Category: name history
With Labor Day upon us, it seems like the perfect moment to focus on the original pre-barbecue meaning of the holiday and celebrate hard-working occupational names. So we’re looking back to wtoe we wrote on the subject in our book Beyond Ava & Aiden, but here focusing on the less used, fresher sounding examples, and those with less obvious meanings, so no Archer, Shepherd or Baker.
Have you noticed how many of the boys’ names climbing up the ladder end in the letters ‘er’? They sound really new and cool, but in reality a large proportion of them actually originated in medieval England as occupational surnames, when Timothy the Tanner morphed into Timothy Tanner—as if in our day Pete the Programmer became Pete Programmer. And even if a large proportion of these are trades that no longer exist in this Digital Age, and some of their meanings have been lost to time, part of their appeal as a group lies in their throwback reference to basic concepts of honest labor, adding some historical heft to their appeal, and giving them more weight than other fashionable two-syllable names. They offer the parents of boy babies a comfortable middle ground between the sharper-edged single syllable names (Holt, Colt), and the more ornate longer names (Gregory, Jeremy) of the recent past. Here are some of the most usable ones, together with their original, sometimes arcane, meanings.
The er-ending names
- Banner– flag bearer
- Barker –stripper of bark from trees for tanning
- Baxter– a baker, usually female
- Beamer — trumpet player
- Booker — scribe
- Boyer — bow maker, cattle herder
- Brenner — charcoal burner
- Brewster — brewer of beer
- Bridger — builder of bridges
- Carter — cart maker or driver, transporter of goods
- Carver — sculptor
- Chandler — candle maker
- Chaucer — maker of breeches, boots or leg armor
- Collier — charcoal seller, coal miner
- Conner — inspector
- Cooper — wooden barrel maker
- Coster — fruit grower or seller
- Currier — leather finisher
- Cutler — knife maker
- Decker — roofer
- Dexter — dyer
- Draper — woolen cloth maker or seller
- Duffer — peddler
- Farrier– iron worker
- Fletcher — arrow maker
- Forester — gamekeeper, forest warden
- Foster — sheep shearer
- Fowler — hunter of wild birds
- Glover — maker or seller of gloves
- Granger — granary worker
- Harper — harp maker or player
- Hollister — female brothel keeper!!
- Hooper — one who makes or fits hoops for barrels
- Hopper — dancer, acrobat
- Hunter — huntsman
- Jagger — a Yorkshire name meaning peddler or carrier
- Keeler — boatman or barge builder
- Kiefer — barrel maker or overseer of a wine cellar
- Lander — launderer
- Lardner — servant in charge of the larder
- Lorimer — a spur maker
- Mercer — merchant, especially in luxury fabrics
- Miller — grinder of corn
- Nayler — maker of nails
- Parker — gamekeeper in a medieval private park
- Porter — gate keeper, carrier of goods
- Potter — maker or seller of earthenware pottery
- Quiller — scribe
- Ranger — game warden
- Rider/Ryder — cavalryman, horseman, messenger
- Sadler– saddle maker
- Salter — worker in or seller of salter
- Sayer –several meanings: assayer of metal, food taster, woodcutter (as in Sawyer)
- Slater — roofer
- Sumner — court summoner
- Thatcher — roofer
- Tolliver — metal worker (Anglicization of the italian Taliaferro)
- Turner — turner of wood on a lathe
- Webster — weaver, originally female
- Wheeler– wheel maker
Other occupational names
- Baird– minstrel or poet
- Beaman– beekeeper
- Chaplin– clergyman
- Farrar– blacksmith, metalworker
- Fisk– fisherman
- Reeve– bailiff, chief magistrate
- Smith– metal worker, blacksmith
- Steele– a steel worker
- Todd– a fox hunter
- Travis– gate keeper, toll collector
- Ward– watchman, guard
- Wright– carpenter, joiner
Do you want a vintage name for your daughter but are hoping to uncover a hidden treasure from the past? We combed the popularity lists in search of cool vintage names you may not have heard before.
But what about the names in the Top 1000 of 1910 that are virtually unknown now? A hundred years ago, Helen was the number 2 name for girls, right behind Mary. Mildred was number 8, Ethel number 13, and the dubious Gladys hot on her heels at 15. You don’t meet many Ethels and Gladyses (Gladysi?) anymore outside the nursing home.
Several months ago we looked at the Lost Names of 1880, and were surprised by how many there were. We declare ourselves surprised anew by how many lost names we’ve located on the 1910 roster that are different from those we listed in the 1880 story.
The first group are not lost, exactly, as they’re still heard from time to time. A few — Blanche, Lula, Viola — may even make a comeback. But most of these names, popular in 1910, have been in mothballs for decades now and may never make it out.
AUGUSTUS, the pater familias of the group, actually started out as an honorific rather than a name. It was first applied to Octavius, the adopted son—actually a great-nephew– of Julius Caesar when he became the undisputed ruler of the Roman world. The Senate decreed him the title Augustus, corresponding to Majesty and meaning great, magnificent, venerable. It was after him that the month was named.
Augustus then became the official designation of every Roman Emperor who followed, but was never used as a personal name until 1526, when it was given to Augustus of Saxony, at a time when German royalty was imitating everything Roman, from palaces to sculpture, dress and wigs—and impressive Roman names.
