What Happened to the Old Names?


I have lifted this idea from the first part of the movie “Freakonomics.”  But I am not going to comment on why people have the names they do today or how they effect them.  For the record, I like my name, always have.  On the list of popular names, Peter is a long way down.  I like that.  It is also a really old name, goes way back to Biblical times.  But there are a lot of old names that have disappeared from usage.  I have been working a lot on my family genealogy and I have seen names there that I do not even know how to pronounce.  And I am from an almost strictly English lineage family.

There are names like Gertrude, Bertha, Egbert, and others that you can still find today but they are rare.  In the 1940s thousands of American mothers named their girls Shirley after Shirley Temple.  Now, it is rare.  On the other hand, Sofia and Sofie, which seemed like grandmother names when I was a kid, have returned to popularity.  Why is that?  Are people combing their family trees looking for disused names for their kids?

In the movie they mentioned how the name Tyrone summoned up the idea of a black man.  But my mind immediately when to Tyrone Power who was a decided white guy who was also a movie star.  Their point was, however, how ethnicity plays into how children are named many times.  An Irish family might name their daughter Siobhan, pronounced “shee – von.”  French families may favor Marie while Italians might favor Anthony.

One hundred years ago some of the names popular in my family were Matilda, Herbert, Hiram, Horace, Phebe, and Elihu.  I don’t think I have heard of anyone naming their child any of those names today.  And there are some other names Mehetable, Erastus, Phonia, Relief, Manesseh, Zeruviah, Zephaniah, and Ephraim.  Had I not been so involved in my genealogy it is unlikely, I think, that I would have ever heard any of those names.  Some defy gender identity and were it not for the fact that the gender is mentioned, I still would not know.  Where did these names come from, the Bible?

But there were also some old names in there that I think have a place in today’s society.  Jonas, Cyrus, Abigail, Cordelia, and Minerva.  I have always been partial to the name Hannah.  It is an old name but it is unusual to hear someone with the name.  In my family the name Isaac was used from the time they arrived here in 1638 until my grandfather, and I have a cousin who is an Isaac.  But it too is a name in disuse.  Why is that?  I think it is a great name for a boy.

I once heard that if a girl is named Catherine instead of Katherine it was because she was Catholic but I have no idea if it is true.  But I have never known a Protestant Catherine, or Caren for that matter.

And then there is Jeffrey and Geofrey, same pronunciation, different spelling.  How do they decide?  Or how about Steven and Stephen when they are pronounced the same?  How does that happen?

This is one of those posts that I am not trying to make any point at all.  I just find some things curios and this is one of them.

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