Tuesday, December 3, 2013

What's in a Name?

Primrose Rogers at about 4
I've been thinking a lot about family names. Not the last names so much, but the first names.
You see, my mother's name was Primrose Rogers and her mother was Primrose Victoria Tapply.
My joke has always been "there but for the grace of God".......My mother spent a lot of years
hating and resenting her name, but in the last years of her life she embraced it. I was surprised a bit because I had heard so many complaints over the years.

There is a naming tradition in our family that has come down several generations: my great great
grandfather was Winslow Brainard Rogers. Nowadays naming in honor of someone is considered a curse in some circles, but I think it's very nice. Thus we have:

Now no one could tell me where the names Winslow or Brainard came from. I have found no evidence of anyone further back in the tree with that name, but Winslow Brainard died in the American Civil War and now we have several generations in memory of him and his family.

There are a lot of "names in honor of" in my tree, but those aren't the names that fascinate me. My grandmother's family was late Victorian/early Edwardian so Primrose and her sisters Mabel, Ethyl and Beatrice make perfect sense and yet they sound so strange to modern ears. I once heard this type of name referred to as "heavily embroidered" and I would say that is accurate. I've written about the mystery of Cassandria Hooper Harrington, another interesting name. But I have Sophronia Richardson Smith on the other side of the tree. You may not realize it, but if you read The Five Little Peppers  you've heard this name. Remember Phronsie? And one of Sophronia's  brothers-in-law was Greenleaf Smith. Wow! That's an interesting choice. The mid-nineteenth century is full of Abigails and Lavinias and Letitias and Claras. Names went in and out of style then, just as they do now.

Sadly the Irish side sounds very Catholic and pretty traditional...at least what I've found so far. I would love to turn up a good Sinead or Fintan, but that seems unlikely.

Of course the Colonial ancestors turned up some of the names one might expect...poor Thankful Ham.  I also found another interesting naming tradition which you can read about here. One of my ancestors was named Benoni Eaton Knapp. This intrigued me. I found out that the name Benoni was given to babies born "under unfortunate circumstances" such as the death of the mother, the father predeceasing the child, or an illegitimate child. The name literally means "Alas, my poor son". Kind of a sad thing to visit on a child and so far I have not discovered how this poor man was "unfortunate".

I think names are an important consideration when doing genealogy. They can give you important clues about family relationships. What stories are waiting to be told?

2 comments:

  1. Great post, as always. I plead guilty to dropping the ball and leaving the "Winslow" out of my son's name, mostly on the basis of the teasing my brother James received. But I may have redeemed myself by including my husband's father's name, Edwin. At least there's a "win"! Thanks for including that, Chris.

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  2. Funny, I knew your father-in-law was Edwin, but I thought you also included it as a nod to the family name.

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