Genealogists often wish ancestral parents had been more adventurous in naming their children. Did we really need another Bridget Walsh or John Clark to try to distinguish from all of their peers with the same name?
There is the occasional couple who did get creative, for example naming their children for continents—Africa, America, Asia, and Europe. Some English Non-conformists and Puritans did choose obscure Biblical names, and this list would have at least a hundred of those if I had included them all. The Puritans also invented quite a few names like Recompense and Hate-evil.
But many families simply recycled common names, often because they were following culturally determined naming patterns: first daughter named for the mother’s mother, etc. The result is that there are a lot of Johns and Marys across the board. (Or, in my New Netherland branch, Jans and Marritjes.)
So, in honor of all the parents who helped their children to stand out in census and vital records, here are the most unusual and interesting given names in our tree.
Aloysius. This is the only unusual name I have found among my father-in-law’s Irish relatives, and then only as a middle name. If an Irish Catholic man has a middle initial F, it almost always turns out to stand for Francis. A middle initial A often turns out to stand for Aloysius, after the Italian saint Aloysius Gonzaga (1568-1591).
Albreda. This name evolved from Germanic root words meaning “elf counsel.” My cousin Albreda Peace was born in 1868 in Yorkshire.
Archelaus. From the Greek for “master of the people,” this name was popular among my Putnam ancestors who lived in Salem and Danvers, Massachusetts. Several mythical and many historical figures have borne the name, and I am not sure why it was originally chosen by this family. The only Archelaus in the Bible was the cruel and licentious son of Herod, so no one would use it for that reason.
Asenith or Asenath. Meaning “devoted to the goddess Neith,” this was the name of Joseph’s Egyptian wife (Genesis 41:45). It seems to have been most popular in the 19th century in the U.S., and I have seen it in both North and South. My mother-in-law’s ancestor Asenith Fair Noble was born in 1810 in Georgia.
Azubah. This Biblical name belonged to the wife of Caleb the son of Hezron (1 Chronicles 2:18). Meaning “forsaken” in Hebrew, it was sometimes shortened to Zuba. My ancestor Zuba Wickham was born about 1780 in probably Connecticut.
Buena Vista. Buena Vista Jameson was born in Red River County, Texas 25 Feb 1847, two days after the Battle of Buena Vista, in which U. S. forces repulsed the Mexican army at Buena Vista in the state of Coahuila, Mexico. She used the nickname Bunnie.
Cherry. Not counting Neil Diamond’s “Cherry, Cherry,” I have only seen this girls’ name in my Maybury family of County Kerry, Ireland.
Deliverance. A Puritan name for girls, with a nice nickname, Delie or Delia. My probable ancestor Deliverance Gifford was born 1727 in Dartmouth, Massachusetts.
Dupuytren. My ancestor Dupuytren Vermilye was the son of a Francophile physician, and was named for the French surgeon Guillaume Dupuytren (1777-1835).
Electa. A girls’ name meaning “chosen,” most often seen in 18th and 19th century New England.
Elvie. My aunt, named for her father’s initials, L. V.
Freelove. A Puritan girls’ name referring to God’s love.
Junius. Like Lucius, this boys’ name had a surge in popularity after the American Revolution, probably in reference to Lucius Junius Brutus who founded the Roman Republic.
Lafayette. Another post-Revolutionary boys’ name, after the Marquis de Lafayette. Sometimes shortened to Fayette.
Melangton. From the last name of Lutheran reformer Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560). My relative by marriage, Melangton Wetherwax, was born about 1837 in upstate New York.
Narah. I have only seen this girls’ name in the West Riding of Yorkshire. My ancestor Narah Horton was born in 1810 in Kirkheaton.
Orange. Both a color and a fruit, this boys’ name could be revived by modern celebrities. I see it most often in 19th century Vermont, and I don’t know what the significance is—could it have something to do with the House of Orange?
Osanne. French form of Hosanna, from the Hebrew for “deliver us.” Osanne Planchet was the mother of my ancestor Louise Faure who left France for Quebec before 1668.
Parmelia or Permelia. Possibly an alteration of Pamela, I have seen this name in the 19th century in both the U.S. and England.
Paskey. A girls’ name I have only seen in Yorkshire, probably derived from the Scandinavian Paske meaning Easter. Heavy Viking settlement in Yorkshire influenced the language and vocabulary of the region.
Pleasant. This boys’ name was fairly popular in the 19th century Southern U.S., but the only one in our tree is my mother-in-law’s ancestor, Georgia-born Baptist minister and Texas pioneer Pleasant Barnett Chandler.
Resolved. A Puritan boys’ name, which became Resolveert in New Netherland. My ancestor Resolved Waldron was born 1610 in Amsterdam to English parents.
Rheuby. A girls’ name seen occasionally in the 19th century in both the Northern and Southern U.S. Often misspelled Ruby or mistranscribed as Rhenby. I am not sure of its origin or significance. My Dad’s aunt was named Rheuby Mae Thurber.
Sazine. Sazine Tillman was born 1852 in Mississippi and her parents may have invented this name. She married John Collier Robertson whose diary was one of the four explored by historian Stephen V. Ash in his book A Year in the South: 1865.
Silence. A Puritan name for girls. There must have been more than one Silence who was a cranky baby or a loud person, which probably led to some jokes. Sila is the typical nickname. I have two direct ancestors named Silence.
Sophronia. A feminine form of Sophronius, derived from the Greek sophron meaning “prudent and sound-minded.” Though this name is rare today, it was somewhat popular in the middle of the 19th century in the U.S.
Tamar. Biblical girls’ name from the Hebrew for “palm tree,” more popular in England than in the U.S. I have only seen it in my Yorkshire research.
Tedbar. A very rare boys’ name found only in Yorkshire, probably a corruption of Theobald.
Tennessee. You don’t see Northern girls named Massachusetts or Connecticut, but you do see Southern girls named Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Tennessee and Texas. Most girls named Tennessee used the nickname Tenny.
Theodate. A girls’ name meaning “God’s gift.” My ancestor Theodate Batchelder was a daughter of the scandal-plagued and much-married minister Stephen Batchelder of colonial Hampton, New Hampshire.
Unity. A girls’ virtue name. Unity Croshaw is my mother-in-law’s ancestor who arrived in Virginia in 1608.
Vrouwtje. This now obsolete Dutch name is just a diminutive of the word for woman, so it means something like “girl.” I have two direct ancestors named Vrouwtje.
Zerubbabel. A Biblical name meaning “seed of Babylon.” My ancestor Zerubbabel Kemp’s relative of the same name petitioned a Massachusetts court for a change—after 1816 he was known as Henry Kemp.
The Battle of Buena Vista by Adolphe Jean-Baptiste Bayot via Wikimedia Commons.