What's in a Name? The Top Fifty Male Names in 1800
Last month, I wrote about the top fifty female names in 1800. This month, I’m looking at the top fifty male names in 1800.
They are as follows:
1-10: William, John, Thomas, James, George, Joseph, Richard, Henry, Robert, Charles
11-20: Samuel, Edward, Benjamin, Isaac, Peter, Daniel, David, Francis, Stephen, Jonathan
21-30: Christopher, Matthew, Edmund, Philip, Abraham, Mark, Michael, Ralph, Jacob, Andrew
31-40: Moses, Nicholas, Anthony, Luke, Simon, Josiah, Timothy, Martin, Nathaniel, Roger
41-50: Walter, Aaron, Jeremy, Joshua, Alexander, Adam, Hugh, Laurence, Owen, Harry
These come from research into parish records undertaken by the Names Society who also researched the fifty most popular names for 1700. What is interesting, is that the very same names from 1800 are also in the top fifty for 1700, though the order changed slightly. (The same, incidentally, goes for the female names.) Continuity was everything. Sons were named after fathers, grandfathers, godfathers or patrons of the family and the same names were perpetuated.
The name I had expected to find, however, which wasn’t there, though it may, of course, be further down the list, was Frederick. It was a newcomer to the name pool, entering via the Hanoverian kings in the late 18th century. Jane Austen, who, incidentally, uses all of the top ten names apart from ‘Joseph’ in her novels, uses Frederick twice, for the obnoxious Frederick Tilney in Northanger Abbey, and for her energetic and likeable hero of Persuasion, Captain Frederick Wentworth.
So, where do the names come from? Over half come from the Bible; John, Thomas, James, Joseph, Peter, Stephen, Matthew, Philip, Mark, Andrew, Nicholas, Luke, Simon, Timothy, Nathaniel and Alexander come from the New Testament. Some of them are Greek variants of Hebrew names but others (Thomas, Peter, Philip, Andrew, Nicholas, Luke, Timothy and Alexander) are entirely Greek – a demonstration of how the early Christian church spread through Greek-speaking Asia Minor.
Samuel, Benjamin, Isaac, Daniel, David, Jonathan, Abraham, Michael, Jacob, Josiah, Moses, Aaron, Jeremy, Joshua and Adam are Old Testament names which came into the name pool with the Reformation. These names tended not to be used by the gentry and aristocracy. The only Old Testament name Jane Austen uses is ‘Samuel’ for one of Fanny Price’s brothers in Mansfield Park – not a family of much social distinction. It is interesting to note that many of these names rose in status as the 19th century went on.
Of the rest, William, George, Richard, Henry, Harry, Robert, Charles, Edmund, Edward and Francis are names used by royalty, many dating back to Norman or even Saxon times, as with Edward and Edmund. Other Norman names include Hugh, Walter, Laurence and Roger, which retained their social cachet, witness Sir Walter Elliot in Persuasion. And Mary Crawford, writing to Fanny in Mansfield Park comments on how well ‘Sir Edmund’ sounds.
Christopher and Martin, both saints’ names, came in during the Middle Ages and managed to survive the Reformation which discarded many saints’ names. Owen, though, is something of a puzzle. It was the name of the Welsh hero, Owen Glendower. It was also borne by Owen Tudor, grandfather of Henry VII, who married Catherine de Valois, widow of Henry V, but these scarcely seem adequate reasons for the name to reach the top fifty.
Personally, I like to give my heroes unusual names, though I make sure I use names that were at least known in the Regency. However, I usually use names on the above list for other characters to give an authentic ‘period’ feel.