Colonial Names: Great Names from American History
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.
At one point, my parents rented a car and we drove to Salem, Massachusetts, getting lost en route only about a dozen or so times while the best of Barry Manilow blasted from the speakers with Copa Cabana goodness. (The Griswalds, of National Lampoon Vacation fame, have nothing on the Barnetts.) Marv and I eagerly toured the Salem Witch Museum, learning about the unfortunate fate of the men and women who were accused of practicing witchcraft in 1692, and we then headed to Plymouth, Massachusetts, towards the more upbeat destination of Plymouth Rock, to see where the Mayflower landed. (I searched for Pilgrims, but I apparently missed them by a few hundred years.)
Back in the Boston area, Marvin and I later visited the beautiful homes of Louisa May Alcott and Ralph Waldo Emerson in Concord, Massachusetts, as well as Henry David Thoreau’s cabin on Walden Pond. And while I don’t know how Marvin felt about it, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, the resting place of many historic figures, was a huge hit with me, because I loved reading the names on the gravestones.
And what amazing names they were. A classic and vintage name nerd, even at the age of six, I was in graveyard heaven seeing so many Annes, Elizabeths, Lydias, Henrys, Josephs, and Williams. In fact, I was so inspired by the classic names, that for a day or two, I renamed poor Marvin “Margaret,” eventually restoring his given name and gender in time to spare him any permanent psychological damage. Our pilgrimage to Boston was one to remember, and one that introduced me to some wonderful names and namesakes, fit for stylish stuffed monkeys and human babies alike.
Famous Historical Names from Boston and Nearby Areas:
ANNE Bradstreet (poet)
CHARLES Bulfinch (architect)
PAUL Revere (patriot)
MYLES Standish (military advisor of Plymouth Colony)
Find more colonial names on nameberry’s hot lists.
Jill Barnett, a lifelong name fan, enjoys working with children, painting, drawing, writing, running, cooking, traveling, and following popular culture and politics. Her favorite color is yellow, her all-time favorite movie is The Sound of Music, and she has recently decided that peanut M&Ms are far more substantial than Milk Duds. Jill has enjoyed writing for Nameberry about yooneek names, stage names, and being less than pleased with her given name, and she looks forward to posting on Nameberry with so many wonderful people each day.
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on January 20th, 2010 at 3:56 am
Jill, great blog as always! I love Colonial names, too. And I also love monkeys! My favorites on your list are Phoebe, Susannah, Ezekiel, Myles (with a “y”?), Henry, Peter, Elizabeth, Anna, Lucy, and Clara. And Marvin, of course! My family and I have enjoyed traveling to New England, too. We say the Louisa May Alcott home and went to a graveyard nearby. My husband nearly flipped over the famous people’s graves. We loved the tombstones. You don’t see as much history in California. We went to Acadia National Park, the Old North Church, the Battleship Museum, and the Whaling Museum. I think the reason I love the Colonial time so much is that Colonial furniture was really in style when I was young. My aunt had it in her house and we had it in our house, too. I am very nostalgic about Colonial furniture and patterns. I forgot to say earlier that my family and I went to Colonial Williamsburg, too. I also love the way Pilgrims dressed! I love Colonial houses. When I start thinking about Colonial design and names etc, I have a hard time breathing. I get so excited!
on January 20th, 2010 at 4:10 am
Hi, Susan! Thanks so much! I’m glad you liked it! 🙂
I love all of those names, too, but love Miles, not Myles. (I wonder why Myles Standish’s mom decided to go the yooneek route, but I’m guessing it was a family name. At least he wasn’t named Jayden.) 🙂 I actually thought of you when it came to Peter.
I still love anything and everything Colonial, from furniture to architecture, and Williamsburg is one of my favorite places in the world! (I even have books featuring homes in the area.)
And I’m glad you love monkeys! 🙂
Take care, Susan!
on January 20th, 2010 at 6:43 am
Lovely lovely names!
For the girls, I like Cornelia, Elizabeth, Lydia and especially Tabitha. I’ve seen that one especially starting to come back.
In the boys, some of them have been or are on our serious contention list. Edward, Benjamin, Nathaniel (my number 1 right now), Elias and Isaac. I know of little boys named Gideon and Linus, too!
