Category: English names
What, exactly, are English names? Names most often found in England? (Short answer: No.) Names commonly used in English-speaking countries? (Kind of.) Or names rooted in the English language? (Definitely).
Many of the names most popular in countries where the official language is English — usually defined as the US, UK, Canada, and Australia, along with Ireland and New Zealand — are in fact rooted in other languages and cultures. Emma‘s origins are German, for instance, while Sophia is Greek. Noah is Hebrew, and Liam is Irish.
Many of these names are used widely around the world, far beyond English-speaking cultures. Emma, for example, is a Top 10 girls’ name in Norway, Italy, Finland, and Hungary, while Noah is in the Top 10 in Germany, Sweden, and Belgium.
Some names commonly considered English names are in fact English versions of names from other cultures. William is an English version of an originally-German name, for example, while Jane is the English feminization of John, itself originating in Hebrew.
Still there are many names that can be considered authentic English names. These include classics such as, along with English surnames used as first names, English word names, and place names from English-speaking countries.
Our roundup of the most well-known and best English names:
I remember how, when I first read the novels of Evelyn Waugh and the plays of George Bernard Shaw, a whole new universe of names opened up for me. A world of sophisticated, eccentric, kind of uppity and veddy veddy Victorian and Edwardian British names, many of which I had never heard before, but instantly became enamored with.
The comic novels of Waugh and P.G. Wodehouse and the plays (and novel) of Oscar Wilde and Shaw are still a good place to start if you’re looking for a name with a certain elegance, gentility, swank—and sometimes a bit of quirkiness as well.
- Agatha – Waugh
- Amarylis – Shaw
- Ariadne – Shaw
- Augusta – Wilde
- Candida – Shaw
- Cecily – Shaw and Wilde
- Chastity – Waugh
- Clarice – Wodehouse
- Cordelia – Waugh
- Dahlia – Wodehouse
- Domenica – Waugh
- Eliza – Shaw
- Epifania – Shaw
- Evangeline – Wodehouse
- Flossie – Waugh
- Fortitude – Waugh
- Gwendolen – Wilde
- Hester – Wilde
- Hypatia – Wodehouse
- Justice – Waugh
- Lilith – Shaw
- Mercy— Waugh
- Orinthia – Shaw
In the spirit of friendly, transatlantic competition, I couldn’t let a post about the President’s children go by without taking a look at the naming habits of Prime Ministers past. With a few more years of incumbents to consider(Robert Walpole, the first Prime Minister in the modern sense of the position, was appointed in 1721), I discovered a veritable mountain of lovely, classic names.
The most commonly occurring name for the son of a Prime Minister was William, which popped up twelve times. In fact, one PM, William Henry Cavendish-Bentwick used it twice, naming his first two sons (who both survived childhood) William and William Henry. In second place was George, with nine. The middle name Augustus appeared four times.
As for daughters, the most popular name was Mary, which occurred seven times, as well as there being two little Marias. The Catherine variants numbered seven – five Catherines, one Katherine, and, most recently, a Kathryn. Other names which proved surprisingly popular were Hester and Louisa.
Strange naming trends abounded; naming children after relatives and friends, for example. ‘What?’ I hear you cry. ‘I named my daughter after so-and-so.’ Well, of course, but not like PM George Canning did when he named his second son William Pitt Canning, after friend and former Prime Minister, William Pitt the younger. Robert Peel also named one of his sons after a former Prime Minister who had supported his career, bestowing upon him the name Arthur Wellesley Peel.
I relish the days when, in the service of nameberry, I allow myself to click through to the birth announcements in Britain’s Daily Telegraph. The upper-crusty British baby name trends and eccentric (to the American ear) name combinations, oblivious to any conventional notions of “flow,” are my idea of top-flight entertainment.
For my latest survey, I set myself the task of listing only those offbeat names that reflect the English sensibility but are rarely heard heard in the United States – or indeed anywhere else in the world. (They may be rarely heard in Britain too — there are lots more Thomases than Teklas — yet they’re in keeping with upper-class British style.)
What I didn’t suspect was how many of them there were. Choices that originally seemed natural for the list – Henrietta and Imogen, for instance – had to be offloaded to make way for more extraordinary names.
What remains is a selection of quirky British baby names (not all of them actual English choices), many of which are utterly (utterly, dahling!) charming and could bear far more use in the larger world.
English name standings have not been published consistently every year. At the beginning of 2009, the UK ‘s Office for National Statistics let it be known that they wouldn’t be issuing their annual lists of most popular names due to recessional budget cuts, and a collective moan was heard across the name-o-sphere. (Can you imagine what would happen if our Social Security list didn’t appear one Mother’s Day?)
Well, I don’t know what happened–maybe the uproar was too deafening–but suddenly, nine months later, their lists of top 100 boys and 100 girls names in England and Wales have now materialized. Definitely a case of better late than never.
Once upon a time I used to think that, since we share the same language, the Yanks and the Brits would have similar taste in names. That was before I married a Brit myself and it came to naming our daughter, when I saw just how different our perceptions of most names were. And though things have evened out to some degree with the rise of the Internet and the international sharing of opinions, looking at the top English girls’ names today (we’ll take up the boys’ next week), we can see that there is still quite a divide.