Sixty-six years of Mary*

Heavy Metal Band name taxonomy by Doogie Horner.
I like lists. I also like unusual, historical, stupid, and exotic names. So it was with some interest  I noted that Social Security released their annual list of popular baby names (Jacob, Isabella). The site provides some good browsing. For instance, I didn't know that Mary was the top girl's name from 1880 (first searchable year) through 1946? Sixty-six years of Mary! Mary was then displaced by Linda for 7 anomalous years before—miraculously— she returned to number one for another 9 years. Wow, there's something about Mary, indeed.

Like many people I've wondered about the disappearance of names like Ethel, Bertha, Mildred, Ida, et al. "Old fashioned" names, period names— names that cannot help but seem tied to another time and place. How did they drop off the list? What social/cultural vagaries came into play to annihilate names that were common and popular. Was it Hollywood and the rise of "movie stars" like Gloria Swanson, Louise Brooks, Joan Crawford that made Bessie, Ada, and Viola seem so last century? What about a name like Lisa— where did that come from? Its a part of today's  standard roster of go-to names. It was number one several years in the early sixties, yet it wasn't even on the top 1000 list in say, 1930. There were Pearlines, Glennas, Floys, and Wandas, but not one Lisa.

Some "old fashioned" names have enjoyed a healthy resurgence. Emma has been going strong for years now, and I am
personally familiar with some young Ivy, Hazel, Pearl and Mabels. (I personally hope that Britney, Brittany, Katelynne, Kaylee and all their unique-ified transcriptions do not resurface a 100 years from now as quaint, unusual revivals.)

When speaking of old fashioned, unusual, historical or stupid names, one has to turn to my favorite repository of onomastic pyrotechnics: Colonial New England.
They drew upon a whole spectrum of fire, brimstone, saintly virtues, and obscure Old Testament references and came out with, what is to me, endlessly fascinating naming practices. If anyone is as interested as I am in early New England oddities I recommend Vast Public Indifference, a blog of gravestones and naming run by a Harvard grad student (several of the names below are from that blog). Also, Curiosities of Puritan nomenclature (1897) by Charles Wareing Endell Bardsley is a must for gaining knowledge about the Hope-stills and Fly-fornications of the past. And dont miss the amazing Farber Gravestone Collection.
Miss Asenath Tinkham
Obed Abbott

Ichabod Swaddle

Titus Frisbie

Eliphalet Gray

Titus and Eliphalet were Revolutionary War veterans from Brandford, CT

Mephibosheth "Fib" Adams
Miss Lobelia Scroggins
The Lobelia is also called pukeweed, and it represents malevolence in the Victorian language of flowers
Epaphroditus Ransom
(March 24, 1798– November 11, 1859) seventh Governor of Michigan
Onesiphorus Tileston
Miss Hazelelponi Willix
Miss Cozbi Hayden
Cozbi was the daughter of a Midianite king, and the name represents voluptuousnes and deceitfulness. There is seemingly incontrovertible evidence that early New Englanders were bible-obsessed but not always bible-literate.Either children were bestowed "cruel" names on purpose or parents were not always sticklers for getting the backstory.
Genubath Strong
Bezer Hill
"was killed by the upsetting of a cart"
Jehosheba Taft
Thurlow Weed

(November 15, 1797 – November 22, 1882) a New York newspaper publisher, politician, and party boss

* This post got deleted somehow and this second edition, rewritten, basically covers earlier territory.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

you know, with a different spelling, Mephibosheth can seem very Yiddish... " Mehfibbehsheth is meshuggeneh"... see?

ps capcha is "bactoo" what a great word!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...