How to name your baby: advice from my ancestors

Names. Most of us have one.

We name our pets, our neighbours’ pets, our cars, our computers, all sorts… but that’s nothing compared to choosing a name for a child.

My husband and I are getting closer to hopefully extending our family tree downwards for the first time. We can feel somewhat smug about having a girl’s name picked out; names that mean something to us, and importantly, that we like. That is, until someone ruins it.

As for a boy’s name, we’re currently on completely different pages, holding circular conversations leading to reenactments of that scene from Friends where Ross and Rachel veto each other - but in our case five vetos don’t seem to be enough. We can only hope that come the day, he will ‘look like’ a name, or that after all the hard work and effort, I get my way…!

Our family trees are obviously full of names - there to inspire, inform and, now and again, wonder ‘what were they thinking?!’ There are naming patterns, names for special events and conflicts, names for birth order, political statements and the odd flight of fancy or dash of brutal honesty (look up ‘One Too Many’ in the GRO index).

Rather than tell anyone what’s on our short list (we’ll be keeping a lid on that until we have cause to announce), I thought I’d post a few of the names that stand out from my tree, with some imaginary tongue in cheek advice from their parents, if not hints at our child’s moniker.

First, there are the posh sounding ones. I don’t know about you, but these ones seem to leap of the page – but maybe just because they’re unusual:

Francois Henri Auguste Joseph du Bois de Ferrieres; his daughter Francisca Amelia Augusta du Bois De Ferrieres (my Great, Great, Great, Great Grandmother); and her daughter: Gertrude Una Ludovica Bright. Francois was a Baron, his son Charles Conrad Adolphus du Bois de Ferries was later a Liberal MP for Cheltenham. Advice from them? Have at least two middle names!

Then there are the numbered children. A previous star of my blog, Alfred Septimus Walne, was the seventh son. Advice from his parents? Number your sons, not your daughters.

Next up, the alliteration brigade. Move over Golden Balls (a frequently sited record from Norfolk not currently connected to my tree) and enter Benjamin Barber Balls (labourer, inn keeper, market gardener), Ballantyne Beautiman Blake (ag lab, sadly died in First World War) and George Geoffrey Gibbs (son of a Swansea merchant, emigrated to South Africa as civil servant). Advice: embrace triple consistent consonant initials.

Then we have the short but effective choices. A favourite of mine is Ebb Baldry, not a short for Ebenezer, but actually registered as such.  His siblings were Alf, Ruth and Ruby. Advice: keep things simple (in direct opposition to the Du Bois de Ferrieres!)

But by all means register a full name and use a short or nickname. I particularly like ‘Harkie’, short for Robert Harcourt Girling Nesling, a second cousin who was a local character with a very long musical career, best known for playing the fiddle. Advice: don’t dismiss unusual names which can be shortened day to day.

Why worry about a name at all when the child can just change it? My Great Great Grandfather led an extremely chequered life under several names. Originally a Richard Betton Bright or Betton Bright Betton he later became Hurst Outerbridge, before reverting to Richard Betton Bright - potentially in response to his personal life and a bankruptcy. Advice: your child always has deed poll!

We could follow some of our Victorian ancestors and ask the child to live up to something. Like Providence Gooch, born in Wymondham. She looks to have had at least eleven children but not one of them was given her first name. But then there are probably many now called by her synonyms: Destiny, Nemesis, Kismet, Prudence… Advice: Be open to names like Chastity, Temperance etc

How about those that just sound a bit odd? Violet Knight, who appears in my One Name Study, married out of her name, which comes across a bit too Violent Night to me. Advice: it doesn’t matter what anyone else makes of the name.

Lastly, plenty of my ancestors, and no doubt your ancestors, kept it traditional. Naming sons for fathers, grandfathers and uncles, and daughters for mothers, grandmothers and aunts. So we’ll leave this blog with a tale from one of my uncles. He went to great lengths to honour his adopted father (who, incidentally left him a great deal of money). Not only did he take on the name ‘Alfred’ himself, but when his first born was a daughter, he named her Alfreda. Then along came a son, who he naturally called Alfred. There were no more children, but I wonder if an Alfrederica or an Alf would have been next… Advice: what you call your children can honour an ancestor, and at times, even be financially lucrative!

Now, I better get back to that shortlist…