Thanksgiving Baby Names: 12 Best Virtue Names
By Linda Rosenkrantz
As we sit down to our Thanksgiving feasts in this divisive year, it might be a good idea to take another look at the traditional virtues embedded in these Thanksgiving baby names.
In the seventeenth century, for some of the most puritanical of the Puritans, even biblical and saints’ names were not pure enough to bestow on their children, and so they turned instead to words that embodied the Christian virtues. These ranged from extreme phrases like Sorry-for-sin and Search-the-Scriptures (which, understandably, never came into general use) to simpler virtue names like Silence and Salvation.
The virtue names that have survived in this country were for the most part the unfussy, one-syllable girls’ names with positive meanings, such as Joy, Hope, Grace and Faith. But then, in the late 1990s, a door was opened to more elaborate examples by the popularity of the TV show Felicity, and its appealing heroine. Felicity (also the name of an American Girl Colonial doll) reached a high point on the girls’ list in 1999, a year after the show debuted, leading parents to consider others long forgotten relics.
Here are the Nameberry picks of the twelve best virtue names:
Amity—like all the virtue names ending in ity, Amity has an attractive daintiness combined with an admirable meaning—in this case, friendship. It could be a modernized (or antiquated, depending how you look at it) namesake for an Aunt Amy.
Constance was originally used in a religious context which has been lost over the years. There are many Constances found in history and literature: there was Constance of Brittany, mother of young Prince Arthur who appears in Shakespeare’s King John, a daughter of William the Conqueror, and characters in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer and Dumas’s The Three Musketeers. Constance Langdon is an American Horror Story character. Constance hasn’t been much heard in the 21st century—probably because of the dated nickname Connie–though it retains some popularity in France and England. The Puritans also used Constant.
Honor (Honour in the UK) has gotten a lot of publicity in the last few years via the much-photographed daughter of Jessica Alba, but still is heard far more in the UK than the US. Honor Blake is a character in the J. M Synge play Playboy of the Western World, Honor Blackman a well-known actress in Britain who featured as a sexpot in the early James Bond movie Goldfinger. More recently, Honor Huntzberger is a Gilmore Girls character.
Justice—This strong, mostly male, name has made a comeback, returning to the pop chart in 1992 after being away since 1880; it’s now Number 456. Steven Seagal was ahead of the game when he named his son Justice in the seventies, and Janet Jackson gave it something of a gender switch when she played the title character in the 1993 film Poetic Justice. After entering the popularity ranks in 1992, it has now climbed to Number 525–one of the newly revived virtue names for boys.
Loyal—Another of the growing number of boys’ virtue names, Loyal was actually on the popularity lists for over half a century—almost every year from 1890 to 1948, the kind of name you might not have been surprised to see on an elderly US Senator in 1905. Now we couldn’t be surprised to see it embroidered on a baby blanket.
Mercy, well used in the Colonial era, appears in Spenser’s The Fairie Queen as a matron in the House of Holiness, and was a character in Arthur Miller’s often revived Puritan drama The Crucible, while Mercy Warren was a unique female activist in the Revolutionary War period. Charles Dickens made light of the name when he called the two Pecksniff sisters in Martin Chuzzlewit Mercy and Charity, with the nicknames Merry and Cherry. In our day, when Conan sidekick Andy Richter chose the name for his daughter, he said, “Just in case Puritanism comes back, we’ll be ready with a real Pilgrim name.” It’s currently Number 534 on Nameberry.
Patience –Patience, despite its rather passive meaning, is another virtue name that has made a comeback, returning to the popularity list in 1994 after a century’s hiatus. Patience appears in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, and its popularity increased especially in England via the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta of that name.
Pleasant, perhaps not as usable as some of the others, is now most associated with Pleasant Rowland, the educator, writer, and entrepreneur best known for creating the American Girl dolls. Charles Dickens used Pleasant, yet another virtue name, in Our Mutual Friend.
Prudence is one of the more visible names of the group, as is her more accessible (and cute) nickname, Pru/Prue. Mia Farrow’s sister Prudence was John Lennon‘s inspiration for the Beatles’ song “Dear Prudence,” and the name has been heard on several TV shows, including Charmed, where the Shannon Doherty character was Prue Halliwell. Prudence was on the US popularity list for most of the years from 1880 to 1948. It’s now climbed back up to #494 on Nameberry.
Verity—A lovely, underused choice, with a great, truthful meaning, as well as the currently popular ‘V’ sound. Playing against the name’s image, Madonna portrayed Verity, James Bond’s fencing instructor, in Die Another Day; another Verity makes a brief appearance in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It’s in the Top 400 in England and on Nameberry.
