What’s in a Name? Religions, Celebrities and Oddities

Three of my four grandparents were Irish Catholics. In that tradition, given names for children generally come from a pool of approved saint names. The number of variations offer a sense of choice, but whether you choose Kathleen, Cathleen, Katheryn, Kathryn, Katharyn, Katherin, Catharine, Cathryn, Katheryne, Katharine, Katharina, Katrin, Kare, Karina, Kathrin, even Caitlin, – it’s the same, blessed Saint Catherine. While all girls’ names are lovely and all boys’ names are distinguished, Catholic names, generation after generation, after generation – become monotonous.

For novelty, I turn to my Nana, who was Edna Mae Keirstead (1898-1988). Her Protestant pedigree stretches back to New Amsterdam (modern New York City), and delightfully different names begins with her father, Levi Springer Keirstead (1858-1921). Exotic appellations of his forebears include – Abiathar, Adoniram, Amenzie, Elias, Hezekiah, Isaiah, Ebenezer, Elnathan, Jedidiah, Obadiah, Zachariah and Zebulon. Isn’t it fun to wrap your tongue around those multisyllabic gems?

Word Cloud-male names

Names of Keirsteads and related lines

The Old Testament was a strong influence because properly devout Protestants read the Bible. Even hardscrabble, rural families (such as most of my folks) usually included at least one adult who was literate (and who taught the youngsters). If a poor household possessed a single volume, it was the Good Book. In addition to spiritual guidance, the Bible supplied history, genealogy, and thrilling stories with vivid characters. The Bible was a thwacking good read for long dark winters in the boonies.

Another naming convention, made trendy by Puritans, was the choosing of a virtue, a child could aspire to on the way to adulthood. Both boys and girls among New England folks were called – Constant, Content, Charity, Deliverance, Experience, Patience, Prudence, Remember, Waitstill, Hopestill and Love. Of these, Charity and Hope (from Hopestill) and others like Faith are still used today.

Remembering Mama

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned my gratitude for the tradition of giving the mother’s family name as the child’s middle name, a practice predominant among Protestant lines. An example from my tree is James Ganong Keirstead (1835-1926), the son of William and Elizabeth (Ganong) Keirstead, but there are so many, I’ve been able to tie a great number of married daughters back to their parents.

Sometimes, the mother’s maiden name becomes her child’s first name. For example, among my Freetown, Massachusetts relatives, Samuel Hathaway and Mary Evans, named a first son Samuel (b. 1781), for the proud papa, and a second son was Evans Hathaway (b. 1783), for the proud mama. Crocker Babbitt (1788-1861) of Dighton, Massachusetts is another example – with a twist. Crocker was not the mother’s birth name, but the maiden name of the grandmother, Bathsheba (Crocker) Tobey.

In contrast, wives’ and mothers’ origins for my poor Irish Catholic lines get lost one step past the immigrants. Though, not my family, it’s worth noting here there’s a prominent exception to this disappearing woman rule in US history . Our nation’s 35th president was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, son of Joseph P. and Rose (Fitzgerald) Kennedy..

Admiring Men

Among my Canada-born great-grandfather’s brothers, is a Wellington. That name clearly inspired by the hero who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and later became a statesman. While Wellington is legendary, how many know that he was born, Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852)? His title was the 1st Duke of Wellington.

My ignorance of Canadian history blinded me to the origin of other names in genealogies north of the border. A 4th great-great uncle, Thomas Carleton Ganong (1785-1856), was named for Thomas Carleton, Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, or maybe, just Carleton for Tom’s brother, Sir Guy Carleton, Governor General of British North America.  Maybe, it was for them both.

Chipman is attached to a number of individuals with different surnames. Since Ward Chipman (1754-1824) was instrumental in establishing the province of New Brunswick, their birthplace, he may have been the inspiration. Then, there were other Chipmans in public life.

My southeastern Massachusetts patriot families, like many of that period, named children for founding fathers. I’ve found a George Washington Chase (b. 1808), son of Benjamin & Lydia (Shove) Chase, and Benjamin Franklin Babbitt (b. 1805), son of Benjamin & Serena (Burt) Babbitt. As a science enthusiast, I was also pleased to discover an Isaac Newton Babbitt (1830-1901).

