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?
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.
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..
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org & 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.