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brian-colonial

By Brian Tomlin

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.

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Guest blogger JILL BARNETT and her companion Marvin track down some fascinating colonial names during her childhood trip to Boston and environs.

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.

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