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on June 10th, 2011 at 12:39 am
Nice (great?) list! My most favorite, favorite Virtue name is Mercy.<3 In fact, it's easily my #2 or #3 name for a girl. Very surprised to see it mentioned here! The only one I've ever met or heard of is a previous high school teacher's wife. She was (is) very sweet.
on June 10th, 2011 at 1:42 am
Lovely list! I’m fond of Amity, Honor (also Annora), Mercy, and Verity (and also Felicity, which isn’t on the list, but was mentioned in the second paragraph of the post). I really like the names Claire and Clara, but I just can’t get on board with Clarity…it reminds me of eyeglasses and vision rather than a name…but it does have a sweet sound. Thanks for your hard work on the blog posts!
Sarah A Said
on June 10th, 2011 at 2:58 am
Ooh, I LOVE Prudence! I think Rue (yes, from Hunger Games) could also work as a nn if Prue is too much Shannon Doherty.
My other favorites are Mercy and Verity. I want to like Amity, but all I see is Amityville Horror.
Loyal and Justice – love them, especially as there are so few boys’ virtue names. What about Noble? I could really see Noble on a little boy 🙂
on June 10th, 2011 at 7:57 am
I love Verity! It has the additional nerdy namesake of original Doctor Who producer Verity Lambert. It was rare for a woman to have such a powerful position in the 1960s, and even rarer for it to be in science fiction.
I’m with Sarah A on Amity. I want to like it but have trouble getting past the Amityville Horror. I don’t think that’s a reference that would stop too many people, but I was facinated by that book when I was younger.
on June 10th, 2011 at 8:36 am
I am loving Patience as of late, but the potential nn Patty is a turn off. Mercy and Clemency are both gorgeous and the Doctor Who fan in me has to say that Silence is actually a really pleasant sounding word, even if it doesn’t work so well as a first name.
on June 10th, 2011 at 9:03 am
Amity does the Amityville Horror thing for me too, and I’m not that old. (It’s possible I’m older than I think.) It also has a vague ‘Amistad’ ring to it. Hauntings and slave ships. Hrrmmm.
When are we going to have a post all about American Girl names? Did any of the others effect popularity rankings? Is Samantha really a plausible name for a New Yorker born in 1894? Exactly how do you pronounce Marie-Grace?
on June 10th, 2011 at 9:58 am
LOVE virtue names. We have many in our family tree, including multiple people named Patience, Mercy, and COMFORT. Patience and Mercy are two of my favourite names (not so much on Comfort) despite my husband’s objection, and it helps my case that they’re old family names! 🙂 Thanks for this list!
on June 10th, 2011 at 10:44 am
The top virtue name that always comes to mind for me is Temperance after Dr. Brennan on Bones. I don’t know if I’ll ever use it but her character made the name something strong and modern rather than stuffy. And her dad on the show calls her Tempy! Cute for a little girl.
on June 10th, 2011 at 11:56 am
Prudence/Prue has been a favorite of mine ever since the pilot episode of Charmed. In fact, it may have propelled my name obsession to a higher level!
While not on this list, Solace is another favorite of mine. It’s just so calm and sweet. And I love names that mean peace: all my top names have a peace connotation, like Salem and any name, boy or girl, with Mir in it.
on June 10th, 2011 at 12:01 pm
Great blog! I love Clarity, Verity and Clemency.
I travel around East Africa a lot, and virtue names seem to be very popular there. I met a lovely little girl named Promise once. I also have known a Gift(f), Happy(m) and Love(f), along with rather a lot of Mercys, Faiths, Hopes, Graces and Patiences. Never a Charity, though…
on June 10th, 2011 at 12:29 pm
Amity makes me think of Amity Island from Jaws. Wish it didn’t.
One that I love that I never see on any lists is Valor.
on June 10th, 2011 at 12:40 pm
I love Mercy, Honor (also Honora), Verity, Justice & Loyal! Also, Felicity, Hope (my mn & my niece’s name), Grace (other niece’s mn), Trust & True! I have friends named Charity & Joy & one of my mom’s friends is Faith as well as a few little girls that I know! I know some people from South Africa named Happy, Answer & Comfort (comfort is the english equivalent of his name). I also know 2 boys named Sincere, & girls Nocent (prn. innocent..ugh), Superior, & Beloved. Not sure it’s considered a virtue name but I also know a little boy named Phuture…yes, that’s Future with a “Ph”.
Leslie Owen Said
on June 10th, 2011 at 12:41 pm
Being a descendant of William Brewster, there are many virtue names in my family’s genealogy. In fact four of Brewster’s six children had virtue names: Love and Wrestling, sons, and Fear and Patience, daughters. (The other two were Mary and Jonathan.) Love and Wrestling continued to be family names for almost a century after the years in Plymouth.
