As William S. Walsh pointed out in his late nineteenth century book, Handy-Book of Literary Curiosities, “above all other men the Puritans distinguished themselves by their fantastic choice of names.” So intent were these the devoutest of Christians, “they resolved to throw off all semblance of the world or acquaintance with worldly things.”1
Walsh, musing about the curious baptismal names uniquely assigned to English and American children, pointed out French children were less vulnerable to such “absurd names” simply because, well, French law prohibited the practice. At the time it was against the law in France to name a person after a saint or other person of historical significance.
Lest we think the current practice of imparting unique and unusual names to our offspring is just the latest fad, consider a few of these: a man surnamed “Death” named one of his sons Jolly and the other Sudden; North West (the daughter of celebrities Kanye West and Kim Kardashian) has nothing on a family by the name of Rose who named their daughter Wild. Wild later married a man named Bull. North West wasn’t the first to be endowed with a “directional name” either – one boy was given the name “Sou’-Wester” in honor of his uncle, born during a southwesterly wind storm.
I have a whole series of potential articles on baby-naming practices during the volatile time preceding the Civil War – “States Rights” seems to have been a popular one. Another family named three of their daughters “Anti-Nebraska”, “Free Kansas” and “Texana”, according to Walsh.
In northern England the Bible was often used to secure names for the newborn. Walsh cited these examples (some rather cringe-worthy):
- Twins christened as Cain and Abel (the pastor balked at that one but acquiesced and proceeded with baptism).
- A parson, at first unsure whether the baby was male or female, baptized a child by the name of Ramoth-Gilead. The parents had opened the Bible “haphazard” and, according to village tradition, had selected the first name their eyes fell upon.
- One parson objected to the naming of one child – Sirs – until his parents informed him it was indeed a scriptural name (“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”). Similarly, Walsh was reminded of a Puritan who had named his dog “Moreover” for you see scripture tells us in the Gospels: “Moreover, the dog came and licked his sores.”
The practice of conferring unusual and burdensome names on their children was indeed a uniquely Puritan thing. Like the names and stories I collect and subtitle “It Was a Victorian Thing”, perhaps I should begin researching articles which are subtitled “It Was a Puritan Thing”.
One name I came across recently must have been the “jewel” of all seventeenth century Puritanical names (let me put this on a line by itself!):
Nicholas-If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been Damned Barebone
His father was Praise-God Barebone (whose brother was named Fear-God), who some believe may have actually been officially baptized and named:
Perhaps he found “Praise-God” less cumbersome. His son appears to have officially used only his first name after embarking upon a career as a physician, economist and financial speculator, although Walsh claimed Nicholas was at one time more familiarly known as “Doctor Damned Barebone”.
Nicholas was born around 1640, later studying medicine and graduating in 1661. Three years later he was admitted to the Royal College of Physicians. In 1666 the devastating Great Fire of London brought about a change in professions as Nicholas helped rebuild the city. Through aggressive financial speculation Nicholas Barebone amassed tremendous wealth – in today’s currency perhaps over twenty-three million pounds by the time of his death in 1698. He also founded London’s first fire insurance company in 1681.
Another child born on August 31, 1611 was named “Job-raked-out-of-the-ashes”, his body rescued from a heap of coal ashes, baptized and buried the following day. Here’s another, a real tongue-twister (not to mention a bunch of mumbo-jumbo): a man named “Dancell Dellphebo Marc Antony Dallery Gallery Caesar Williams” bestowed the same strung-out name on his son.
In the early seventeenth century an assembled jury in Sussex included: “Accepted Trevor”; “Redeemed Compton”; “Faint Not Hewit”; “Make Peace Heaton”; “God Reward Smart”; “Standfast on High Stringer”; “Earth Adams”; “Called Lower”; “Return Spelman”; “Be Faithful Joiner”; “Fly Debate Roberts”; “Fight the Good Fight of Faith White”; “Hope For Bending”; “Graceful Harding”; “Weep Not Billing”; “Meek Brewer” and my favorite “Kill Sin Pimple”.2
Eventually this form of nomenclature ebbed away in England as persecuted Puritans departed for America. Still, the practice of utilizing so-called “grace names” continued in New England. Names like Faith, Hope, Charity, Prudence, Mercy, Truth, Experience, Remember, Obedience, Repentance – and even Humiliation and Pride – were common among the faithful. One man by the name of Sykes named his four sons Lovewell, Dowell, Diewell and Farewell (alas, Farewell the youngest, died at a young age, a victim of drowning).
I’ve written other stories of the unusually-named like these Tombstone Tuesday articles about Remember Elijah Soper, Hiram Hezekiah Leviticus Luttrell and Preserved Fish. Have you unusual names in your family tree? Feel free to share in comments below – who knows, I might just write an article about them!
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2015.