Thursday, May 9, 2013

A rose by any other name ...

A blog reader sent me a list of the latest in Australian baby names:

Number 16 Bus Shelter  (don’t ask)
Benson and Hedges  (twins)
V8 (I’m speechless)
Hula Tulula from Hawaii (the name comprises all those words)
Weekend (can you imagine, ‘Come here, Weekend, you naughty girl!’)

There are other examples which I’ll refrain from repeating. Apple, Blossom, Tulip, Sky and so on must have become old hat. Where are we headed in this naming business? 

The National Records of Scotland website tells us:

For the eighth year running Sophie is the most popular girls' name, and Jack the favourite name for boys. Emily, Olivia, Ava, Lucy and Sophie make up the top five girls' names, while Lewis, Riley, James, Logan and Jack make up the top five names for boys.

Those seem hearteningly conventional. And it's a comfort to know my granddaughter Olivia is in good company. Read more at 
and where the added dimension of nicknames is explored, as well as interchangeable forenames such as Jane/Jean/Janet: all could apply to one person – and indeed does in my Scottish family tree.  

They left out Helen, which is interchangeable with Ellen and Nell; or perhaps Nell should be regarded as a nickname. My Aunt Agnes was always known as Nancy, another interchangeable Scottish forename. Georgina became Ina and Margaret was usually Peggy. A girl christened Williamina in Scotland became Wilhelmina in South Africa.

Elizabeth might be recorded as Elisabeth, Eliza, Betty, Betsy, Beth, Bessie, Elspeth, Lizzie, and even Elsie. My grandmother taught me the following verse:

Eliza, Elizabeth, Betsy and Beth
Went to the woods to find a birds nest
Found a nest with 5 eggs in it
Took one each and left 4 in it.

In Northumberland, Isabel and Elizabeth were interchangeable in the 19th c, as I found to my cost when researching in that area.

Sol Plaatje
Among Byrne settlers to Natal, children’s names were permanent reminders of the voyage out – Ocea Isabel, Ocean Robert – and Natalia was an obvious choice for daughters. Frederick York St Leger, the Irish born founder of the Cape Times, named his eldest son Frederick Capetown St Leger. Sol Plaatje went one better, naming one of his sons Frederick York St Leger Plaatje, a mouthful for any child. So far I’ve been unable to discover the derivation of the name Sturges Bourne Bell, a son of Captain William Bell. Ideas welcomed.*

Where there’s no apparent family tradition in a forename, there’s always a chance that the baby was named after the doctor or midwife present at delivery; a well-known local personality who might act as sponsor – or godparent – to the child; a famous figure of the time – my grandfather’s middle name was Bartle after Sir Bartle Frere. 

Sir Redvers (pronounced Reevers) Buller
Numerous babies in the early 20th c acquired the name Buller in honour of Sir Redvers Henry Buller, commander of the Natal Field Force during the Anglo-Boer War. Mr & Mrs Willis, residents of Ladysmith during the Siege, named their son Harry Buller Siege Willis. Florence Nightingale was tacked on to various surnames, as was Sherlock Holmes. At least Florence was a historic personage and not a fictional character. Boys were named after battles – Trafalgar, Waterloo, but not, I think, Isandlwana.

Middle names, naturally not gender specific, often give an indication of a mother’s maiden name, as in the case of Cathrine Gibson Hamilton (my mother): her mother was Annie Gibson. Elizabeth Smith Hamilton (my aunt) was named for her grandmother, Elizabeth Smith. This causes confusion as the original Elizabeth Smith married a Hamilton, so we have two people of the same name on the same family tree. Frequently there are many more repetitions of a name through succeeding generations and we have to resort to numbering the ancestors (Thomas Gadsden I, Thomas Gadsden II) or identifying them by occupation as in Thomas Gadsden the Mariner, Thomas Gadsden the Founder et al. A local example is Henry Francis Fynn: there were three of them.

Surnames as forenames are a growing trend today: their success depends on the surname they precede. That goes for traditional forenames, too. Surely the following example must be apocryphal: a family named DOWN who had children named Neil Down, Eileen Down and Ida Down.

*This mystery has now been solved. More anon.

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