Monday, April 18, 2011

Fun with names. Again. :)

I am fascinated by names - where they come from, how people choose them, naming trends, naming patterns, you name it, I'm obsessed.

Usually, the first thing we learn about a newly discovered ancestor is his or her name. A name can tell you a lot about a person - where they came from, possible family names to keep an eye out for. They can even tell you things that have nothing to do with genealogy but everything to do with what kind of person someone was - were his or her parents traditional or creative, close to a family member they wanted to honor or hoping their child would be independent.

As you can see, I think a lot about this stuff.

Anyway, in looking more closely at my American family history, I've been going through old church records of marriages and christenings from St. George's Episcopal Church in Hempstead on Long Island, and it's mostly full of your traditional English Marys and Josephs and Margarets and Thomases. But every now and then you run into a Pamela or a Gloriana, something a little more fanciful and exciting. (This is coming from a Mary who loves her traditional name.)

My favorite part, though, are the Puritan-reminiscent names. Everybody's heard of them - the parents who named their daughters Mercy or Charity or Hope or Faith in the hopes that their daughters would embody those qualities. That's the way the original English settlers in America named - they wanted those virtues to be in your face. So it's never a surprise for me to come across them in my research (although I'm fairly disappointed that on my own lines, no one was apparently religious or Puritanical enough to bestow said names on any of my ancestors). You also get your Old Testament fare. I mean the Jacobs and the Samuels, but I also mean the Enochs and the Josephats, as if these people wanted to be biblical but also creative. Either that or they just hated their children. I definitely have some OT names on my tree.

So as I was going through these transcribed records, I thought I'd share some of my favorite biblical and Pilgrim-esque names that I've been coming across, that it'll be a good laugh for a Monday, but also a reminder of the different times these people lived in.

(All of these come from the book "Adventures for God: A history of St. George's Episcopal Church" by John Sylvanus Haight, New York, 1932):

Lemuel Ackley, son of Abijah Ackley (you'd think after having been given the name Abijah by his parents, ole' Abijah wouldn't have tortured his own offspring in the same manner - he also had a son Abijah...)

Elnathan Eldert - at least he learned from his own unfortunate name and named his kids Sarah, Robert, and James

Freelove Nicols, wife of Jacob - you'd be surprised how popular Freelove was in 16th and 17th century Hempstead. The name, not the person. Well, maybe also the person.

Uriah - that was a popular biblical name making the rounds of Hempstead...

Comfort Rhodes

Nehemiah Sammis, son of Benjamin and Abigail - they probably thought "How come we got the same ole' boring biblical names everyone else in this town got? Let's open our Bible to whatever page, point, and whatever we're pointing at, that's what we'll name our son!"

Sylvanus - I'm actually not sure where this name comes from, but it turns up a lot...

Parmenus Smith, son of Mordecai - 'nuff said

Abraham Wood, son of Epenetus - that's an example of a father learning from his parents' mistake...

Elijah Wood - that's not weird, that's just a name of a current Hollywood actor that turns up a lot in these old records... :)

Flower Hulse - unfortunately this is for real and even worse, it's a guy. It's a family name, but really, if your wife's maiden name is Flower, just go with John. Sometimes boring and the same as everyone else is okay.

Eliphilet Stratton

Divine, son of John and Sarah Hewlett - I don't know if they had drag queens back then, but if you name your daughter that, you're asking for her to grow up to be a stripper. If you name your son that, drag queen. Or you're just really religious and oblivious.

Jacamiah Allen - that's not too bad. You can go by the nickname "Jack."

Gebulon, son of Robert Pedrick

Lerujah, daughter of Daniel and Sarah Vine

Temperence Beedle - that's a good early New England name!

Freeman Place - the male version of Freelove?

Patience Cornelius

Anyway, that's just to name a few. If I shouted out any of your ancestors - it's all good-natured jesting, I assure you! Like I said, it was a different time. Believe you me, I guarantee our descendants are going to have an absolute field day when they look back at this time and place! :)


  1. Reading your post made me think of Freeporter Raynor Rock Smith (who may actually be an ancestor of yours). Googled him and came up with this interesting narrative Plenty of interesting names there.
    BTW, don't forget my cousins Faith and Hope Laidlaw.

  2. My grandfather wrote the book about st George's...John syllabus height. Great old family name. Alison. Nj

  3. Sorry...John sylvan us haight

  4. Oh wow, Alison, that's really cool! Yeah, Sylvanus was pretty popular for some reason! :)