Family Names: Some genealogical gems

Nameberry Leslie Owen searches through the pages of her family history and digs up some interesting–and sometimes surprisingly modern-sounding– colonial treasures.

One of the reasons I became so interested in names is because I discovered the two-volume edition of the Brewster Genealogy in my grandparents’ house in Maine.  I pored over the pages, discovering unusual family names –Ohel, for example – and names I found beautiful, such as Solace and Wrestling.  I discovered ancestors who were famous and who led incredible lives.  I discovered information that surprised my family.  The books, however, disappeared, much to my great disappointment.  But recently, I was able to download a copy of Volume One from the Boston Public Library, and I am back to using it to make lists and rediscoveries.

William and Mary Brewster had five living children, all of whom eventually came to Plymouth, Massachusetts.  Elder William Brewster was the religious leader of the colony, the only one who had to leave England (there was an arrest warrant for him, for treason), and it was his tireless work that kept the survivors alive during that first hard winter, according to Governor William Bradford’s account in Of Plimouth Plantation.  The first names of the Brewsters, who married into the most prestigious New England families, fall into several categories:  Puritan virtue names, Biblical names, classic English names, and what I call Stuart/Georgian names.

Here are twelve girls’ and twelve boys’ names that I’ve found repeatedly throughout the genealogy and that could hold some interesting possibilities for an adventurous nameberry:


Celinda – one of those Stuart names, like Belinda and Melinda and perhaps a variant of Celeste or Celine.

Damaris – the name of one of Paul’s converts, it was very popular in Puritan and colonial times.

Freedom – oddly enough, this name was only used for girls in the Brewster family.

Hopestill – along with Truelove, an interesting virtue name.  Hopestill was used repeatedly in both Jonathan and Love Brewster’s families.

Lovisa— a Germanic/Norse version of Louisa.

Mahala— meaning lute or lyre, Mahala was a daughter of Ishmael and a wife of EsauMahalia Jackson’s original name was Mahala.

Mehitable— a variation of Mehitabel, a Biblical name.

Parthenia –honoring the Parthenon, perhaps?  This was a common colonial name.  My great-grandfather Philip Hammett’s mother was Parthenia Jones Hammett.

Salumith–a version of ShulamithShulamit is a fairly common name is Israel.

Solace–a beautiful virtue name.

Wealthy—I’m not sure why this was used for daughters or why it was so common.  I first discovered this name in a small cemetery in Old Lyme where I grew up, on a Wealthy Ann Chadwick who lived during the end of the eighteenth century.

Zilpha— a version of Zilpah, the mother of Asher and GadZilpha Keatly Snyder is a well-known children’s writer.


Abijah— a very common Biblical name in Puritan and colonial times.  It’s related to the modern Hebrew name Aviya.

Asaph —as with Abijah, Assaf is common in both Hebrew and Arabic.

Comfort –this is used as a male virtue name.  Later on, it turns up as a surname; Comfort was the middle name of Louis Tiffany and the married name of Elsie Borden.

Consider—a highly unusual virtue name used frequently in the Brewster family.

Cyprian–a name that, like Caspian, sounds more modern than colonial.

Dwell—another unusual virtue name used by the descendants of Benjamin Brewster.

Galena medical name that’s more substantive than Jaylen.

Gawin, a colonial version of Gawain/Gavin, one of King Arthur’s knights.

Isaias, the Greek version of Isaiah, joining Jonas, Matthias, Lucas.

Love, the second son of William and Mary Brewster.  My mother’s family is descended from Love Brewster.

Theophilus, a New Testament name that has the same attraction as Theodore.

Wrestling, the last son of William and Mary Brewster.  My father’s family is descended from Wrestling Brewster.  The name comes from Jacob’s wrestling with the angel.

Leslie E. Owen, known to her fellow berries as miloowen, was born in Massachusetts, raised in Connecticut and attended the University of Arizona. She has worked in publishing in New York and Canada, taught creative writing and has published articles and short stories. Her first book for children, Pacific Tree Frogs, was published in Canada, the UK and Australia by Tradewind Books and in the US by Crocodile Books. Leslie currently teaches high school English in Florida and is completing a novel.

Have you ever searched your family’s genealogy and come up with some surprises?