Less famous namesakes easily escape notice. I offer a case in point from Victoria County, New Brunswick where, in 1905, George Ward and Esther Jane (Brown) Goucher named their son, Basil Earle Goucher. Why Earle? I found no Earle among kinfolk and no Earle was particularly celebrated at the time. The answer was waiting for me on Basil Goucher’s late birth registration. A line on the form for ‘physician attending the birth,’ read, “Dr. R. W. L. Earle.”

I was lucky to find a smoking gun for Basil. In more cases, the rationale for any past person’s action remains frustratingly unfathomable.

Raising eyebrows

How does Malbone strike you? That given name comes from my endlessly interesting Hathaways of Freetown (MA). When I first picked up Malbone, the old school Latin kicked in; mal- means bad or evil, so this old man was, literally, bad to the bone.

To my deep disappointment, I must report that I found no evidence that Malbone Hathaway (1774-1861) was ever even grumpy in the morning. Rather, Malbone was hometown boy who took a wife, raised a passel of kids, worked the land, and was laid to rest at the ripe old age of 87. His name mustn’t have troubled him, either, for he gave the world a Malbone junior, who also lived his life as a regular guy.

Perhaps, Malbone’s brother, Wanton Hathaway (1776-1855), had a worse name. Merriam-Webster gives as synonyms for the word wanton (as an adverb), – lewd, bawdy, merciless, inhumane, malicious and extravagant; a wanton (as a noun) is –  one given to self-indulgent flirtation or trifling or a pampered person or animal. You get the idea that being called wanton is not a compliment. Wanton, the man, however, seems not to have been at all wicked. The best I can do with Wanton is to unfairly judge his life by modern standards, which makes him only – wicked boring.

The parents who named Wanton and Malbone also had interesting names. Their mother was Dorcas Wrightington (1743-1814), Dorcas being a Christian woman of New Testament times who made clothing for the poor. Their father was Clothier Hathaway (1739-1789), a clothier being a person or business that makes or sells clothing. — Surely, that was a match made in heaven.

Readers, please  feel free to share your own tales of interesting family names and namesakes in the “Comments” section.

—Notes & Sources—

Cousins and others with questions about featured individuals or families in my tree, can email genealogy@christineroane.com & I’ll be happy to provide my source material.

Wikipedia is handy for a quick look-up of nearly any unfamiliar person, place or thing. I referenced wiki articles for John F. Kennedy, Wellington, Thomas and Guy Carleton.

The Canadian Encyclopedia is gives a solid brief on Ward Chipman

Baby names will make future family historians scratch their heads, too. Why? Click over to Cool Name Lists for today’s expectant parents for suggestions that reference Shakespeare, US Presidents, Hunger Games and Dr. Who.

 

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Treason!

With the current events focus on the US government charging whistleblowers, journalists and other leakers of embarrassing information with “aiding the enemy,” and threatening dire consequences, I thought it timely to mention my family tie to a man who was executed for treason.

I had a cousin in colonial New York named Elsje Tymens. She was a wealthy widow in 1663 when she married a German bachelor and son of a clergyman, Jacob Leisler. Over the next thirteen years, Jacob and Elsje built connections in business and government, accrued wealth, and added seven little Leislers to the household.  Jacob was a merchant, captain of the militia, and appointed by the courts to administer estates and other property matters.  A devout follower of John Calvin’s brand of religious reform, he identified with the (French Protestant) Huguenot community.

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Statue of Jacob Leisler in New Rochelle, New York,

courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In 1685, England’s Charles II passed into history and his brother, James II (also James VII of Scotland and James II of Ireland), a Roman Catholic, succeeded him to the throne. To govern the Dominion of New England, James appointed Edmund Andros to sit in Boston, and Francis Nicholson,  lieutenant governor, was assigned to administer the province of New York. Their authoritarian style of rule made both men intensely disliked by the colonists.  Nicholson proclaimed the inhabitants of the former New Netherland (taken by England in 1664),  “a conquered people” who could not “claim rights and privileges as Englishmen.

Across the Atlantic, political factions were so alarmed by King  James’s policy of religious tolerance and his ties to France, that they invited William III, the Dutch Prince of Orange, to invade with his fleet (and his English wife, Mary). James was deposed in a coup known as the Glorious Revolution.

