Prompted by a short discussion on Twitter with the fabulous @oldpostcards and @CountryBook about the first names our ancestors were given (‘saddled with’ in many cases) I went back through my tree to find patterns or traditional names handed down through generations. It is something most sensible family historians do early on in their research I expect, but I hadn’t previously done more than note the obvious (there are so many Georges, Ediths, Alfreds and Mays in my family that it causes me endless confusion when explaining relationships.)
Now this blog has the potential to cause offence, for which I have to apologise in advance. It was just too tempting to take this one step further and think about those names common 100 years ago that are coming back into fashion, and those that I hope to goodness will be preserved in aspic never to be resurrected and loaded upon any small person born in the 21st century.
I have been interested in how our first name affects our view of ourselves for some years. I speak from bitter experience. One of my earliest blog posts was about my daughter. When she was born she looked like an ‘Elspeth Alice’, and I still maintain that is a pretty name. However, she has always loathed it and as soon as she hit 16 she changed it by deed poll to Evie, keeping the Alice as a sop to her deeply wounded mother. We are all OK with it now; in fact I respect her for making the change instead of constantly moaning about it and I call her Evie. Only her brother resolutely refuses to do so.
I am only referring to British names here because that is my experience, but in recent years some lovely, old-fashioned names have been brought back into use. Florence, Ruby, Martha, Eliza, and Edie are some of my favourites. Some never went away – Emily, Emma, Elizabeth, Sarah – and for boys the choices have always seemed narrower, with traditional seeming to stay popular for longer- James, Jack and biblical names for example. Even for boys though, shortened forms of ‘old’ names have been picked up – there are an increasing number of Alfies, Charlies, and Wilfs in 21st century pre-school.
But this is where I get controversial. I think there are some names that won’t and perhaps shouldn’t come back into common use. They are either ugly, difficult to shorten affectionately (one of Evie’s main complaints about Elspeth) or so ‘of their time’ that they give your age away more effectively than your driving licience. With respect to many of my friends, these last include:
- Susan (or my name, Suzanne)
These are locked into the period 1950 to 1980 and although one can envisage family tradition might keep them going as second names, I don’t expect Suzanne (which I do actually like) to be making a comeback any time soon. And even if I had as much ‘work’ as Anne Robinson my name gives my middle age away.
Girls names from the 19th and early 20th centuries that should stay there are, in my view:
Boys names include Cedric and Cyril but it really is much harder to find male names in either category. Any thoughts? Which was the worst decade for boy’s names?
My two aunts were called Gertrude and Doris. Auntie Gert liked to be called ‘Trudy’ but my dad (her brother) tormented her and insisted on calling her Gert. So it stuck. Little to recommend either name in my view.
This isn’t to say that we don’t feel a lot of love and affection for these names when associated with specific relatives and ancestors. But would we want to be called by that name? If not, why would our children feel happy with the label?
This is a post where I would really appreciate your thoughts. Do you think I am being unfair (particularly if you were born between 1940 and 1980 and LOVE your name)? Do you have an ancestor in your tree whose name you really envy and would like to adopt? Is there a tradition of particular names in your tree which has left you with a name you didn’t feel able to pass on to your own children? Or have you called a child one of the names on my list and want to heap vitriol upon me?
What names used regularly in the 21st century do you think might be on these lists in the future?
Apparently I would have been ‘Rowena’ if my dad had his way, named after the female character in his favourite book, ‘Eric the Archer’.
Thank you Mum!