British Baby Names: The Edwardian Era
What marks the Edwardian era of British baby names as distinct from those used in the Victorian period is the sheer number of different names used. In previous centuries the standard practice was to select a child’s name from the immediate family. When an infant died the next child to be born would be given that name, limiting the name pool to five to eight names in a family. Fanciful names were reserved for the aristocracy, and even they kept them permeating along the family line.
The Victorians made a change to this idea. Names borne by a deceased family member were now considered ‘unlucky’. Parents suddenly had to look elsewhere for names and artistic, literary and religious movements provided much needed inspiration. The Victorian love of anything ‘gothic’, and the influence of Tennyson and the Pre-Raphaelites brought back medieval and mythical names like Lancelot, Ralph, Edgar, Alice, Elaine, Edith and Mabel; the Romantic movement re-introduced names such as Wilfred, Quentin, Cedric, Amy and Rowena; and the religious Tractarian movement revived long lost Saint’s names like Augustine, Benedict, Ignatius, Euphemia and Genevieve.
By the Edwardian era many of these previously obsolete names had become de rigueur and permeated all the social classes. More than at any time before, the gap between the names of the upper classes and those of the lower was considerably contracted. The 1911 census shows that many wealthy household members shared the same names as their domestic servants. For example, Constantia Beatrice Sophia, born 1905, was the daughter of a furniture mover and Lancelot Frederick Charles, born 1907, was a nurseryman’s son, showing that these previously ‘upper class’ names were now being enjoyed throughout the social classes.
One of the biggest trends of the Edwardian era of British baby names was the use of nature names. Some of the most popular names such as, Daisy, Iris, Ivy, Primrose, Beryl, Pearl and Ruby were used sparingly in the first half of the nineteenth century – and, interestingly, equally spread amongst boys and girls. By the 1880s, these names started to became very fashionable (now solely for girls) which led to them becoming the darlings of the Edwardian age.Here are some interesting Edwardian flower baby names:
The second big trend particularly prevalent in the Edwardian period was the use of Celtic names. Many “new” discoveries were made by Late Victorian parents from a rich choice of Scottish, Welsh and Irish names including Blodwen, Brenda, Ceridwen, Eileen, Evan, Gwendoline, Gladys, Ivor, Kathleen, Maureen, Owen, Sheila and Trevor. This was actually quite a cultural breakthrough as the Celtic languages had been suppressed by the English for centuries. Welsh children in the Victorian period, for example, were forbidden from speaking Welsh at school and punished harshly if they did.
Late Victorian Welsh parents, in particular, became very bold in their naming habits, not only by reviving many long lost gems from Welsh mythology – such as Eleri, Olwen, Rhiannon, Caradoc, Hywel, Gareth, and Merlin/Merddyn – but they also created many new names from Welsh vocabulary that became big hits for Edwardian parents.
Edwardian Welsh names not found in the Birth Index before 1880:
Briallen – “primrose”
Eurwen – “white gold”
Glenys – “fair, holy”
Gwyneira – “white snow”
Heulwen – “sunshine”
Lilwen – “white lily”
Euros – “gold”
Haulfryn – “sun hill”
Islwyn – “under grove”
And it wasn’t just with first names that British Edwardians liked to be different. A particularly interesting quirk of Edwardian parents was their love of assonance and alliteration. First names, middle names and surnames were all used to gain this effect. Beatrice Bessie Battiscombe and Reginald Ronald McDonald are two Edwardian babies who demonstrate this trend perfectly.
Below are a few samples of recorded Edwardian alliterative and assonantal names:
Eleanor Nickerson, better known to nameberry message board visitors as Elea, is a twenty-something primary school teacher living in Coventry, England who, beyond having a name obsession, loves researching family trees, poring through old records and adores anything to do with history.
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on May 26th, 2011 at 5:52 am
Mimosa, Pearly Persis – what gems!
Any idea how to pronounce Islwyn?
on May 26th, 2011 at 6:46 am
Islwyn = Is-loin (like a sirloin steak!)
I love this post and really appreciate the section about Welsh names and especially the mention about the Welsh language being banned in Welsh schools at that time, something most people don’t know about!
Favourite names are:
Girls – Acacia, Jessamine, Lilac, Heulwen, Lilwen, Arabella, Adela, Iris, Cordelia, Penelope, Primrose and Rosalind.
Boys – Bryn, Brynmor, Euros, Austin, Augustus, Edward, Francis, Leo, Lawrence, Theodore and Vincent.
In fact I know a sibset of Heulwen and Brynmor!
on May 26th, 2011 at 9:19 am
Oh, I love Edwardian names! They’re so lovely. My favorite names are:
Lavender, Lilac, Mimosa (a particularly favorite favorite!) & Lilwen.
I’d rather be Primrose than Briallen, which seems very masculine to me (Like a smush of Brian & Allen). Not appealling!
Euros has got a great meaning, but isn’t it currency now? Or am I spelling that wrong?
The alliterative/assonant ones that apealled are: Penelope Polymnia,
Primrose Primula (First First? Wow!)
Sidney Leslie Lawrence & Valentine Vincent Victor.
I love, love, love those last 2 guys in particular. Awesome!
Great post Eleanor! 😀
Other Carolyn Said
on May 26th, 2011 at 12:10 pm
I love so many of these names, though I’m not sure I could handle quite so much alliteration. I have always had a soft spot Primrose, even though it’s a bit prim, and freesia and mimosa are very interesting choices.
This list contains some of my favourite welsh names, as well, especially Gwyneira and Heulwen for girls and Bryn/Brynmor and Islwyn for boys. By the way Welsh was still banned in some schools as late as the 1930s, which I know because my grandfather was not allowed to speak it. That might have been at a grammar school though, so it’s possible different rules applied. Still very sad, though.