Seems my taste is more colonial for boys… my girl names are a little more turn of the century.
on January 20th, 2010 at 9:16 am
Yet another triumph of a blog from you, Jill! My favorites from your list have got to be the ity names — Amity, Felicity, Verity. I’m a huge fan of virtuous, feminine ity names.
on January 20th, 2010 at 10:58 am
Great post! I have to ask… what was Laurie’s name in real life?
on January 20th, 2010 at 11:57 am
I think Laurie’s real name was Theodore.
on January 20th, 2010 at 12:08 pm
I’ve always loved virtue names, but two of my favorite Pilgrim type names I found doing family history research: Mourning and Tryal
on January 20th, 2010 at 12:55 pm
I’m interested in the Colonial period too — love all the historic places and am drawn to the names from that period. I liked Ethan (Ethan Allen) long before it became popular and was pleased when that name was chosen for one of our grandsons. Currently a family member is considering Violet nn “Letty” for her daughter who will be born within the next 2 weeks (no for sure name yet, but it sounds like this might be the one). Mulling Letty over in my mind, it just sounded like a name from Colonial America (Polly, Molly, Patsy, Abby, Nabby, etc.). A Google search revealed that William Penn had a daughter called Letty, b. 1679 (given name Leticia, which I think was usually the case when Letty was a nickname). I also came across a reference for “Combs, Violet “Lettie” Birth : ABT 1750 Loudoun Co., Va.” I’m liking Letty better now. 😉
on January 20th, 2010 at 1:03 pm
Jill, I’d like to add Jonathan to your colonial names list. Jonathan was such a common name around Boston in 1776 that the British called all American Revolutionary soldiers “Brother Jonathan”. I came across this when researching Jonathan, the name of another little grandson.
on January 20th, 2010 at 1:23 pm
In response to Jill and Susan’s posts,
Perhaps “Myles” was the common variant of the name at the time, maybe “Miles” would have been considered the yooneek version. (They did like using their “y”s alot back then, y’s as i’s, f’s as s’s, etc.) 😉
on January 20th, 2010 at 3:10 pm
Nephele, your post made me laugh so hard! I have a close friend named Charity who often goes by the nickname “Ity”, so to hear somebody use the term “-ity names” made me chuckle. 😉
And Jill – what a wonderful blog! I’m a huge fan of Boston and the surrounding area, so this post definitely made my day. 🙂 Some of my favorites are:
GIRLS: Abigial May, Louisa May (why wasn’t I born an Alcott?), Clara, Lucy, Rose, Cornelia, Emeline, Henrietta (if I could convince myself that ‘Etta’ was a good nn, I’d be tempted to use this some day), Lydia, Tabitha, May (prefer Mae), and Verity.
GUYS: John, Samuel, Amos, Ephraim, Peter, William, Benjamin Franklin, Nathaniel, Elias, Henry, Theodore, Paul, Myles (prefer Miles), Abraham, Eleazar, Elias, Isaac, Gideon, Josiah, Solomon, and Thaddeus.
This is going to sound sooo geeky, but I’ve always loved the idea of using Benjamin Franklin as a name. Of course, as time has gone by it’s morphed from Benjamin Franklin _____ to Benjamin Paul Franklin _____ to incorporate another one of my childhood heroes, Paul Revere, and to minimize teasing (of course, should this ever happen, all little Ben would have to say is “Oh yeah? Well I was named after the man who invented your momma’s glasses.” ;)).
on January 20th, 2010 at 4:11 pm
A lovely list, and some fascinating finds, I was especially intrigued to see a Primrose from way back then, I have always thought of it more as a Victoriana, but I guess not, which is cool, because that means that it has been in usage a lot longer than I would expect.
on January 20th, 2010 at 5:18 pm
Great post, Jill! I’ve also thought Nathaniel Hawthorne had a such a beautiful name. With a name like that, he just had to do something great 🙂
I think we’ll be seeing more of the name Primrose as she’s a character in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games. Lots of interesting names in that book, but that’s another conversation…
on January 20th, 2010 at 5:50 pm
oops–meant “always thought”!
on January 20th, 2010 at 6:07 pm
Great blog Jill! I really enjoyed it. What you call “colonial” is probably what we call eighteenth century British names! I love “ity” names as well – I have used Felicity on one of my girls, and Felicity Merriman is my favourite American Girl doll, I was distraught when I heard she was being withdrawn!
“Little Women” is probably my favourite childhood book, too, and I still think it would be wonderful to have four daughters and call them Margaret, Josephine, Elizabeth and Amy!
ps have also read Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games, and thought it was great!
on January 20th, 2010 at 10:14 pm
Thanks for your comments, everyone! I thought that at most, this blog would appeal to about, oh 2 or three people (myself included), so I’m so happy to see that I’m not the only lover of Colonial names! 🙂
Stacy: I love every name you mentioned! You know a little Gideon? I’d love to meet a little Gideon one day! I love that name so much…
Nephele: Awe, thanks! 🙂 Your new name is now officially “Nephelity.” I love ity names, too, and just realized that Littleberry J. Lambkin can be nicknamed Ity.
Meredith: Thanks! Little Women is based on Louisa May Alcott’s life, but not every character or event really existed. From what I understand, the character of “Laurie,” who was named “Theodore Lawrence” in the book, didn’t exist in reality. (I wish he had, though, because I think a “real” Laurie would have been wonderful!)