I love Clemency, and even though I was 14 when Jaws came out, I don’t associate Amity with the film — perhaps because I was aware of the name first? Other virtue names I love are Constant, Comfort, and Silence, which were all names used in Union, Maine and the surrounding towns. A great source for Puritan and Revolutionary War names is Ben Ames Williams’s historical novel, Come Spring, about the founding of Union and the surrounding area in colonial Maine. It follows the story of Jemima Robbins and Joel Adams, founding settlers of Union.
Other virtue names that I know of from genealogy are Experience (f), Noble (m), Breed (m), Royal (m), and Worthy (m).
on June 10th, 2011 at 12:46 pm
Interesting list and I love the suggesions in the comments! I’d add Liberty (does it count as a virtue?) and Rejoice. I went to elementary school with a boy Liberty (who, perhaps understandably, went by his middle name) and I met a woman from West Africa named Rejoice.
on June 10th, 2011 at 12:47 pm
Oh! and I think Truth would make a lovely middle name.
on June 10th, 2011 at 1:01 pm
Clemency just makes me think of criminal law, like naming a kid “Penalty.” As for Justice, isn’t there a name Justus? Is it related?
on June 10th, 2011 at 1:10 pm
Yes, Justus is the German version.
on June 10th, 2011 at 1:27 pm
I read “Playboy of the Western World” in college, and fell in love with the name Honor. (This was pre-Jessica Alba, mind you.)
I also love Amity (although I like it better written than spoken, if that makes sense?) and Mercy, but my favorite lesser-used virtue name is True/Truely (and this is pre-Sister Wives. Damn pop culture!)
I know it’s super popular, but I still find Grace to be a fantastic virtue name.
on June 10th, 2011 at 1:56 pm
I love Honor and Felicity. The others don’t do it for me. I’ve known a Verity, a Happy (F), and a Serene.
on June 10th, 2011 at 2:23 pm
I’m not really into virtue names, but Amity is okay, and I like nn Libby for Liberty.
I’ve met both a male “Forgiveness” and a female “Cozy”
on June 10th, 2011 at 3:53 pm
I adore Amity. Amityville, LI be hanged, it’s all fiction anyway! 🙂
I’m also fond of Clemency & Verity. Constance is lovely in full, I just dislike Con & Connie (no offense meant). Noble was my Great Grandfather’s name, his brother was Royal! I love those two too.
on June 10th, 2011 at 4:04 pm
Virtue names! I spotted all of these in the SSA records in ’09 ’10. Yes, people are actually using:
At the very least, it’s nice to know parents want good things for their children!
on June 10th, 2011 at 4:16 pm
We get many positive comments on our daughter’s middle name, Verity. My husband loved the meaning as much as the sound – it was only after the birth certificate was signed that we realized her first name means “Clarity”. So in effect, we double-virtued her 🙂
on June 10th, 2011 at 4:31 pm
These aren’t my style, but I am quite fond of Clemency.
on June 10th, 2011 at 6:56 pm
One of my favourite books is A Catch of Consequence by Diana Norman and the heroine is Makepeace nn Peace. Her mother was Temperance. Great name, possibly not that usable in this day and age though.
on June 10th, 2011 at 7:36 pm
Ooh, I olve these! 🙂
on June 10th, 2011 at 7:37 pm
Ooh, I love these! 🙂
on June 10th, 2011 at 8:33 pm
I love Honor, Amity and Verity! I also like True for a girl. For boys, I like Noble and Valor, which wasn’t on the list but one that I really like.
on June 10th, 2011 at 9:48 pm
Verity is one of my favorite names, virtue or otherwise. I just love it. My cousin recently named his daughter Serenity and I went to school with a boy named True. I’m not a big fan of Honor, but I think Annora is a fantastic alternative.
on June 10th, 2011 at 10:53 pm
Noble is a family name, as is Constance! I like Patience nn Patty, Justice/Justus, and Prudence nn Prue/Rue. Great post 🙂
on June 11th, 2011 at 1:49 am
Pleasant was my g-grandfather’s middle name. His nickname was Plez. I love Honor and Verity, too.
on June 13th, 2011 at 8:52 pm
Mercy has always been a favourite of mine, and Faith and Fidelity would make a cute twinset. And I would love Unity, were it not for Unity Mitford, famous for her crush on Hitler 🙁
on June 25th, 2011 at 1:19 pm
Ironic someone named Unity had a crush on Hitler, am I right?
Brighton *Bree* Said
on August 4th, 2011 at 4:12 pm
I love the list! My faves are Clarity and Honor. I have seen some very odd virtue names, I’ve met a girl named Confident and Confidenze, I also knew a girl named Perfection who went by Perri. My aunt just named her adopted daughter Gloria Rain and called her Glory for short. I thought it was wayy cuter then Gloria, so know Glory is on my top list.
