First names inspired by the First World War

I once researched a family tree that included three sons by the unusual names of Foch, Joffre and Petain. Perhaps you will know at once that these were Marshals of France either during or immediately after the First World War. 

Last night I got to thinking about which other names might have been relatively common during and after the Great War, and more to the point, precisely *because* of the War, so I’ve just spent a little time on FreeBMD to get some figures.

I’ve generally used the timeframe 1914-1920 in all districts in England and Wales, and first names only as birth indexes during the Great War do not list middle names. [Since I originally wrote this blog, you can now find middle names in the index by searching on the GRO site.] Figures are correct at the time of writing. However, websites are continually updated, and thus the figures may be wrong by tomorrow.

I should also add that I have only searched for correctly transcribed names. The Foch above, for instance, is wrongly listed as ‘Fock’ and is therefore not part of the count below. I have also not checked every single entry to make sure it has not been double keyed – this is post born of interest, not a scientific experiment!

Meet the Fochs (and other well-known people).

Let’s return to our original trio of names for a moment. There are three Fochs in England and Wales’ birth index, all registered in June Quarter, 1919. Five Petains were recorded between June Quarter 1916 and December Quarter 1938, three of them in 1916. Finally, Joffre proved particularly popular with 295 registrations, especially in 1915 and 1916 (which saw 234 of those registrations). Numbers tailed off quickly from 1917. All three of these names were unknown in the registers before the Great War. [Since Game of Thrones, the similarly spelt name ‘Joffrey’ may represent too much of a baddie to have a similar impact!]

More familiar names are a little harder to measure. For example, can we see an impact on later birth registers after the death of Edith Cavell? Edith was already a popular name, and contrary to expectation, the number of Ediths registered in Norfolk fell between 1914 and 1920. There were 144 recorded in 1914, 114 in 1916 and still fewer than baseline – 126 – in 1920. However, across the Country, 27 ‘Cavells’ were registered, the highest number in a quarter being six in December 1915 – the same quarter in which she died. I was surprised to find none of those was registered in Norfolk though. 

So how about battles and famous places associated with the First World War?

As expected, ‘Somme’ appears in 1916 with 14 registered births between 1914-20. 

An early ‘Arras’ was registered in 1842, but the name appears relatively frequently from 1915 onwards, with 43 registrations during the war years. Interestingly there are also a couple of registrations which may be female variations – an Arrasina and an Arrasy were registered in 1918.

Only four ‘Flanders’ were registered during the war years, and other entries appear now and again both before and after the war – perhaps family surnames recycled as first names.

The first name Gallipoli does not appear, but four ‘Dardanelles’ were registered in 1915 only.

There are no Marnes or Passchendaeles at all, but a staggering 923 Verduns between 1914 and 1920 alone. Two were registered in 1914, three in 1915, 668 in 1916, 145 in 1917, 51 in 1918, 31 in 1919 and 22 in 1920. Unlike the other names, there were then a few Verduns registered most years until the 1960s. 

As for Jutland, there are four in currently transcribed indexes on the site, three of them during the war years. 

Ending with Ypres, there were 75 indexed in total, 65 of them during the war years. The name first appeared in December Quarter 1914 and was most popular in March Quarter 1915. 

I suspect most of these children were boys, but the registers do not distinguish – do you have any female Arras’ or Sommes in your family tree?

I’m sure these figures are dwarfed by the number of children with middle names related to battles and places. Perhaps these children were ‘battleborn’, or maybe their fathers were involved in the actions or died as a consequence. Did the name itself have an influence? Perhaps ‘Verdun’ was similar enough to ‘Vernon’ that it was easier to use day to day than ‘Passchendaele’? The outcome of the battle and its appearance on a scale of Allied success/failure also must have influenced a name’s subsequent frequency, especially as a first name.


What about the symbol of the poppy? Field Marshal Douglas Haig, one of the Royal British Legion founders, adopted Anna Guerin’s idea in 1921. The name ‘Poppy’ rose in popularity from the end of that same year. Is this a coincidence? Consistently, December Quarter seems to have a higher number of registrations, perhaps children born on, or close to, Armistice Day; the phenomenon appearing from 1921 onwards.


Your turn!

I’m sure this is just a start – there must be lots of other First World War names out there, whether connected to people, places or battles. I’d love to hear your stories in the comments.

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