When the news reached American shores, it sparked  a popular uprising against Governor Andros in Massachusetts, and New York’s militia rebelled and forced Nicholson to yield Fort James, which controlled New York Harbor.  The next day,  a council of militia officers asked Jacob Leisler to take command. A few weeks later, a delegation from Lower New York and East Jersey chose Leisler as the province’s commander-in-chief, to act on behalf of England’s new monarchs, William and Mary, until a new governor was legitimately appointed.

Not all New Yorkers were pleased. In his rise to prominence, Jacob Leisler had made enemies that included his in-laws, the powerful Bayards and Van Cortlandts.  Diplomacy was not his strong suit. An anti-Leisler faction coalesced in Albany, and grew dangerously.

In late 1690, William III commissioned Colonel Henry Sloughter as his new governor, but Sloughter’s ship was delayed and his lieutenant governor, Ingoldesby, arrived first.  Ingoldesby demanded Leisler turn over the fort and governmental reins  to him, but, because he lacked the proper papers, Leisler refused.  Even when Sloughter made it to New York, Leisler remained suspicious, and took his sweet time before he surrendered and to his cost. Leisler’s reward for accepting the management and  defense of New York in the name of King William III, – was his arrest on charges of treason.

Jacob Leisler, his right hand man and son-in-law, Jacob Milbourne, and eight other men were tortured, tried, convicted, and condemned to be “hanged, drawn and quartered, and their estates confiscated.[1]” The panel of judges was stacked with a significant number of anti-Leislerians.

Governor Sloughter seems to have had some misgivings about the result, as he wrote a letter to King William about the matter. However, in it, he trashed Leisler, did not include trial transcripts, and failed to mention the death sentence. Also, the court refused the request to send the condemned to England for an appeal.

It’s been written that Governor Sloughter was bribed, that he was drunk, – perhaps, he was both when, at the instigation of Leisler’s enemies, he signed the death warrants. Leisler’s only ‘luck’ is that he avoided being drawn and quartered, was “merely hanged til ‘halfe dead’ then beheaded[2]” as was his son-in-law, Jacob Milbourne, on May 16, 1691.  None of the others convicted were executed.

Petitioners to London who included  the younger Jacob Leisler, won a hearing before the king. Within a year of their execution,  Leisler, Milbourne, and the remaining  prisoners were pardoned.  Parliament later passed a bill that would return the property stripped from Leisler’s heirs, and which was approved by the king in 1695. But it was 1698 before the family estate was restored, and the bodies of Leisler and Milbourne were moved from the dirt beneath the gallows and laid to rest in the yard of the Dutch Reform Church.

Scholars today recognize  Leisler’s Rebellion as a precursor to the American Revolution. It was a power struggle of middling folks against an entrenched elite, – not treason. That’s something to think about as we Americans celebrate the 237 anniversary of  our national ‘treason,’ – independence from England.

Wishing all my readers a wonderful Fourth of July!


[1] McCormick, Charles H (1989). Leisler’s Rebellion. Outstanding Studies in Early American History. New York: Garland. ISBN 0-8240-6190-X.p.357.

[2]  Voorhees,  David William, Remembering Jacob Leisler, The New York Genealogical and Biographical Newsletter, (New York: The New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Spring/Summer 2002), p. 29.

1904 Class Picture – Littleton, Massachusetts Lower Primary School

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1904 Class Picture - Littleton, Massachusetts Lower Primary School

One of these students is my grandmother, Edna Mae Keirstead (1898-1988). Her forebears were forced to flee from their farms in upstate New York during the American Revolution. At the end of the 19th century, Keirsteads from New Brunswick traced ancestral footsteps backward to the United States.

If anyone out there recognizes the teacher, or other children, please get in touch and/or feel free to copy and share the image.

Levi Keirstead, Family and Friends?

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Levi Keirstead, Family and Friends?

Circa 1900, perhaps, in Littleton or Groton Massachusetts. My great grandfather, Levi Keirstead, sits on the porch rail, – hatless, in work boots, and with bushy mustache and arms crossed over his vest. Most of the others dressed up for the occasion, but what sort of gathering was it?

If anyone recognizes Keirstead (or other) relatives, the house, or anything else, please get in touch!