Most people come to Names Yesteryear to search for what names were popular in such and such a year in England. I, unfortunately, do not have access to official data that would make that sort of thing easy to access. The Gentleman’s Magazine, however, has been a great source, and having looked through 46 volumes (so far), a picture of what names were used in the Georgian era has built up. Some names get repeated over and over again in the Magazine’s wedding announcements, which could very well indicate popularity. More so, though, it is a good indicator of what names were used in the elite classes of England, for the Magazine was target at the educated gentleman, not the illiterate working-class man. If you are naming a character living in Georgian times, the group of names below could be a good way to start – they’ll certainly be era appropriate.
Popular women’s names seem to have varied more than men’s. Some of the top players of the time were quite similar to today, including Isabella and Emma. Others are still very familiar, most of them still placing well in name charts, whereas others are coming back into use after a little time off. They include:
Mary, Maria, Marianne (Maryann), Alice, Elizabeth, Eliza, Sarah, Frances, Fanny, Letitia, Caroline, Charlotte, Catherine, Rebecca, Hannah, Rachel, Ann(e), Emily, Ellen, Jane, Helen, Ruth, Lavinia, Susannah, Adelaide and Julia.
For the men, we stick with the usual suspects. It was more difficult to extract data for masculine names in the Georgian era because often only a man’s initial and/or title was given. But here is a simple, perhaps even simplified, list of names that often appeared in The Gentleman’s Magazine:
William, John, Edward, Edmund, Peter, Joseph, Charles, Arthur, Anthony, Samuel, David, Ernest, Daniel, Benjamin, Alfred, Francis, Robert, Thomas, Philip and Alexander.
The names below deserve to be spotlighted separately. They became used in England mainly due to the influence of the kings, queens, and the country’s ruling elite. Some date back to the Norman Conquest, but others were later introductions, many arriving with the Hanoverians.
Augustus and Augusta (meaning ‘Great’, ‘Venerable’) – made popular in England by George III and his wife Queen Charlotte. Of his fifteen children, seven were given an ‘August’ name, including George Augustus Frederick and Augusta Sophia. It is believed the names came over with the Hanoverians – George II’s middle name was Augustus, and he bestowed it upon his youngest son Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland. It was considered in many ways a royal name. When the Duke of Kent, Queen Victoria’s father, wished to give her the middle name of Augusta, he was forbidden to do so by his brother, George IV. It goes to show that names had power, and Augusta was reserved for those who the king deemed worthy. Augustus and Augusta aren’t too hot at the moment, with both ranking outside the top 1000.
Frederick and Frederica (meaning ‘Peaceful Ruler’) – These names were also introduced by the Hanoverians. Four of George III’s sons had the name Frederick. In many of the sources, Frederica often pops up, but Frederick seems to have made more of an impact. Not surprisingly, Frederick outranks Frederica – he’s at #95, likely due to the nickname Freddie, and she’s way down the chart at #3156.
George, Georgina and Georgiana (meaning ‘Farmer’) – Before the Hanoverians the ‘George’ names were not commonly used in England, but for over one hundred years Britain had four consecutive kings named George, making it not only a popular name choice but a patriotic one, too. Georgiana was the name of one of the biggest trend-setters of the day, Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire. Interestingly, there are two pronunciations of the name, both acceptable. Most will opt for the more modern sounding ‘jor-gee-ah-na’, but there is also ‘jor-jay-nuh’. The latter, I believe, may have come into being in Whig circles. They were notorious for changing how words and names were pronounced. Later coinages include Georgia, Georgie and Georgette.
Henry, Harriot/Harriet and Henrietta (‘Ruler of the Home’) — The name Henry was commonly used for centuries in England, with eight kings, notably Henry VIII, carrying the name. The feminine form, Henrietta, was introduced by Henrietta Marie of France, wife to King Charles I. In the eighteenth century, Harriet became one of the most popular names amongst the aristocracy. If we stay with the Duchess of Devonshire - Georgiana had a sister named Henrietta, who was better known as Harriet, and her second daughter was named Harriet, although she went by Harryo.
Louisa and Louise (meaning ‘Famous Warrior’)—The names were another introduction by the German Hanoverians to England. One of George II’s daughter was named Louisa, and it was continuously used, in both its forms, throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Queen Victoria named one of her daughters Louise, and many of the Queen’s granddaughters also carried the name, such as Louise Victoria Alexandra Dagmar, daughter of Edward VII. The names were very popular within the aristocracy, but Louisa especially so. In 2010, however, it was Louise that came up top; she ranked #208, Louisa #253.
Most of the names above are common and straightforward. For something more unusual, please check out the Gentleman’s Magazine name lists above – there are some interesting Georgian gems there. If nothing seems to fit, why not go with a family surname? Surnames as first names were used throughout the era, for both men and women. Another option are names from Roman and Greek mythology. The Georgians were obsessed with classics; the Elgin Marbles (now in the British Museum) caused great interest when they were opened to the British elite for viewing.
Image: Three Ladies Adorning a Term of Hymen by Reynolds. Portrait of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Reynolds. Sir Francis Burdett by Sir Thomas Lawrence.