Category: name history
The British Prime Minister recently chose the Cornish name Endellion as the middle name for his new daughter. The baby was premature, and born while the family was on holiday in Cornwall, and Endellion was chosen because the family regularly holidayed at the little village of St Endellion, so strictly speaking the name belongs with the growing trend to use place names (such as Dakota, Savannah) as first names. However, it is also a traditional Cornish name.
But first a bit of background. Cornwall is a popular holiday place because of its unspoilt beauty. Its unspoilt beauty comes from the fact that its position at the extreme south west of England makes it isolated. This isolation protected it in the past, and led to the preservation of a uniquely Cornish culture.
1500 years ago, when the rest of England was being taken over by the Anglo-Saxons, Cornwall remained independent and retained its own language, descended from the language of the ancient British and closely related to Welsh, into the 18th century. This language is the source of many of the specially Cornish names, while the distinctive West-Country way of pronouncing English has been another source.
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
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.