It’s Independence Day today on the other side of the Pond, and to celebrate, I thought I’d explore the names given to babies the year that the Declaration of Independence was signed. Using the records available online at FamilySearch (a great genealogical resource provided by the Church of Latter Day Saints), I waded through over 1000 records to take a snapshot of what newly independent Americans were naming their offspring in 1776. Unsurprisingly, the commonest names were John, Joseph, William and James for boys, and Elizabeth, Mary, Sarah, Hannah and Ann(e) for girls — but what was surprising was that these names didn’t dominate quite as much as expected. It turns out, there was a lot of variety in naming practices in America in 1776.
There were some absolute gems — names which might have just stepped out of the pages of Charles Dickens — or even Harry Potter. Abigail Root, Alpheus Dodge, Amaziah Rice, Betsey Boon, Eliphalet Whittlesey, Gamaliel Pardee, Hephzibah Crouch, Howel Stocking, Ichabod Tuttle, Olive Doolittle, Permilia Pettingale, Polly Griswold, Sabrina Craft, Tryphena Blodgett and Zadock Steel would all have been perfectly at home on a shopping trip up Diagon Alley…
Most of the names fell into distinct categories (I have standardized spellings):
- Classic ‘English’ names — names which had gone over with the first settlers, having been in use for centuries back in Blighty before that: Agnes, Alice, Allen, Amy, Arnold, Barbara, Catherine, Charles, Christopher, Dorothy, Edmund, Edward, Frances, Francis, George, Gilbert, Giles, Henry, Justin, Lawrence, Leonard, Lucy, Mabel, Margaret, Margery, Martin, Miles, Millisent, Nicholas, Olive, Oliver, Parnel, Ralph, Richard, Robert, Roderick, Roger, Rosie, Stephen, Sybil, Ursula, Walter.
- Pet-names — Alison, Betsey/Betsy, Betty, Cate, Dilly, Dolly, Fanny, Katy, Lina, Molly, Nancy, Patty, Polly, Sally. Some people think that using short or pet-forms of names as given names in their own right is a new phenomenon – but it’s not, as this list shows; Alison was first used independently of Alice in the Middle Ages.
- Biblical names — probably the largest category. As well as the familiar Bible names, the late 18th Century Americans were just as cheerfully trawling through the dustiest corners of the Old Testament to find obscure names for their children as they do today. All of these featured, a great many of them more than once. Aaron, Abel, Abiah/Abijah, Abiel, Abigail, Abner, Abraham, Abram, Achsah, Adonijah, Amasa, Amaziah, Amos, Andrew, Ard, Ariel, Asa, Asahel/Asael, Asaph, Asenath, Azariah, Azubah, Barnabas, Bathsheba, Benajah, Benjamin, Benoni, Beriah, Bernice, Beulah, Bithiah/Bethiah, Caleb, Cyrenius, Cyrus, Dan, Daniel, David, Deborah, Dorcas, Ebenezer, Eleazar, Eli, Eliab, Eliakim, Elias/Elijah, Eliasaph, Eliel, Elihu, Eliphalet, Elisha, Elizur, Elkanah, Enos, Epaphras, Ephraim, Erastus, Esther, Eunice, Ezra, Festus, Gad, Gamaliel, Gershom, Gideon, Hephzibah, Hezekiah, Hiel, Hiram, Huldah, Ichabod, Isaac, Isaiah, Israel, Ithiel, Jabez, Jacob, Jared, Jason, Jedediah, Jehiel, Jemima, Jephthah, Jerah, Jeremiah, Jeremy, Jerusha, Jesse, Joanna, Job, Joel, Jonathan, Josiah, Judith, Julius, Justus, Keturah,Kezia, Lemuel, Levi, Lois, Lot, Lucius, Lydia, Mahalah, Malachi, Marah, Marcus, Martha, Mehetabel, Merab, Micah, Michael, Miriam, Moses, Naomi, Nathan, Nathaniel, Nehemiah, Noadiah, Noah, Obadiah, Oren, Orpha, Ozias, Pelatiah, Persis, Philetus, Phineas/Phinehas, Phoebe, Rachel, Rebecca, Reuben, Reumah, Reuel, Rhoda, Ruah, Rufus, Ruhamah, Ruth, Salah, Samuel, Sapphira, Selah, Seth, Shadrack, Shubael, Silas, Simeon, Simon, Solomon, Susannah, Tabitha, Talitha-cumi, Tamar, Thaddeus, Thomas, Timothy, Tryphena, Vaniah, Zachariah, Zadok, Zebulon, Zelotes, Zenas, Zeruiah. Phew!
- Puritan names — Charity, Deliverance, Desire, Freegrace, Freelove, Friend, Grace, Mercy, Patience, Prudence, Relief, Submit, Temperance, Thankful. Vine.
- Names from the Classical World — Aeneas, Alethea, Alpheus, Augustus, Aurelia, Chloe, Cynthia, Darius, Doris, Drusilla, Flora, Irene, Juliana, Lavinia, Lucretia, Minerva, Parthenia, Penelope, Philo, Philomela, Phyllis, Polyxena, Roxana, Selina, Silvia, Sophia, Statira, Thalia, Urania, Zeno. A number of the names in the biblical list are also of Greek or Roman origin, but in most cases, their use in 18th Century was due to their appearance in the Bible – which is why they’re on that list, not this.
- Names from literature – Clarinda, Clarissa, Fidelia, Horatio, Lorinda, Lucinda, Matilda, Miranda, Orinda, Sabrina, Violetta.
- 18th Century fashionistas — Ada, Amelia, Anna, Charlotte, Frederick, Harriet, Matilda, Theodosia. Most of these were actually in existence before the 18th C, but it was in this century when they came into their element.
Surnames – Alvan, Arbus, Avery, Bemsley, Bradford, Briggs, Buckley, Calvin, Chauncey, Chester, Church, Clark, Clarry, Denison, Dudley, Elvin, Grant, Gordon, Halsey, Hazard, Howard, Howel, Hubbard, Johnson, Leaman, Lewis, Lothrop, Montgomery, Moore, Palmer, Payson, Percy, Prentice, Roswell, Royal, Rue, Russell, Salmon, Selden, Sheldon, Sterling, Wait, Ward, Warren, Warriner, Wells, Willis, Wilson, Woodruff. A pet bugbear of many people today is the use of surnames as first names – but it is an old practice, as these names demonstrate.
- Children of the Revolution – George Washington, Freedom, Independence, Liberty, Joy — and Lament? Lament may belong in the Puritan category, but Little Lament Hall was born on July 12, and I can’t help wondering whether his parents had not been quite so pleased about the Declaration! Perhaps Rue belongs here too!
- Unique names — these gems and marvels may be scribal errors rather than genuine names, as I have not been able to verify them. Ammarilla, Ammedilla, Ason, Azara, Bani, Barna, Beraliel, Clarine, Cylinda, Darkis, Dency, Elafan, Elazander, Etrania, Farazina, Finance, Heman/Himan, Hubbil, Ketchell, Lodamia, Lorain, Lowly/Lowley, Luanna, Lurannah, Lurany, Milete, Orange, Orra, Permilia, Philena, Prua, Rena, Sabin, Sabra, Salem, Saniel, Sule, Susa, Vienna, Welthy, Willeborough, Willibee, Zebriah.
And what about children actually born on the 4th July 1776? Not that many actually. Bethiah Gray, Charles Loomis, Gideon Cruttenden, Ruah Weed, Selah Scovill – and (how could there not be?) Independence Booth!
Happy Independence Day!