Category: Colonial names
By Linda Rosenkrantz
In the seventeenth century, for some of the most puritanical of the Puritans, even biblical and saints’ names were not pure enough to bestow on their children, and so they turned instead to words that embodied the Christian virtues. These ranged from extreme phrases like Sorry-for-sin and Search-the-Scriptures (which, understandably, never came into general use) to simpler virtue names like Silence and Salvation.
The virtue names that have survived in this country were for the most part the unfussy, one-syllable girls’ names with positive meanings, such as Joy, Hope, Grace and Faith. But then, in the late 1990s, a door was opened to more elaborate examples by the popularity of the TV show Felicity, and its appealing heroine. Felicity (also the name of an American Girl Colonial doll) reached a high point on the girls’ list in 1999, a year after the show debuted, leading parents to consider others long forgotten relics.
Here are the Nameberry picks of the twelve best virtue names:
- Amity—like all the virtue names ending in ity, Amity has an attractive daintiness combined with an admirable meaning—in this case, friendship. It could be a modernized (or antiquated, depending how you look at it) namesake for an Aunt Amy.
- Clarity—we like it much better than Charity or—oh no—Chastity. And Clare makes a nice short form.
- Clemency—Clemency, the name of a character in one of Charles Dicken’s lesser known Christmas novellas, The Battle of Life, can be seen as an offbeat alternative to Clementine.
- Constance was originally used in a religious context which has been lost over the years. There are many Constances found in history and literature: there was Constance of Brittany, mother of young Prince Arthur who appears in Shakespeare’s King John, a daughter of William the Conqueror, and characters in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer and Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Constance hasn’t been much heard in the 21st century—probably because of the dated nickname Connie. The Puritans also used Constant.
6. Turkey Names
One of the reasons I became so interested in names is because I discovered the two-volume edition of the Brewster Genealogy in my grandparents’ house in Maine. I pored over the pages, discovering unusual family names –Ohel, for example – and names I found beautiful, such as Solace and Wrestling. I discovered ancestors who were famous and who led incredible lives. I discovered information that surprised my family. The books, however, disappeared, much to my great disappointment. But recently, I was able to download a copy of Volume One from the Boston Public Library, and I am back to using it to make lists and rediscoveries.
William and Mary Brewster had five living children, all of whom eventually came to Plymouth, Massachusetts. Elder William Brewster was the religious leader of the colony, the only one who had to leave England (there was an arrest warrant for him, for treason), and it was his tireless work that kept the survivors alive during that first hard winter, according to Governor William Bradford’s account in Of Plimouth Plantation. The first names of the Brewsters, who married into the most prestigious New England families, fall into several categories: Puritan virtue names, Biblical names, classic English names, and what I call Stuart/Georgian names.
Here are twelve girls’ and twelve boys’ names that I’ve found repeatedly throughout the genealogy and that could hold some interesting possibilities for an adventurous nameberry:
I was in Williamsburg, Virginia not too long ago, where there was a wonderful show of folk art portraits at the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Museum. I was transfixed by the art, of course, but even more transfixed by the colonial names.
These are names that are mostly rooted in the bible or mythology, but that you just don’t hear much in the modern world.
But that doesn’t mean that many of these colonial names aren’t ripe for revival. A few of the colonial names on this list — notably Mercy, Augustine, and Susannah — are being rediscovered by today’s parents.
The others, well, are they undiscovered gems or mere curiosities? What do you think?
This collection is simply based on the (real) 18th century people pictured in the portrait show.
- Burneretta — This is not a literally unique name — a few others are findable online — but seems to be an invention.
- Debrah — Interesting to see that Deborah had spelling variations 300 years ago.
- Delia — An old-fashioned name with a sleek modern feeling (like Celia), Delia can also be short for Adelia or Cordelia.
- Dorothea — Coming back along with brother Theodore.
For a number of years, when I wasn’t writing about names, I was writing about antiques and collectibles for a syndicated newspaper column. But of course when I was thinking about antiques, I was still also thinking about names.
Looking at the field of antique furniture, for example, I found that when it came to early British cabinetmakers, the names were relatively unexciting. George Hepplewhite. Robert Adams. Thomas Chippendale. Thomas Sheraton. Nothing too juicy there.
But with the Early American cabinetmakers and clockmakers it was quite a different story. Lots of antiquated Biblical names, more than one Chauncey, Ebenezer and Lemuel, a few virtue names rarely heard in modern times (Prudent, Noble), a couple of Latinate names and a Greek god—in other words a variegated picture of American Colonial and Federal era nomenclature:
Some prime examples:
- Abel Cottey
- Abiel Chandler
- Abner Toppan
- Ansel Goodwin
- Asa Holden
- Chauncey Boardman, Jerome
- Duncan Phyfe
- Ebenezer Knowlton, Tracy, Parmalee
- Elbert Anderson
- Eli Terry
- Elias Ingraham
- Elijah Booth, Sanderson
- Eliphaler Chapin
- Elisha DeWolfe, Jr
- Elnathan Taber
- Enos Doolittle
- Ephraim Haines, Downes
- Everadus Bogardus
- Garvan Carver
- Gawen Brown
- Gerrard Hopkins
- Gideon Roberts
- Heman Clark
- Hercules Courtenay