I do love how totally OTT some of the alliterative examples seem, though. It seems like a total disregard for the flow of a name winds up with very striking results…this is something people tend to note about the telegraph names as well. I wonder if we’ve got it all backwards, worrying about how these things sound together?
on May 26th, 2011 at 12:31 pm
In my experience locally, the trend toward alliteration within a child’s name or across a sib-set seems to be back. It had seemed quite out-moded when we named our 5 year old, but with our child born last year, we considered both forms of alliteration (within her name or with her brother’s name). Assonance, on the other hand, is still not at all on trend and still seems too rhymy to me.
on May 26th, 2011 at 12:52 pm
Love this post! Jessamine is my favorite for girls, and I was surprised to see Ava on the list! I love Leopold for a boy.
on May 26th, 2011 at 12:56 pm
LJandRL – Heulwen and Brynmor are so cute together. I had a great uncles Brynmor “Bryn” and Merlin “Mel” which I always thought sounded great together.
I thought it was important to mention the struggle that was happening with language in Wales at the time and how Welsh parents were fighting back with their names! 😀
Lola – Thank you! Valentine Vincent Victor is my favourite too. Euros are currency but the Welsh name is pronounced AY-ross.
Other Carolyn – I totally agree, it was so sad. My granddad was born in Glamorgan in 1921 and, although his parents were native Welsh speakers, he was never taught the language. His parents felt it would hold him back in the job market as Welsh was perceived as being “backward”.
Other Carolyn Said
on May 26th, 2011 at 2:17 pm
My grandfather was born in the same area around the same time, as it happens. I read recently that Welsh was banned on the advice of some English bishops who felt the language (which they didn’t speak a word of between them) was the cause of what was percieved to be unruly, uncivilized “Welsh” behaviour (apparently it didn’t occur to anyone that maybe the Welsh people just didn’t like interfering, elitist English bishops very much!). I would be surprised to find that gaelic/gallic and cornish had suffered similar fates, despite the abject stupidity of the reasoning. On the bright side, though, there are a lot of celtic gems of names that haven’t been discovered by the rest of the world yet because of it!
on May 26th, 2011 at 4:20 pm
Oh my how I love these names!!!
My favorites are…
Briallen – I have been talking about this name to people for a while…nobody seems to love it like I do!
Gwyneira – stunning
Ophelia Adelia – LOVE THIS!!!
Herbert Gilbert – I know someone named this!
Charlotte Vera Said
on May 26th, 2011 at 4:26 pm
Fabulous! I’ve long been a fan of Edwardian names, and this is certainly the most interesting article I’ve read on the subject. Edith Elsie Lydia Lavinia makes me go all weak at the knees.
We used alliteration and assonance in our childrens’ names: Roseanna Ruth Adeline and Alaric Mark Patrick. I hope to continue the subtle trend in the names of future children.
on May 26th, 2011 at 4:34 pm
I dont see why names like Pearl, Ivy or Ruby should be female only. I think they could be used as middle names for boys. I know a boy Ruben that friends call Ruby so it can be pulled of.
Really like Bryn from the list.
Ophelia is great for a girl, and I like Sidney Leslie combo.
on May 26th, 2011 at 5:35 pm
Hi Eleanor (aka Elea), you’ve given me a new name to mull over: Eucharis (if it had a “t” at the end, it would be even more religious than it already is). I love so many of the Edwardian names like Primrose, Jessamine, Mimosa, Penelope, Ophelia, Leopold, Theodore, Cordelia, Jasper, Sidney, Edith, Iris, Lucy, Primula as well as the Welsh names Brynmor, Gwyneira and Lilwen (how cute is this?). I’m not a fan of alliteration and sadly I won’t be able to have 20 children to name in the future (ha!ha!). Thanks for posting!
on May 26th, 2011 at 11:07 pm
I love this blog! Idalia is my middle name and it surprise me to see it in the alliteration list for girls, I never saw it before in any place in this site or in any site in english, it’s common in Mexico but for women my age (40), I always loved it for it’s meaning “to see the sun”. I like the welsh names a lot.
on May 27th, 2011 at 2:43 am
Out of 4 children, 2 of their first names are mentioned here and another is quite close to a name mentioned. My fourth has a name that was more common in America at the time. I loooove Edwardian names! I am also a fan of many alliterative and assonant name combinations. A lot of people avoid them, but I like it. 🙂
on May 27th, 2011 at 10:04 am
Elea – I wonder if you have any data on the number of births per name? Looking through the American lists many of these wonderful names never even jumped the pond so to speak during the E. era, or never ranked higher than a dozen babies named thus.
So just curious how widespread the name use was in GB.
PS – love Welsh names and being a Jones I should have used a few!
on May 27th, 2011 at 11:38 am
SJ – I do have access to the data. Which names in particular were you looking at?
on May 29th, 2011 at 4:11 pm
Lovely post, Elea. I really enjoyed this.
I’m glad you mentioned the suppression of the Celtic languages. They were completely decimated by imperialist attitudes and it’s an issue that’s often forgotten.
on May 31st, 2011 at 1:46 am
I am a fan of arts of the Edwardian era so it’s lovely to read about these names, many of which I adore: Beryl, Augustine, Maureen, Lilwen, Bryn, Sidney, Penelope, Edward, Leo, Adela, Elsie, Rosalind, Gwendoline, Lawrence, Gareth. I can’t handle the alliteration though, too much for me. Great post!
on June 3rd, 2011 at 8:21 am
What a fantastic blog! I love Edwardian baby names. Thank you Elea.
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