Christian names

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The personal names that had been used by people of Anglo‐Saxon and Scandinavian descent mostly fell out of fashion after the Norman Conquest, though some remained in use long enough to be used as patronymics in †surname formation. The name Edward remained popular because Edward the Confessor was held in high repute by the Normans, but otherwise the Norman kings and barons bore names of Germanic origin, or Celtic names if they came from Brittany. Such names were soon adopted by the rest of the male population. Until recent times, some of the most popular names were those of monarchs and other members of the royal family. The New Testament name of Elizabeth would not have been so popular had it not been for Queen Elizabeth I. Most English royal names, including William, Henry, Richard, and Charles, are not biblical in origin but go back to the pagan Germanic period and were introduced into England by the Normans.

The range of new names in the post‐Conquest period did not match that of the old ones which had disappeared. The proportion of men bearing the five names Henry, John, Richard, Robert, and William rose steadily from 38 per cent of recorded masculine names in the 12th century to 64 per cent in the 14th century. By 1379, when a poll tax was levied nationwide, John and William accounted for half the masculine names in the country. It is probably for this reason that so many diminutives were formed.

Biblical names became fashionable during the 12th and 13th centuries, especially those of the apostles and the evangelists. During the 13th and 14th centuries a number of names taken from the Old Testament began to be chosen. The popularity of the medieval mystery plays may have helped in this process. Girls, too, were baptized with biblical names; Joan and Agnes are first recorded in England in 1189, Catherine in 1196, Mary in 1203, Elizabeth in 1205, and Anne in 1218. Biblical names eventually became the most widespread of all first names. Some very obscure ones were chosen by 16th‐ and 17th‐century Puritans, and biblical names such as Amos, Ebenezer, Enoch, Hezekiah, and Noah were revived by 19th‐century Nonconformists, together with names which expressed Christian virtues such as Faith, Hope, and Charity.

Names of classical antiquity, such as Horace or Julius, also became fashionable among the educated classes in the 16th and 17th centuries, but they never became as popular as those derived from the Bible. Most of the Roman names that were chosen were those possessed by some early saint or martyr. In the 18th century upper‐class families began the fashion of using Latin forms of girls’ names, e.g. Anna or Maria. Towards the end of the 18th century, and especially during the following century under the influence of Tennyson and the pre‐Raphaelites, some Anglo‐Saxon or medieval names were revived: they included Alfred, Edwin, Guy, Nigel, Quentin, Roland, and Walter for boys, and Alice, Amy, Audrey, Edith, and Mabel for girls. The names of early Christian saints or martyrs such as Aidan, Alban, Benedict, Bernard, and Theodore were chosen under the influence of the Oxford Movement. Many other names which had once been fashionable fell into disuse and were never revived.


Subjects: History.

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