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First names carried monumental importance and highest level of intimacy during the 19th century. So intimate, husbands and wives rarely addressed each other by their given names. Instead, they referred to one another as Mr. So and So or Miss/Mrs. So and So. Certainly no one outside of the home, unless it was a supremely intimate friend voiced a Christian name. In jest, my brother once asked “A Christian name? What if they are Muslim? Or Buddhist?” Valid question, but the obvious answer given the context and circumstances.

As many who have children understand the complexity of naming a baby, name choices are socially and psychologically guided. The old standards were Biblical and family names. Family names are fraught with psychological weight. Some groups believe in honoring the mother and father by naming the child after their parents or grandparents, but calling them by a pet or middle name. Other individuals believe in christening the baby after the most recently deceased relative, as if the name suddenly became an available and viable option. There was a proclivity among the aristocracy and gentry granting the child’s first name after the mother’s maiden name, only if the family was predominant and equally wealthy. It was a means to preserve the maternal surname, especially if there were not any sons to inherit the name. This is how the original popularity of Mackenzies and others came to be. Typically, in the early 19th century when large families were still common, the oldest children were saddled with redundant, traditional, or family names; the younger ones were bestowed with more creative monikers.

The names could be after a dear friend, after some characteristic the parents hoped their child would possess or concocted an original name simply because they could. Characteristic naming trend truly peaked during the age of the American Puritan. Albeit some of their names were not even qualities but items of some significance to the parents or the community. Well, how else do you explain Cotton Mather for a young lad? Place names as first names was not as common during the 19th century, but surely existed. Foreign and exotic names found their way into the fray as well. Parents should issue caution in choosing a foreign name and be sure to find out all the meaning and slang associations prior to naming a child, otherwise it will cause the child complications in the future.

Working my way through my own family tree on my paternal side I was surprised to find . . . such interesting names. I figured the Hispanic penchant for creative naming on my maternal side was peculiar enough. I dredged up the names of my 19th century ancestors for your enjoyment. Celenan, a female apparently and third child married Alexander. Samuel married Elizabeth. How quaint. They had George, Nancy, Mary, Green (male, unsure how this named was devised, as the mother’s maiden name was Mann), Alexander, and Cyrus (a different but “normal” name.) Green married Loca. Yes, Loca. Were her parents crazy??? How awful! The shame of it all! I suspect her siblings are Looney, Nuts, and Mad. Fortunately, this couple had enough sense to name their only child Alice; a nice solid name. Alexander married Florinda and begot the sisters Loa (Sounds Hawaiian, notice she is the first child. Perhaps this is her pet name?) and Nellie. Cyrus married twice. First to a Susan whom gave birth to Gorgiania, a name slowly growing in popularity. Georgiania had one daughter named Alma Reeder. Alma? For a bunch of Anglos, I am mystified by the Spanish influence of some of their name choices. Cyrus second wife was Philena; by far my favorite creative name on this tree. She had a trio of daughters; Kate, Hattie, and Wilda. Hattie wed Henry. Wilda wed Walter. The children are born in the 20th century so the list stops there.


The Crazy Lady

As for my own naming story, until birth I was dubbed Jennifer Ann after the Angalsized names of my grandmothers. Then the day before I was brought forth into this world, my sister, a teenager at the time, was effusive  about this new girl at school. She was beautiful and intelligent. Instantly, all the other females pupils wanted to be like her and all the male ones wished to court her. So thus, a change of plans and I was given a different name than Jennifer Ann. In fourth grade, I went by my pet name as way of introduction and to distance myself from the other four girls in my graduating class with the same name. During my collegiate years, I attempted to utilize my more formal given name. It did not work out well as I kept forgetting to answer to it. Alas, now I just use a title and my pet name to try to introduce some formality to my usually bouncing moniker.