Seen now as somewhat fusty (but really no fustier than Atticus or Maximus), Augustus is now #797 on the Social Security list, having peaked in the early 1900s, but it could find favor with parents looking for a path to Gus, and/or who like venerable Latin names. It has several literary namesakes, in books ranging from The Pickwick Papers and Martin Chuzzlewit to Lonesome Dove to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Harry Potter.
It also dates back to that ancient time when those Roman emperors were assuming the title Augustus upon their accession; Augusta became the honorific bestowed on their wives, daughters and other female relatives. It was introduced to England in the 18th century by the German Princess Augusta, the future mother of King George III. Well used in the US in the 1920s, it’s rarely heard today—except in the guise of yet another Harry Potter character and the formidible Aunt Augusta in the P. G. Wodehouse Jeeves stories.
AGUSTINA, the Spanish version, is very popular in South America—ranking #5 in Uruguay. It’s also spelled AGOSTINA.
Considering July-inspired names?
Try Julian and Julia, the two endlessly popular offshoots of the classic Julius. Though more soft-spoken than the original, both retain an appealing measure of power and nobility that might explain why Hollywood A-listers like Jerry Seinfeld, Robert De Niro, and Lisa Kudrow chose Julian for their sons.
Yet there’s more to these J-names than meets the eye. Along with their many variants, Julian and Julia draw additional strength from their rich, historical roots, while also offering an assortment of sleeker, modern alternatives.
One of the earliest records of the surname Julius tracks back to Rome’s most famous patrician family, the gens Julia, who laid claim to history’s best-known Roman dictator, Gaius Julius Caesar, and boasted descent from the mythological hero Julus. The family’s shared bloodline with several Olympian gods was even outlined by Virgil in the Aeneid, leading many scholars to argue that Julian, translating to “Jove’s child” in English, references Jupiter, the Roman god of sky and thunder. Others suggest that Julian means everything from “youthful” to “downy-bearded,” leaving much of the name’s etymological origins shrouded in mystery.
Julian, borne by many illustrious saints and emperors, was coolly received in the Middle Ages, when it was first introduced, but quickly gained momentum in Italy and France during the Renaissance, in more regionalized versions like Giuliano and Julien. Julia — its female variant –mirrored such popularity trends, only becoming common in the English-speaking world during the 1700′s. Both names, however, were bestowed upon several important literary and religious figures in earlier centuries, including Saint Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of travelers, Julian the Apostate, Rome’s last pagan Emperor, St. Julia of Corsica, and Proteus’ lover Julia in William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona. And Juliet– a softer, more romantic female variant– was, of course, also used by the legendary playwright in his best-known tragedy, Romeo and Juliet.
Guest blogger Skye Pifer, of Sarasota, Florida, co-authored “The New Grandparent Name Book; a lighthearted guide to picking the perfect grandparent name,” with her mother, Lin Wellford, who lives in the Arkansas Ozarks.
I guess you could say my mom is something of a name fanatic. She picked out my name when she was still a little girl, after seeing it in one of her aunt’s movie magazines. Soon after that, she modified her own name, one she points out, that is shared by at least a million other girls born in the late 1940’s through the mid-1960’s; Linda. She tried to get people to call her Lynn but public school teachers seemed determined to use the name on her records. Only after the fresh start of college did she try again, spelling it ‘Lin,’ and that time it took.
So when she learned I was expecting, it didn’t take my mother long to began wondering what her grandchild-to-be should call her. In our family, grandparenting names are pretty personal. My maternal great-grandparents called themselves “Gramma and Gran.” Another set were “Mamaw and Pampaw.” My own grandmother (the person who stuck my mom with ‘Linda’) was certainly old enough to be a grandmother when I came along. But she rejected all the more standard grandmother names and elected to be called “Mutti” (a German version of ‘Mom.’ She’s now in her late 80’s and is known as Mutti not just to her eight grandchildren, but also to our spouses, friends, and now several great-grands as well.
Because she was aware that the name she picked was likely to stay with her for the rest of her life, my mom was determined to choose one that made her happy. It needed to suit her personality, not be super-common, and sound good coming not just from a toddler but also from a teenager. We both began paying attention to what other grandparents were calling themselves, jotting down various options to try them out. I discovered how inventive people in my parent’s generation are when it comes to their grandparenting names.
I’ll admit that I hoped Mom wouldn’t come up with anything too off-the-wall. I kind of cringed at the thought of her being a Bubbles, or Glamma. There are so many options for variations along more traditional lines, like Nanna, Gram or MeMo. Or she could have picked a name from another culture, like Oma, which is German, or Abbi, short for Abuelita, Spanish for grandmother. Noni, Peaches, Sonoma, G-Ma, MoMo, and Grindi, are just a few of the more unusual names we ended up collecting. My mom’s cousin is a professional nanny caring for a set of twins whose grandparents call themselves Rocky and Kitty. My cousin’s in-laws go by Bubba and Bama. One of Mom’s friends confessed that she hoped that if she ever had grandchildren, she’d ask them to call her Granzilla! Luckily, in the end, Mom decided upon using Mimi as her grandmother name. My dad was not that picky, so when I suggested he be ‘Popi’, he was happy to go along with that.