Tuesday 30 June 2015

Naming Patterns for Children

Recently statistics relating to many aspects of Canadian life were published, in advance of Canada Day – this year the country’s 148th birthday. They were broken down by province and included such diverse categories as: average salaries, notable top trending Google searches, number of accidental deaths, litres of beer consumed per capita, home prices and total number of Kraft Dinner boxes sold. The sources were equally varied: Statistics Canada, Google (of course), major retailer groups, real estate association and provincial vital statistics.

One that caught my eye, as it might many genealogists, was top baby names. Anyone who has transcribed parish and census records from centuries past is aware of certain trends in the naming of children. The top two names in Canada for 2014, as shown on the website, Today’s Parent, with data from all provincial vital statistics departments, were Liam, for boys, and Olivia, for girls. In the United States, according to the website, babycentre, it was Jackson and Sophia, with Liam and Olivia both in the top three. It may seem unusual that such old-fashioned names were at the top of the list but there is historical precedent.

In centuries past, at least in the primarily English-speaking countries, there was always a propensity to name children after their ancestors. Most family historians are familiar with the English and Scottish Naming Patterns, with the first children named after grandparents and subsequent children named after parents, aunts and uncles. The conventions are both helpful, in the search for ancestors, and maddening, as so many cousins in one village might have the same name.

Traditions still exist in the naming of children with at least one name being given in remembrance of past generations. I share a first name with many past relatives, including my father. My brother was named for both of his grandfathers. There has been a John and/or a James Shepheard in almost every past generation I have found in our family back to the early 1600s. During the mid-18th century in England, middle names began to come into common use, as described in a May 2014 post on The Pharos Blog. Some were in recognition of their mother’s surname; some were used to differentiate those cousins living in the same area; some recognized friends or influential people in the community.

In more recent times, parents have attempted to give more names to their children from outside the family, as if to identify and emphasize them as being unique, but still many names come from within the family. My oldest grandson was to be named William Alexander until his mother realized that was the full name of her grandfather. His name was then established as Ian Alexander which combined names of both his father and paternal grandfather. Alec’s brother was given the name of Malcom Macgregor, the first name from that same paternal grandfather. His second name, from Scottish origins, means “Son of Shepherd”, which seemed appropriate.

My granddaughter received the name of Calista which in Greek means “most beautiful”. My son thought that was apt. Her second name is James because my daughter-in-law likes girls with traditionally “male” names. While they both sought out unique names for Calista’s brother, they ended up with Ethan as a first name. His mother says it “was chosen under duress in the hospital so that I could fill out the birth record.” She loved the name Ethan but still hated that is was so popular – third on the list of boys’ names in 2006. He also got the name Charles as a second name. While perhaps not intentional, it happens to be the name of his 2nd and 4th great-grandfathers as well as many cousins throughout our family tree. It was also given to him as his second name so that no one would be tempted to call him “Chuck”.

Anyway, when looking through the lists of popular names, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that many of the most popular names in recent years were also common in past generations. The pattern has been dubbed the 100-Year Rule. Names associated with grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations regain their popularity. It may not be conscious thing on behalf of parents although I suspect that people who have fond recollections of their grandparents may retain such memories in the names of their children. Thus, as great-grandparents pass away, they may be remembered in the names of their great-grandchildren.

While children’s names may not be associated with very closely-connected ancestors, as they were hundreds of years ago, many still manage to have a link to their family’s past in their names. That trend has certainly continued in my family through my children.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated