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…

Jessie Clementia Hayward, Hardley, Norfolk

Some time ago I relayed the story of Sister Jessie Clementia Hayward who left a diary describing how, while travelling abroad to nurse troops injured during the First World War, she was one of the hundreds aboard the SS Transylvania when it was torpedoed. 

I am currently putting together a trio of stories from the First World War for a quartet of events in April and felt I should go and find Sister Hayward's final resting place. 

She is buried here, at St Margaret's, Hardley:

The gravestones for several of the Hayward family can be found in the back left corner of the churchyard, on the other side of the church (to the right of the image below).

Jessie's gravestone gives the dates of death of her sister, Marion Jane Hayward, her baby brother, Hylton, and herself (although you may have to take my word for it as I have limited the file sizes on this page). 

Jessie and her siblings lie next to their parents and further siblings, the headstones for some of whom are already sheltered by a large bush...

I would also like to mention the Loddon and District Local History Group here, many of whom I have had the privilege to meet. St Margaret's is a small churchyard, but neighbouring Loddon's Holy Trinity is certainly not. The group have gone to great efforts to survey local churchyards and post them online. There are also printed indexes in some of the churches. This is by no means the limit of their achievements, so check them out!


Some exciting Norfolk updates...

Fresh from hosting brilliant 'Ask the Archives' 1:1 sessions today, here are some snippets of news from Norfolk - 

1. FindMyPast went live in all Norfolk Libraries and at Norfolk Record Office today. This means you can now access everything from the global subscription, including the 1939 Register, from your local library. 

FMP currently has a plethora of locally useful records unavailable on Ancestry. This include electoral registers 1832-1932 and 2002-2014, service records since 1760, indexed Norfolk parish registers, British India records, transcriptions of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire parish registers and much more.

2. Picture Norfolk has added 3000 new images at The images come from Norfolk Record Office, the Time and Tide Museum, Lynn Museums and Trett Collection.

Next up are images from Gressenhall's collection. Here's one a group of nurses at the Downham Red Cross Hospital from NRO's collection (c1914-9; MC 84/206):


3. I'm currently working on resources for a series of events over the next three months:

- a Convicts to Australia workshop on Saturday 3 March at 10.30 (booking essential). This will also be linked to International Women's Day being marked at the Forum on the same day.

- a talk for this year's series of Norfolk Pension Forums

- talks for the Norwich Community History Club all about local convicts and another about Rev Lloyd of Happisburgh

- a Norwich Terrace house history workshop on Saturday 23 April at 10.30 (booking essential)

If you are interested in joining either of the workshops, please visit and click on 'Norfolk Heritage Centre' 

ONS update - 1911 birthplaces and firstnames

There are now 241 Walnes indexed on my master sheet for the 1911 census. All of them were recorded with the surname 'Walne' on at least one census during their lifetime. In the case of 1911, they were all spelt that way across a total of 78 schedules. The total of 241 includes 117 men and 124 women. Where the women are concerned, 53 are wives or widows and therefore 'married in'. The list does not include women in 1911 who were Walnes at birth but 'married out'.

The northern contingent makes up 70% of the index. Just over half of those are male.

The southern contingent therefore makes up 30% of the index. 41% of those are male, and the remainder women. 

Birthplaces of Walnes in 1911 census

Birthplaces of Walnes in 1911 census

The map above shows the birth counties of those Walnes. Even compared to the location map in an earlier post, the map shows a tighter grouping. The data suggests once we move to earlier census records, even 20 years difference will continue the trend - all the Dorset born Walnes for example were born after 1898, the Leicestershire ones after 1903, the Sussex ones post 1894 and the Australian born sailors after 1889.

It is probably only of interest to me to have a look at the first name data, but here are a few observations anyway!

Men went by 33 different first names (one first name per 5.4 men), women by 52 (one first name per 2.4 women). This still seems to be the case today - people are more creative when it comes to the female of the species.   

Women's top tens: first names

Women's top tens: first names

Unfortunately I haven't yet found a reliable source of the most popular names in the 1911 census for the whole of England and Wales, but I suspect Mary and Elizabeth would have been right up there. 

The numbers are obviously very small and percentages potentially insignificant, but there do seem to be regional variations when it comes to first names. Florence and Frances, Ethel and Lucy were relatively popular with the southern ladies, but the first two weren't represented at all along their northern counterparts. Annies and Janes are found in the north and not at all in the south. Mary and Elizabeth were much less popular among the East-Anglian-rooted Walnes (Mary: 11% of all women in the north and 5% in the south, Elizabeth 11% and 2%).

Some of the most unusual names are Alfreda and Mariota (south), and Dinah and Myra (north). These are among 29 names which appear only once.  

Men's first names: top tens

Men's first names: top tens

Where men are concerned, Thomas is top of the tree everywhere. As a Norfolk Walne researcher for a very long term this is not at all surprising as the Thomases stretch over 500 years at a very high rate. The top men's names are more closely clustered than the women's with more than a third in the index called Thomas, John or Richard.

Again there are regional variations. The most popular names are generally even more popular in the northern counties with Walne populations. However, those with East Anglian roots buck the trend a little with George, Henry and Robert being particularly prevalent. They make up 24% of men in that group compared to just 8% elsewhere.

Other names with large variations across the 'split' are Richard (14% in the north, 3% in the south), Harry (8% in the north, zero in the south) and John (14% in the north, 7% in the south). You could argue perhaps that Harry and Henry should be counted together, and indeed at least two of the Henrys in East Anglia were sometimes known as Harry, but for this exercise I've gone with the transcription on the census.

The most unusual names for men include Rennie looking northwards and Basil, Randall and Russell looking south.

Next up: age profile and occupations.