtle nod to history in a style that feels quite unique.
I love the day once a quarter or so that I allow myself to wallow in the London Telegraph birth announcements. Britberries regularly admonish me not to take the names in the Telegraph to mean anything about typical British baby-naming behavior: Those are names chosen by mostly upper class families, they say, and are examples of a rarefied taste.
Point taken, but I still can’t help but be struck by how different many of the names are from what you’d hear in similar stratospheres of American society: on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, say, or in Beverly Hills.
There are dozens of names that are mentioned over and over in the British birth announcements that are nowhere near as fashionable here. But they’re attractive names, traditional yet quirky, excellent choices for any American parent — or British, Australian, or Canadian one, for that matter — who wants to emulate the English upper classes.
Prime examples from the recent crop of British names: