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  • Weird Nineteenth-Century Names July 8, 2012

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    Beach has long been fascinated by the use and misuse of names. Here are some beautiful nineteenth-century English cases of eccentric onomastics.

    In this town [East Dereham, Norfolk] there is an innkeeper who rejoices in  the baptismal name of ‘Mahershalalhashbaz’ (see Isaiah  viii. 1). I should think this is unique. He is commonly  called  ‘Maher’, but in the parochial and other lists the  full name appears. Report says (but I will not vouch for its truth) that  his father wished him to be named ‘Uz’, but on the clergyman  remonstrating he immediately said, ‘Then we will  have the other’, and produced from his pocket a slip of  paper with the longer name.

    The next is from an undisclosed location: ‘A  few weeks ago, at the baptism of a baby, the names ‘Azilé’  Pauline’ were given me. Not knowing or recognising the  first name, I asked that it might be spelt. Not being much  enlightened, but imagining it might be some French name  to go with the second, which was pronounced with the  French accent, I baptised the baby with those names. On  asking the mother after the service where she had got the  name from, she replied, ‘ Neither my husband nor myself  likes the name Eliza, so we thought we would spell it backwards!

    Another report came from a mental institution.

    Some time ago a woman was admitted  into this asylum, duly certified under the name of ‘Protezay M .’ I was so puzzled by the apparently  cabalistic character of the Christian name, that I made inquiry of the friends who accompanied her as to its  origin, and, in reply, they unfolded a strange, eventful  history. During infancy she had been deserted by her  mother, and had been found on the roadside by a man  named M, who took her to his home and adopted her  as his own. By way of ‘a conceit which is pretty to see’  (as Mr. Pepys would have said), this man ever afterwards  spoke of her as his protegee. M’s orthography, however,  was not on the same elevated plane as his etymology hence ‘Protezay’. 

    Or what about this one?

    A child (a girl) was brought for baptism to my grandfather [in Castle Acre Norfolk]. When asked the name, the parent, to  his surprise, replied, ‘Emdiella’. ‘There is no such name’,  said my grandfather. ‘Oh, yes, sir, there is ; we saw it in a book,’ replied the woman. My grandfather at the time  did not like to inquire further, but it turned out that she  had found in an old grammar the four liquid letters,  L.M.N.E., and had confused them into M.D.L.R. The child  was, however, christened ‘Emdiella’.

    Then we get onto the gods.

    ‘In a country parish [where?], of which my father was  rector some twenty-five years ago, there was a child who rejoiced in the name of ‘Venus’. I heard that when she was baptised the officiating clergyman remonstrated with  the parents, on the ground that Venus was not a Christian  name, but that of a heathen goddess. He was somewhat  nonplussed, however, when reminded that the squire’s wife was named Diana…

    And another Venus

    ‘In a Devonshire village church, some  years ago, a male infant was presented for baptism, the  sponsors naming it ‘Vanus’. The clergyman protested  that Venus was a heathen lady of doubtful reputation, and  he refused to baptise the baby with such a name.  ‘How could you think of such a name?’ he asked.  ‘Well, zur, us wants to carn (call) him after his grandvather,  and hers a called Vanus.’ Subsequent investigation  showed that the old man’s name was Sylvanus [which from a Christian perspective is not much better], but all his  life he had never been called anything but Vanus.’  

    The following is interesting thinking of the biography of Shakespeare. Would any intrepid scholar like to do more? These names appear in the registers of Shoreditch: in 1589 Shakespeare and Burbage were recorded as shareholders in the nearby Blackfriars Theatre.

    ‘Miss ‘Juliet’ Burbage was baptised in 1608, in all  probability the daughter of the great theatrical celebrity of  that time. In the same year ‘Desdemona’ Bishop was  admitted within the fold of the Church; in 1591, ‘Troilus’  Skinner and ‘Coriolanus’ Hawke.’

    And here is a list sent in from the Public Records Office

    ‘I will give the years in which [these strange names] have been met with,  and I find, to make a start, a girl registered in 1847, ‘Is it Maria’; 1853, ‘Napoleon the Great’;  1857, ‘Robert Alma Balaclava Inkerman Sebastopol Delhi’; 1860, ‘Arthur  Wellesley Wellington Waterloo’; 1861, ‘Not Wanted James’;  1863, ‘Jerome Napoleon Edward Henry John’ (this an illegitimate  child born in a workhouse); 1865, ‘Edward Byng  Tallyho Forward’,  1870, ‘One Too Many’; 1877, ‘Peter the  Great’, and ‘William the Conqueror’, twins ; 1883, ‘Richard  Coeur de Lion Tyler Walter; 1886, ‘That’s it who’d have thought it’, 1887, ‘Laughing Waters’. 

    Any other strange nineteenth-century names? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com


    11/7/12: Kate writes in: I can add a few unusual names , although they date from the  late 20 th century, not the 19th. Beals Island is a small island off the coast of Down East Maine. It is fairly remote now and was even more so many years ago. Such isolation leads to a certain amount of inbreeding among the locals, and since just about everyone is related somehow and has the same few last names, people get creative naming their children. I remember meeting threee brothers- Napoleon, Roosevelt and Wellington Beal. It should be noted that the Rossevelt so honored was Teddy, not That Man.’ Then Invisible: Oh, golly, I completely forgot some interesting 19th century names from my own ancestors. My Great-Grandmother used to recite these as sort of a litany so I’m spelling some of them phonetically. I have  found several of them online in genealogy sites so they were not some bizarre family legend. My favorite is Pocahontas Rose Dunklebarger (Palatinate immigrants to Pennsylvania, I say defensively about the last name.) Wilhelmina Runningbrook Dunklebarger (Native American lady who married into a branch of the family) [The following all have the Dunklebarger surname] Charles Cuthbert Err, Casibiana Bollingbrook, Casteline Crist, Olga Varinissa, Ona Peridita. I have NO idea what these people were thinking when they named their children. It sounds like they read a lot of 19th century Gothic novels. The rest of the Dunklebargers (and there are at least four variant spellings of that name) all had relatively normal names like Christopher and Peter and Sarah. These triple-barreled names are bad enough by themselves, but to yoke them to a (to American ears) comic surname argues a frivolity of spirit quite out of keeping with the family record. Invisible also has a brilliant link she has sent in if you are looking for Boudicea Basher etc. LTM shows that long names are not dead. Thanks Kate, Invisible and LTM!