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on August 18th, 2011 at 12:18 am
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on January 1st, 2012 at 5:43 am
I really love the names (for boys) Solace, Solidarity, and Braver! I looove Valor and would really us it. I like Amity and Verity for girls. Completely adore Ever and True(th) too. Glory is really fab. Golly gee I love these names!
on November 15th, 2012 at 5:21 pm
Amity has been on my list for a few months now. Other virtue names I like are Felicity and Hope.
on January 21st, 2013 at 10:48 pm
Prudence is so great. It has this buttoned up yet secretly witchy quality to it, a dark Salem-esque vibe despite its sweetness. Wish my husband didn’t hate it.
on November 3rd, 2013 at 9:56 am
Love the names valour, Hope and Amity. My uncle’s middle name is temperance and my friend’s little sister is called temperance which she hates.
on November 27th, 2015 at 3:12 am
I was thisclose to using Amity as a middle name for the 2nd baby. I loved it, but it was nixed by the hubby … bummer.
on November 29th, 2015 at 4:17 pm
One I really like is Charity. Also, Hopewell and Hopestill. I knew of a Temperance, and overheard a little boy referred to as Honest on a trip to Plymouth.
on November 29th, 2015 at 4:41 pm
Honor, Mercy, Charity, Grace, Joy, and Hope are my favorites.
Fear, Desire, and Praise are great for a girl, but all need explaining that they are related to God, and would be better suited in the middle position. We sang a hymn today that referred to Christ as the ‘Desire of every nation.” Fear refers to a reverence for the Almighty.
I believe charity, love, and grace all have the same root in New Testament Greek.
I also like Blessing and Glory.
on November 29th, 2015 at 6:33 pm
I do like Amity, and thought I had invented it until seeing it on Nameberry once,
Obedience, tnough unwieldy, and Mindwell are other virtues.
Toya B Said
on November 24th, 2016 at 3:20 am
Amity and Verity. They are totally up there compete=ing for my favourite name.
on November 24th, 2016 at 7:26 am
I love Amity, Honour, Felicity, Prudence and Temperance, I don’t think I’d ever use any of them though. Maybe in the middle. For some reason I’ve always wanted a dog named Prudence.
on November 24th, 2016 at 3:18 pm
I love Felicity, Amity, Clarity and Verity- just a coincidence that they all end in -ity! I’m generally not that big on virtue names, simply because I don’t usually like word names, but these ones I adore. I’m also partial to Prudence because of Prudence “Tuppence” Crowley/Beresford, one of Agatha Christie’s many detectives
on November 24th, 2016 at 7:45 pm
My second daughter was nearly “Verity”–love that name! I love Amity, but my husband didn’t like it due to the “JAWS” association.
Ever since living in a Slavic country, I have loved Valor/Valer for a boy.
Virtue names are amazing! I love so many others as well!
on November 24th, 2016 at 7:56 pm
Mercy is in my top 10 names for a girl. For a boy Noble might be a possibility for a guest name. Valor is great, but I only see it as a middle.
on November 25th, 2016 at 2:48 am
Mercy, Clemency, and Verity are my favourites 🙂
So, someone needs to say something about poor Chastity. I think it has a lovely sound, and I very much dislike Nameberry’s insistence on the “oh no” point of view (“Nameberry” as in both the website and I think to a large extent the community). Chastity is a virtue, not a disease, and to my mind doesn’t detract from the name’s beauty at all. I think it adds to it.
So, rant over.
on November 25th, 2016 at 8:44 am
Nice gift, I can also give a new name as the gift on that day,. See the meaning of the name http://www.suggestbabynames.com/meaning_of_african_girlname_ayan.html
on November 25th, 2016 at 7:35 pm
My favorite virtue names:
Salvation (nn Sally)
Salvation (nn Sal)
on December 11th, 2016 at 6:16 am
I’m for Patience and Mercy. simple names with good meaning. Check out more baby names on this site http://www.suggestbabynames.com/meaning_of_english_boyname_cunopectus.html
on December 13th, 2016 at 4:10 am
I think Mercy is a also a good virtue name. Have a look at some baby names that we have http://www.suggestbabynames.com/meaning_of_african_boyname_dia.html
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on February 22nd, 2017 at 12:11 pm
[…] – Pilgrims are famous for their virtue names. While those earliest American settlers preferred religious choices like Mercy and Resolved, […]
on November 25th, 2017 at 2:59 pm
These are my favorites:
Rejoice (nn Joy)
Salvation (nn Sally)
Rejoice (nn Reggie)
Salvation (nn Sal)
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