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Tuesday 13 September 2011

Regency era names.

As I have said, I hate coming across anachronistic names.  I have been asked several times by other people for a list of the most popular names so as well as my own researches  here's a list of the top 50 given names compiled from the research of Leslie Alan Dunkling who has written a number of books on names, including the excellently informative work 'The Guinness Book of Names' which I thoroughly recommend for excellent research and a good laugh at times as well. Below is a table with the top 50 names given at birth in 1800

Eight out of ten babies before the twentieth century tended to be named from among the top ten names; this is apparent in the letters of Jane Austen where the same names tend to occur.  Girls are more likely to be given names outside this list than boys.  Note that many of the girls’ names are actually derivative; only Harry on the male list, a diminutive of Henry is so.  Female names had already diverged enough that eg Ann and Hannah, Harriet and Henrietta were already separate name

Diminutives used for everyday which may have also been given at birth:

Elizabeth: Eliza, Lizzy, Liza, Beth, Betty, Betsy
Mary: Molly, Polly, Minney
Margaret Maggie, Meg, Peggy
Catherine/Katharine: Kitty, Kate
Frances: Fanny
Sarah: Sally
Ann: Nancy, Annie, Nan, Nanny



1  William
26 Mark 

1  Mary 
26 Fanny
2  John
27 Michael

2  Ann[e]
27 Eliza
3  Thomas
28 Ralph

4  James
29 Jacob

4  Sarah
5  George
30 Andrew

5  Jane   
30 Rachel
6  Joseph
31 Moses

6  Hannah
31 Lydia
7  Richard
32 Nicholas

7  Susan
32 Caroline
8  Henry
33 Anthony

8  Martha
9  Robert
34 Luke

9  Margaret
34 Peggy
10 Charles
35 Simon

10 Charlotte
35 Ruth
11 Samuel
36 Josiah

11 Harriet
36 Kitty
12 Edward
37 Timothy

12 Betty
37 Jenny
13 Benjamin
38 Martin

13 Maria
38 Phoebe
14 Isaac 
39 Nathaniel

14 Catherine
39 Agnes
15 Peter 
40 Roger

15 Frances
16 Daniel
41 Walter

16 Mary Ann
41 Amy
17 David
42 Aaron

17 Nancy
18 Francis
43 Jeremy

18 Rebecca
43 Dinah
19 Stephen
44 Joshua

19 Alice
44 Barbara
20 Jonathon
45 Alexander

20 Ellen
45 Joan
21 Christopher
46 Adam

21 Sophia
46 Joanna
22 Matthew
47 Hugh

22 Lucy 
47 Deborah
23 Edmund
48 Laurence

23 Isabel
24 Philip
49 Owen

24 Eleanor
49 Bridget
25 Abraham
50 Harry

25[H] Esther


  1. Thank you very much :)

  2. You are welcome! they are there to be used!
    Best of luck with your writing endeavours, and above all, have fun!

  3. "All of them sensible, everyday names."

    I'm surprised not to see Julia on the list for women. I'd have thought it at least as popular as Lydia.

    I came up with a shortcut of starting with kings of England for the men, and Austen characters for the women, and branching out to known historical names if I needed more. No Felicitys or Serenas or Dylans or Justins for me, or the even more flamboyant ones beloved of 1970s and 1980s soap operas. :)

  4. Haha, indeed... the Felicitys and Serenas existed and the Justins, though I doubt in quantity! I definitely query a Welsh name like Dylan though. The late 18th century did see a burst of literary names amongst the literati who drew on the Classics once the idea of religious tolerance got more established and heathen names were not frowned on; and too there's a rise in the number of Biblical names from the Dissenters, which in my family for one led to several generations called Noah, Obadiah and Elijah. And my personal favourite, culled from the Assizes, Gedeliah. WHAT a moniker!

    Yes, it is surprising that Julia was in the 'also rans', and there are some up there in the top 50 that I found surprising too. Notably Mary, Anne, Elizabeth, Sarah and Jane have occupied - in various orders - the top 5 spots for 500 years or so, as have John, William and Thomas in the top 3, with a selection ringing the changes under them. This continued right up the modern era fashion for naming kids after their place of conception [I'm still waiting to see a kid christened Inthebackofdadscortina] and a return to the individualistic naming not seen since tribes gave way to kingdoms, which I think to be a reflection of a much regimented society in which naming is one of a few freedoms [which it isn't the case in every country!]

  5. This is really helpful, thank you. I have considering a some names for my aristocratic characters and their servants and was pleased to find them in your list. I wonder if any of the names bore class distinctions during the Regency era?

  6. * I have been considering some names...

