Category: Edwardian baby names
By Haley Sedgwick
The Edwardian era, though short, brought us many names that had hardly ever charted prior to the turn of the last century. Beginning in 1901 with the death of Queen Victoria, the end of this period is often disputed, but it’s assumed to have ended sometime around the First World War.
Namesake King Edward VII was known to be particularly stylish, influencing art and fashion across Europe, some of which can be seen in the first season of Downton Abbey, which depicts the tail end of the era.
With the high fashions of the period, names were changing, just as quickly as the times were. Unfortunately, name data from England and Wales before 1996 only exists in ten-year intervals; the following names were gaining popularity in 1904 and 1914 in England and Wales.
For most people outside of the UK, “British Names” are typified by the old Victorian legacy of Empire and afternoon tea, or the ethereal mystery of ancient Celtic folklore. The stereotype often favours rarefied aristocratic favourites such as Percival and Araminta, or tongue-twisting indigenous Gaelic choices like Aonghus or Caoimhe.
If you look at the most popular names that are actually used in Britain today you will see a much more varied picture. Like other Western countries there is a large influence from film and television, a popular cult of celebrity, and a growing awareness of global fashions (yes, we have many Neveahs and Jaydens, too). And yet, even in our modernised naming practices, British trends still manage to make a subtle nod to history in a style that feels quite unique.
If you’re wondering about the origins of the term, it dates back to Florodora, one of the first big Broadway musical hits of the twentieth century—it opened in 1900– and the term came to symbolize a kind of saucy, high-kicking, wasp-waisted show gal who might well have been named Flora or Dora—or Cora or Nora—all names then near the height of their popularity.
In 1900, Flora was Number 106 on the list, Dora, 79, Cora 55, and Nora 83, but their rankings would experience somewhat disparate trajectories. While all four peaked in the 1880s, it was only Nora, with her more classic feel, that would maintain respectable numbers throughout the succeeding decades–Flora was the first to vanish completely, in 1972.
But while these names appear to share such a strong family resemblance, they actually have quite different résumés.
CORA. Though Cora‘s roots go back to the ancient Greek — the word kore, meaning ‘girl, maiden’–and it was a title given to Persephone, goddess of springtime, the modern introduction of Cora to the English-speaking world is credited to James Fenimore Cooper and his creation of Cora Munro, the spirited heroine of his 1826 novel The Last of the Mohicans. Today, Cora is most visibly tied to the American-born Right Hono(u)rable Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey. And the sweet, old-fashioned Cora is now at Number 276, the highest it’s been since 1949, with the expanded Coralie getting some love as well.
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.