What's in a Name, Part 1

Note: I refer to a lot of names in the next few posts. I’m not criticizing anyone’s choices, I promise. As a historian, my main goal is to be objective and give information. I just wanted to talk about the difference in culture and what that has to do with names and how we got here.

Naming a child now is difficult.

In the past, it was different. There was a pool of names in England around the 14th-17th centuries, and unless you were Jewish, foreign or Welsh, you were likely to be Anne, Katherine, Mary, Jane, Thomas, Henry, John or William. That was about it. And if you had lots of children, it got even easier. There’s a reason Quintin, Sextus, and Septimus are names. They mean 5, 6 and 7. Individuality was not an issue. The issue was keeping your kids alive until they reached adulthood (most of them wouldn’t). Now that we are so darned blessed with every luxury and convenience, our children have to be a sort of living symbol of what we’ve earned since then.

If the hubs and I were from strikingly different cultures, say Indian and Chinese, you can imagine how difficult naming a baby would be. Chandrashakara or Ming? And that’s not even considering the myriad religious beliefs that are present in both of those cultures.

You would think that, both of us being white, Christian and English-speakers, that naming our baby would be a breeze, but it’s actually not.

For example, just after we got engaged, hubs made this statement: “I don’t want our kids to have weird American names.” I, of course, got on my high horse about what was wrong with American names...until I remembered that I went to school with a guy named Dwayne. According to that bastion of accuracy, Facebook, there is no one named Dwayne in England. So I naturally countered with, “Well, we’re not naming our kids anything snooty and British either, like Percy or Sebastian.” I still think Sebastian is the crab from the Little Mermaid and should not actually be a person, but the thousands of Sebs on Facebook disagree with me.

So does this guy.

Since then, and especially since being pregnant, I’ve discovered the following more objective things about naming conventions in England and the US:

1. In the US (especially the South), it seems fairly common to give children surnames as first or middle names (i.e. Harper, Riley, Cooper, Brady, Jackson). The people I’ve spoken to in the UK think this is really odd.

2. Biblical names, especially among Christians in both countries, are common, but biblical names among non-Christians in the UK seem to be MORE common. I’m going to speculate that this is due to the commonality of names here like Peter, James, Andrew, etc. through the ages.

3. Middle names seem to be less common in the UK, and they are less used even if given. I’m not going to say that this is solely due to the fact that they aren’t as crazy about monogramming as Americans, but I have figured out that this is why monograms will never catch on as a trend here. In fact, I have to explain what a monogram is to most people (which would be unheard of in the South, at least).

Next time, I’ll talk more about why Nevaeh (heaven spelled backwards) and La-a (la-DASH-uh) don't signify the downfall of our society, and why, if we have a boy, all English people will think he’s a wimp.


  1. 1. Is interesting, considering that according to my grandmother (who was Scottish, off the boat) at least, giving a grandmother's maiden name to your first daughter was/is common and/or tradition in Scotland. (So, if your mom's maiden name was Smith, your kid would maybe be Miniwendy Smith Naylor). Similarly my grandmother claimed that it was tradition to name your 2nd daughter after her father, & have her middle name be the mother's maiden name. So my grandfather's name was Hollis; had my mom been born in Scotland, I swear to you the continuous claim is that her name would have been Holly Jolly Manning.

    The South is in general pretty Scotch-Irish, traditionally speaking, so maybe that's all part of it, but I also think it's part of the same thing - preserving a woman's family's names into the next generation.

    That being said, my aunt's middle name WAS Ramsey, and that is a family name, and I think it's awesome. She hated it. Hah.

  2. Maybe I should have specified England, as I haven't talked to any Scots about this. I get confused sometimes about whether it's better to put UK or England or Britain. Britain seems a bit too colonial to me, but to some people England has this connotation of being superior or something. I never can tell.

    However, the next post is going to be chock full of bizarre Scot/Irish/Gaelic names from my baby name book, so we'll get to those as well. :)

  3. i am reliably informed that the UK and GB are different. Wiki confirms.

  4. I'm partial to the name Harper... But only cause I saw it on a convenience store sign, and not cause we took it from a family member's last name. Ha ha.


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