Friday, March 2, 2012

A Rose by Any Other Name: But We Have No Roses

          Names always fascinate me.  Perhaps it is because I never liked my name, and so changed it to “Kate”.  My middle name, Jane, seems rather pedestrian.  Or quaint and comfortingly old-fashioned.  Depending on the day and my mood.
          My sisters all have names that are much more fashionable or malleable or fun than mine.  Barbara was also Barbie and Barb.  Melissa can be Missy.  And Jeaneen has the glory of a totally unique name (or at least the spelling) and has been Jeannie in the past.
          The meaning of names is also of great interest to me.  My name is from a Greek word and means “pure”.  My sons name, Nathaniel (and happy birthday to him), means “gift of God”.
          I recently started to look at the various first names in my family and found an enormous range of names.  Some are trendy – for their time.  Lots of them are Biblical.  And there are some that make you wonder how in the world anyone came up with that.
          So today, for the fun of it, I compiled a list of first names of my direct ancestors, and determined which names were rare and which were most common.  The top name should sound very familiar to my sisters (although none of their names made the list.)

Names found only once in my line of direct ancestors:
Adam                    Agnes                    Allen                      Amanda
Anna                     Anne                     Asa                        Austin
Betty                     Campbell               Edith                      Elias
Enoch                    Ezekiel                   Frances                 Franklin
Griselda                 Hezekiah                Hugh                      Ida
Isaac                     Laughlin                 Levi                        Mahala
Maria                    Marian                   Martha                   Melvin
Minerva                 Nathaniel               Nicholas                Phillip
Sophia                   Susan                    Tabitha

          Quite a long list, isn’t it?  And some great names in there.  Just think, my son could have been Hezekiah Laughlin!

Names found twice:
Catherine               Elizabeth                Jane                      Joseph
Margaret               Rebecca                Samuel                  Thomas

          Now Catherine might belong in the first list since one lady spelled her name with a “C” and the other with a “K”, but spelling was so iffy in those days, that I imagine I can find documents for each lady with both spellings.  So I am counting that as two of the same name. 

Most frequently found first names:
James – three times (interesting, since this is also a surname in my family)
Thomas – four times
William – six times
Sarah – seven times
George and John – nine times each (John sounds reasonable, that was my dad’s name, and I know it was and still is a very common name, but who knew we had so many Georges in our family?)

And the name found most often in my line of direct ancestors?  Can you guess?  What name is missing from the list?
With 16 separate occurrences, all spelled the same way, the number one name is Mary.
Mary was the name of my paternal grandmother, so it is, indeed, familiar to my sisters and me.  Interestingly to my modern mind is the fact that both Polly and Molly are nicknames for Mary. 
So what names are most common in your family?  Check and see.  You might be surprised.

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