Claire: I love virtue names, too, and I enjoyed reading the ones you listed!
Patricia: I love Ethan, too, as well as Violet! (I love the Letty nickname, and agree that it sounds very Colonial…) Thanks for adding Jonathan. 🙂 Your grandchildren have wonderful names! 🙂
Robyn: That’s a good point! I did find some Colonial men named Miles, though. Hmm….
Sarah: Thanks! I’m glad you liked it! I love your list of names, and I don’t think that Benjamin Franklin is geeky at all (but then again, thay may just make both of us geeks), and I love your idea of adding Paul! I actually knew a Franklin growing up, and he was very cool.
Legit: Hi! I think that Primrose is a beautiful name! I love names with a strong history…
Olive: Hi, Olive! Thanks! 🙂 I love Nathaniel Hawthorne’s name, too! To me, it’s perfect! I didn’t realize that Primrose is in a book…Is that why it’s been popping up on Nameberry more often lately? Thanks for the info, Olive!
Ailsa: Long time no see! 🙂 It’s nice to see you! I forgot that you have a Felicity! I love the name Felicity! What? The Felicity doll is being discontinued? Seriously? No!!!! (I need to check this out!)
Thanks again everyone! (And if I forgot anyone, I apologize!) 🙂
on January 20th, 2010 at 11:23 pm
I love this blog post. My 6 month old daughter is Emeline. Felicity and Tabitha are both on my list if we were to ever have any more girls! I guess I have a thing for colonial names… 🙂
on January 20th, 2010 at 11:30 pm
Hi Cardigangirl! Thanks!
I LOVE your baby girl’s name! Congratulations! (And I love Felicity and Tabitha, too!) 🙂
on January 21st, 2010 at 12:45 am
Loving Cornelia, Lydia, and Emeline for girls and Thaddeus and Isaac for boys. Reading this, I found myself wishing that I would have a surname name for a middle name, along the lines of Elizabeth Sewell Alcott, Mary Baker Eddy, John Quincy Adams, Henry Cabot Lodge, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and James Russell Lowell. Perhaps I’ll change my maiden name to my middle name when I marry! Another great blog, Jill! Thanks!
I was talking to Meg earlier and picked her brain for some more…
She said – as we all know – that virtue names were very popular in Colonial, and especially in Puritan, times. Names like Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Temperance – in addition to existing favorites like Hope and Faith – were prominent. More interesting, and significant, names like Love, Remember, Wrestling, or even phrase names – a la Be-faithful – were slightly more rare. Names like these and virtuous names were bestowed on children so that they might take up some of the characteristics of their name. However, the names of the day were largely classic favorites such as Mary, Elizabeth, and Anne – Biblical names!
Likewise, in addition to traditional names like John and William, Puritans and Colonial parents alike were keen on using Biblical and saint names for their sons. Abraham, Abel, and Elisha were prominent, as were more interesting names like Ebenezer, Cyrus, and Asher.
I think you have captured these trends beautifully in your post, Jill. Well done!
on January 21st, 2010 at 12:52 am
Great blog Jill!
Awww… you were an architecture enthusiast at such a young age! House of the Gay Bulls! LOL! Its ok, I thought Michelangelo was painting the Sixteenth Chapel until I was 12!
I like a lot of the Colonial names. My favorites are:
Elizabeth, Anne, William, Benjamin, Samuel and Eli. Oh and Abraham. And Oliver.
on January 21st, 2010 at 10:39 am
Sarah and Ailsa, nice to see another couple of ity name fans, like me! Ailsa, you know I love your daughter’s name of “Felicity”!
Jill — so now I can be Nephelity? Wheee! Ity Bitty Nephelity — that’s me! Hahahaha!
on January 21st, 2010 at 10:53 pm
Lemon: Thanks so much! I wonder if Merit was used as a Pilgrim name. Hmm…I love the names you picked out above, too. I would have been so happy living in Colonial times and hearing so many great names! (Side note: I’m always looking up the popularity of names, but I guess I somehow overlooked Lydia…I had no idea it’s so popular now!)
Kate: Thanks! 🙂 The Sixteenth Chapel? That’s hysterical! I’m still laughing…Oh yes…I was obsessed with architecture at a very young age. I’m so happy to see Anne on your list! Go, Anne!!!! I love every name you mentioned, and I was excited to see Abraham there.
Nephelity: Yes, you are now officially an “ity.” The road to “ity” status was a long one, but you made it! Woo-hoo! 🙂
Umbrella Stand Said
on December 1st, 2010 at 2:50 pm
of course we need to know our family history so that we can share it to our kids -,’
Colonial America Websites | Said
on February 10th, 2011 at 12:06 am
[…] Great Names from American History – Examples of typical names in Colonial America […]
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