    Sorry, careless error! :-)

  7. Generally those names which are short or pet forms of other names would tend to be lower class than the names from which they derive - you are not going to have aristocratic or gentry girls called Nancy, Molly, Peggy, Betty, Eliza, Kitty and the like, though of course they might be KNOWN by the pet names in their own family. Like Kitty Bennett. [Sally, Lady Jersey being a case in point, but of course Christened Sarah]. I tend to have a gut feeling that Ellen would tend to be lower class than its equivalent Helen, and Dinah lower class than the name that sounds similar and has no relationship, Diana. But that really is my gut feeling and I'm not sure I could prove it; I'm going on a somewhat unscientific empirical recall of the names on paintings by famous artists as opposed to the girls transported at the assizes... as a rule of thumb, lower class girls are more likely to have names their parents had heard in church, and generally one or two syllables, like Ruth, Mary, Anne, with other usually short and well-established names like Jane, names that shout well. Aristocratic ladies would be as likely to have more fanciful classical names as well as the names that wore well like Jane, Anne, Mary and Elizabeth, which cut across all classes..And might be well mixed. Jane Austen, after all, had a sister called Cassandra, and you can't really get much more of a contrast than that in name length and commonality...

  8. The Colonial first Name problem
    Taken from Savage's Genealogical Dictionary
    of the First Settlers of New England before 1692
    NE 17th Century 63,000 male names analyzed

    Name % w/name Tot %
    John 26.8% 26.8%
    Thomas 12.3% 39.1%
    Samuel 7.8% 46.9%
    William 6.6% 53.4%
    Joseph 5.5% 58.9%
    James 3.4% 62.3%
    Richard 3.1% 65.4%
    Benjamin 2.9% 68.3%
    Nathaniel 2.8% 71.2%
    Daniel 2.3% 73.4%
    Charles 2.1% 75.6%
    Robert 2.1% 77.7%
    Edward 1.9% 79.6%
    Henry 1.7% 81.3%
    George 1.7% 82.9%
    Stephen 1.2% 84.1%
    Peter 1.1% 85.2%
    David 1.0% 86.2%

    Women's first names found from 33,000 women's names
    Mary 27.7% 27.7%
    Elizabeth 18.4% 46.1%
    Sarah 18.0% 64.1%
    Anne 6.6% 70.7%
    Rebecca 4.7% 75.4%
    Martha 3.8% 79.2%
    Susanna 3.4% 82.6%
    Joan 2.4% 84.9%
    Margaret 2.2% 87.1%
    Jane 1.6% 88.7%
    Dorothy 1.4% 90.1%
    Alice 1.1% 91.2%
    Judith 1.0% 92.3%

    Analysis was done by using text editing sofware [Notetab]
    that would count occurances of a given name in the document.
    The analysis was done on Savage's four volume set:
    Genealogical Dictionary (available free on the internet).
    The data was down loaded and made into one large text file
    for analysis and searching purposes.

    1. Many thanks, Anonymous, very useful to have an expansion into the American side of the statistics. This gives a statistical spread covering a period of 100 years before my list, and I would suspect that the names of English and American people had not, at that point, significantly diverged.

  9. Hi Sarah,
    I am not sure if you can help me because I can't seem to find anything on the internet about this, but do you know what children and babies of gentry and minor aristocracy would be called before they 'come out'?
    What age would this change?
    Would they be referred to just by their first name or by a title then given name or (for eldest children of each sex), by their title and surname just as they would once they reach adulthood?
    Obviously to family this would not be a formal title, but what would servants refer to them as? How would they be introduced to their parents visitors etc?
    I hope you can help me.

  10. Hi Esther! it was going out of fashion [indeed had probably gone by about 1800 at the latest] by the Regency, but a boy would be Childe [name] - like Byron's Childe Harold - and a girl would be Burd {name] [cf Burde Ellen]. Byron revived the old forms for romantic poetry. By the Regency the fashion had changed to be Master [Name] for the juvenile male and Miss [name] for all unwed females regardless of age. In the medieval period, one might ask, at a birth, 'is it a child or a brat?' ie, a boy or a girl, but by the late 16th century the word 'child' had ceased to designate a boy-child and had come to mean both, but more often a female, a boy would be a lad. The designation 'Master' is a tricky one for me to date, as earlier it would be the equivalent of 'Mister' and designated an adult man of some skill in his profession, deriving from 'magister', one who had mastered a craft. Miss, like Mrs, is derived from 'Mistress' the polite equivalent to a female that 'master' was for a male adult. I would suspect that the heir of a house would be referred to as 'the young master' by the servants. Master possibly arose as a designation for a youth through being a term of respect to a social superior of tender years who had no title of his own and seeped down the social ranks as such things tend to do, but that's my own theory. If a boy had a title of his own, he would be introduced by that, not by his name or surname at all. Those who were entitled to be 'Honourable' would be the Honourable Miss/Master Whoever, when introduced, but that was only really for formal occasions. Once introduced they could be addressed without the Honourable attached. A boy would be Mister as soon as he was at school [if he had no other title], so for many almost as soon as he was breeched, around 7 years old. Mr Surname would be the name he would be caned under by his schoolmasters. I would give a tentative suggestion that on average a boy becomes 'Mr' around about 13 or 14, perhaps reflecting the age at which it was legal for a boy to be wed [the age of 14 for a boy and 12 for a girl persisted until the 1880's]. The servants would call him Mr Surname if he was the oldest when addressing him, and the younger boys would be Mr Firstname. The same with girls, Miss Surname for the oldest and Miss Firstname for others. They would be introduced as this to visitors, though the eldest son might be introduced by his first name and surname, it being a given that he is referred to as Mr Surname by anyone speaking to him, but to differentiate him from his father. In some families, an heir who bore his own title was indeed referred to just by that title by his family too, to impress on him the importance of the family heritance. So George Stone, Viscount Stonebridge, might grow up being called George by his siblings, My Lord by the servants, Stonebridge by his parents, Lord Stonebridge by his tutor and probably That Wretched Boy by the gardener when he managed to wreck a morning's work by some heedless prank. And he might still be known as Gigglekins or something similar to his nurse if he acquired a pet name in his infancy...