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20 Responses to “Family Names: Some genealogical gems”

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AJ_Bear Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 3:15 am

My family came to the US from Portugal in the late 1800;s and brought the names Augustus, Maria, and Gilmore. We have absolutely no idea where the name Gilmore comes from, only that several generations later, the name Gilmore is still being used. My uncle, my great-aunt, and my grandfather all have Gilmore as a middle name.
On my Dad’s side (who came from France in the late 1800’s as well) there are really no interesting names. My Grandmmama was named Viola Juanita (even though there is no Spanish in our family tree) and I had a Great grandmother named Marie.

Nook of Names Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 6:01 am

What a magnificent collection of family names!

Asaph is the name of a Welsh saint — he gave his name to one of the UK’s tiniest cities, St Asaph in Denbighshire. I happened to be there just this morning!

Gems from my closet include the delightfully Puritan Deliverance (as a man’s name)and Temperance, Levina, more than one Levi and Cuthbert, a Danvers, a Gayther and a Tryphena.

My grandfather was very almost a Valentine, as he was born on Feb 14 — but his parents decided to stick with the more ordinary William in the end instead!

The vast majority though are not especially unusual — but I noticed when I looked at births in Connecticut in 1776 that there was already considerably greater variety in names and naming practices in the US than the UK even back then, so perhaps that has something to do with it!

rollo Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 6:09 am

Love Solace esp in middle name spot

OliviaSarah Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 7:18 am

What a lovely list! I’m always incredibly jealous of those who have such wonderful names somewhere in their family tree! I’m stuck with tons of Margarets, a Gertrude, an Elizabeth and a few Annes! The boys I am slightly more blessed with – a Neville, a Henry, an Edward ‘Ted’, a John ‘Jack’, a George and an Alec.

Hopestill is gorgeous! I love Solace too.

Marginamia Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 11:02 am

I love Hopestill, Mahala (which reminds me of Mahalo, very positive link), Zilpha, and Dwell! Again, Dwell! How awesome is that? Fantastic collection, and rich with history and meaning–these are the best kind! Thank you, Leslie!

anniebee Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 12:05 pm

I don’t know that far back, though I’d love to! My favorite family names are Hudson (which is now trendy, gah!), Abigail, Cecil, Maurice, Oliver, and Rufus.

henrye Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 12:26 pm

Cyprian is cute. It’s also a synonym for prostitute.

Mischa Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 3:19 pm

Hi Miloowen, what wonderful names you have in your family tree!
I’ve had a soft spot for Solace and Hopestill for as long as I can remember. I also love Comfort, Truelove and Wrestling. Two interesting names that are new for me are Dwell and Consider. Oh, those Puritans could name their children!!! My favorite non-virtue names are Asaph, Zilpha and Mahala. Thank you for sharing your ancestors with us.

jpruitt76 Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 4:57 pm

We recently researched some family geneology on my dad’s side and found out that we have some ties to Powhatan’s tribe…specifically an Indian lady named Scent Flower. We also have a Jeru and an Alta Plennie. Also: Smead, Rufus, Temple, Sunshine and Denous to name a few of the more interesting ones.

agirlinred Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 8:44 pm

I’ve actually been able to trace a majority of my family back to the late 1400s-early 1500s scattered throughout England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Some sides of my family are descended from nobility and for them I was able to go back further. I think it’s so fascinating. I definitely uncovered some jewels but I’ve yet to compile a list. Harmon and Aurelia are two of my favorite finds. They’re names I never would have thought to consider before, but am now completely in love with.

Sassy Says:

August 19th, 2011 at 11:39 pm

There aren’t too many exciting names in my family tree. The ones I like the best though are Malcolm, my grannie’s maiden name and Neive, my great grannie’s maiden name. Horne/Horn is in there too which is kind of neat but I probably wouldn’t use it. I also like George but it’s not as exciting as some of the names people have in their family trees.

agirlinred Says:

August 20th, 2011 at 12:42 am

PS. We’re related. 😉 I have family descended from Wrestling’s sister Patience.

pam Says:

August 20th, 2011 at 7:18 am

Fascinating, Leslie. Thanks for a great guest blog and for being part of Nameberry! And that’s amazing, agirlinred. Do you think a fascination with names could be hereditary?

xiabelle Says:

August 20th, 2011 at 9:01 am

My family seems to just have a lot of very English names from what we’ve found — but then my ancestry is very old Texas and American in general, and almost exclusively English, at least on the side we know the most about. Assuming one of the genealogical assumptions is correct, we do have a Lancelot back in the 1600s in Virginia, though. We have interesting ties to a lot of the Texas battles for independence — one ancestor, the daughter of somebody who fought at San Jacinto, has the middle name of Texana! My great great grandfather was named Christmas. Otherwise, we’re full of pretty normal names.

agirlinred Says:

August 20th, 2011 at 9:36 am

Fascination with names could definitely be hereditary. My grandmother loves names too.

micaelasligh Says:

August 20th, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I love family names! And after spending an absurd amount of time on, I’ve managed to dig up quite a few unique ones from my family tree.

On my dad’s side – who has deep southern roots, along with English and German blood – I’ve found:

Thomas Summer Sligh (pronounced “sly”)
Benjamin Franklin
George Washington (BF and this one made me giggle…)
John Jacob (I start singing *John Jacob Jingle-Heimer-Schmidt when I hear this one*)
Anna Margaretha
Maria Brigitta
Hans Ulrich
Susanna Magdalena
Mabel Rosamond
Naomi Jane
Eliza Sidney

My mom’s side – who’s blood line is all Yankee…along with English, French, Swedish, and Dutch roots – includes:

VanWyck (pronounced “van wick”)
Swan Swanson (apparently “Swan” is a Swedish tradition)
Virgie Lou

linzybindi Says:

August 23rd, 2011 at 2:17 am

I know a boy with the middle name Abijah. It feels much like Elijah to me…I’m surprised more people haven’t discovered this gem.

UniqueNameLover Says:

September 24th, 2011 at 11:27 pm

My family tree doesn’t have too many exciting names. However, I think my great grandmothers’ names were awesome: Ora, Lucille, and Ella. My great grandfathers’ weren’t all that interesting: Walter, Joseph, and Roosevelt.

SummerK Says:

March 31st, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Raphael, which is the name of one of my great-great-great uncles, is a name I’m holding in reserve. Also Magdalen (both his mother and his sister were called Margaret Magdalen).Some of the more interesting names that also appear in the family tree are Ambrose, Augustine, Rosamund, Vera, Honora, Serena, Giacomo, Ubonus, Evoleon(f), Yves, Tamlan, Genevieve, Gaetano(m), Garibaldi, Robbie-Ann, Moyna, Nola, Donnamare, Warwick, Nathalia, Honni, Cadorna, Avenial, Noel, Noela, Leonie, Deandra, Jomahal, Tihanna, Wanita, Oskar, Nerida and Hubert. Ones that keep popping up are Eileen, Marie, Mary, Margaret, Angelo, Phillip, Alfred and Anthony(once spelled Antonie, strange huh?).

blueberry1215 Says:

July 24th, 2012 at 1:58 pm

This is the same reason I became interested in names! I only found Nameberry when I started searching the old, sometimes strange names donned by my ancestors. They were English Protestants, and I was really shocked to find that the religion was practiced by everyone in my tree, all the way up to my father.

Marjorie- 1905
Almena- 1900
Jessie- 1886 (Nothing special on its own, but with middle and last names Maude and Sweet, it become lovely: Jessie Maude Sweet)
Benia- 1871
Lura- 1867 (Middle name: Genevra)
Leonora- 1850 (Paired with her surname Carter, doesn’t she sound like a movie star?)
Sophronia- 1839
Jerusha- 1838
Lois- 1786
Olive- 1786
Hepzibah- 1782
Phebe- 1761
Lucretia- 1758
Mehitable- 1594
Margerie- 1530

Merle- 1937
Camille, nn: Cam- 1905
Green- 1896
Irving- 1876 (Middle name: Gould)
Parker- 1837 (Middle name: Morse)
Gilman- 1831
Davis- 1825
Byron- 1821 (Middle name: Sheridan)
Eber- 1811
Alvin- 1800
Moses- 1780
Silas- 1758
Josiah- 1743
Ebenezer- 1727
Ezekiel- 1710
Amos- 1707
Gamaliel- 1598
Jacobus- 1583 (A middle name for John)

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