  11. I'm writing a story in the 1800s and it has been helpful to make sure that at least my names are period accurate, even if some elements have had liberal amounts of artistic licence smothered on to them. Thank you. Xxx

  12. Possibly not useful to someone whose chosen soubriquet is 'hitler' which is not particularly funny. However if you were serious in searching for information, it might have been useful to know why it wasn't useful, as the title pretty much says what it's about.

  13. So what's the word on names from the classics? You were talking about literary names earlier. In particular, if a girl's father were a scholar, might she be named Ariadne?

    ... And then, if she were, how unlikely is it that she is very fond of opera and is thus called Aria as a pet name? I know "Aria" is scarily anachronistic in general, so maybe that won't cut it... Thoughts?

  14. Hi Amy! I don't see any problems with Ariadne, or any classical name, though you'd have to be bats to call someone Alcithoe [the original Alcithoe was turned into a bat, I couldn't resist that]. I would dispute Aria on the grounds that opera was rather low. It might suggest a girl was no better than she ought to be, since many opera singers and most dancers supplemented their income by dancing, er, horizontally. I suppose within the family it would be acceptable but it's a little dodgy. I think it would depend how you use it.
    As to names from the classics, I am currently using 3 Gerundives; the 2 well known ones, Amanda [she who must be loved], Miranda [she who must be admired] and invented Lucenda [not Lucinda] [she who must be illuminated]. I suppose in retrospect I could have used Jocunda, she who must be happy, but her father was not jocund at the time, as he had yet another daughter not a son. People did make up names for literary heroines, some of which have become mainstream, like Pamela, and I'm sure some parents did make up names, even if only to make a male name they liked female. Hence the wide variations on George - Georgia, Georgiana [the most common], Georgette, Georgina. I presume the choice of Ariadne would be for the pretty sound of it [in which case the father might militate against it being shortened] or because he had just finished a difficult 'maze' of research when she was born, or because he had a fondness for the story of Theseus. Remember a lot of scholars of less than top flight tended to use the Roman names for various characters. Incidentally, Aria is a large country in Asia in classical times.

  15. Thanks much! (I applaud your Alcithoe joke, haha.) And yeah, I did wonder about Aria for exactly that reason. That said, I wasn't sure if it might be okay because after all, the upper classes did visit the opera, and I would think a girl might be fond of music and be okay. (MOST people visited to see and be seen, but maybe there were some who genuinely wanted to hear the songs?) All the same, I could definitely keep "Aria" within the family, and maybe one or two VERY close friends? I was kind of thinking it might have started as a joke and just sort of caught on, like a brother teasing her for enjoying going to the opera so much, kind of thing. IDK, though, maybe it's not worth risking it. Hmm... (Also, I didn't know it was a country! That's really interesting!) I like all those ideas for the reason behind her name. I may just start using it and see which feels most likely. (This is actually for a role playing game, but I'm a perfectionist to a rather large degree, so I'm trying to make things as accurate as possible. XD)

    Ooh, cool! I like "Lucenda". Haha, yeah, I bet the father wasn't too happy. That all makes good sense. :) After all, names have to come from somewhere. (Though I'm not fond of the current crazy name trends...)

    So presumably her father would have to be either a GOOD scholar or an unusual not-so-good one?


  16. Yes, actually that works, starting it as a joke, and it sticks, as these things tend to!
    I didn't know it was a country but I heaved out my Lempriere which I still think is the most comprehensive classical dictionary there is [Agatha Christie or her archaeologist husband used it; Miss Marple's nephew's girlfriend was Joan Lempriere, and the author was John, I swear she was looking for name inspiration and saw it on the shelf...]
    I usually find that characters have decided and definite ideas about how they do things so I am sure yours will tell you how they feel as you design them. I, too, like accuracy and perfection in my role playing games but I was nearly lynched when I ran a D&D game in which all the countries had different currencies and the players had to deal with the exchange rates. I based it on the nearly identical but slightly different values of the crown, the ecu, the florin and the ducat of the Renaissance... sometimes you can have too much realism, in my defence I was very young then and have since discovered that most people across Europe of the time treated the whole lot as 'one gold piece'. So Gary Gygax and Steve Arneson weren't that far out ...
    I'm not fond of current crazy name trends but it's nothing new, the 12th and 13th century had a craze for names like Diamanda, Argentina, Preciosa, Gemma and other precious names.

    Hehe pretty much one or the other...he could be an unusual and good scholar ...
    Have fun and let me know how it goes!

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  18. Excellent, I'm glad it was useful to you!