Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Popular Names in the 1850s

File:Devonshire House from the Illustrated London News, 1850.jpg

Since there have been 25 Gentleman's Magazine posts thus far, I decided it was time to look a wee bit closer at them. Because I have recently been re-acquainting myself with the 1850s, I thought this was a good place to start. But let me just clarify the title above quickly.

Firstly, there is nothing official about the list of names below. I did not use any official data to compile the list, just the names which I came across in the Gentleman's Magazine and the frequency I found them in the Marriage Announcements. But this does give you a pretty good idea of the names being used.

Secondly, the names are of grown women, the majority in their 20s, who were married in the 1850s in England. With this taken into account, the names more realistically represent the names parents were giving their daughters in the 1830s or so, and therefore their popularity in that period. But this isn't to say that these same names were not being used in huge numbers in the 1850s, mainly because mothers at this time did tend to pass on their names to their own daughters.

Thirdly and lastly, these names appeared in a magazine targeted at the elite and written by the elite and therefore don't necessarily represent the population as a whole.

The Top 5

Mary and Maria ('sea of biterness' or 'beloved') - This really seems to have been the it name of the moment, especially at the latter end of the 1850s. It was found in the first spot and in the middle, sometimes in both. I came across Mary Maria on three different occasions - this double use must be a testament to Mary/Maria's popularity. Marie is also found but no where near as much.

Ann(e), Anna and Annie ('favour' or 'grace') - Just a step down from Mary, the Anns were very popular. I would say Anne and Anna appeared with about the same frequency. Although now usually used as 'fillers', Anne and Anna were constantly used as first names. Annie had its own identity and was used in its own right and not just as a nickname.

Elizabeth ('my God is an oath') - Classic and timeless Elizabeth was another firm favourite. Almost always found in its long form, the only direct nickname which saw some use was distinctively Victorian Bessie.

Eliza ('my God is an oath') - Yes, I did mention that Bessie was really Elizabeth's only nickname to even make an appearance. And, in many ways, this continues to be true. Eliza seems to have reached such a level of popularity that it was a bonafied name in itself.

Jane ('Yahweh is gracious') - Darling Jane was not relegated to the middle as she has a reputation for nowadays. She popped up again and again throughout the years, never leaving the Marriage Announcements from 1809 to 1860.

Other Top Favourites

Isabella and Isabel ('my God is an oath') - Isabella definitely overtakes Isabel in the popularity stakes, over a number of years, but that isn't to mean lovely Isabel wasn't being used, because she certainly was. I saw an increase in the use of Isabel at the end of the 1850s and at the same time Isabella seemed to have decreased in popularity.

Emma and Emily ('universal' and 'rival', respectively) - These two modern favourites were very much in use. Emma was perhaps the most popular of the two, but only marginally. Both Emma and Emily were firm favourites with the upper crust.

Catherine (possibly 'each of two' or 'pure') - Just like with today, there were a number of different spellings, from your standard Catherine to Katherine, Kathrine, Kathryn and Catharine. Although most stuck to the most dominant spelling, this was the one name in which spellings differed the most.

Frances ('french woman') - Without a doubt I saw a decline in the use of Frances; she was much more prominent in the Marriage Announcements in the 1820s. With that said, she was still one of the most popular names.

Fanny ('french woman') - This is one that could possibly drift into obscurity and never re-emerge from the pit of names forgotten. But Fanny was a top name in the 1800s, particularly at the beginning of the century. Sometimes it was used as a nickname for Frances, as in the case of novelist Fanny Burney, but it was also used in its in own right in huge numbers.

Adelaide ('noble' and 'kind, sort') - The name of William IV's Queen Consort was indeed a popular choice with the aristocratic classes. She wasn't the most popular, or even in the top five, but she was definitely being used in great numbers. Perhaps the use of her name became as popular as it did because the Queen Consort was well liked by her people.

Lucy ('light') - Sweet Lucy seems a bit out of place, maybe even in the wrong century, but she is very much present in the Marriage Announcements. For one reason or another, Lucy was often found on its own, without a middle name. Before the mid 1800s I wasn't seeing Lucy all that much in the Gentleman's Magazine, but by the 1850s she had taken off and appeared with regular frequency.

Henrietta ('home ruler') - In the 1820s announcements Harriet or Harriot were the ones which really took the spotlight. They were some of the most popular names, and would have been in my top 5 names for the era. For many, admittedly, Harriet was only a nickname for Henrietta, but by the 1850s you start to see the decline of spunky, punchy Harriet and the rise of charming and elegant Henrietta.

Other Favourites


Image: A ball at Devonshire House in London from the Illustrated London News, 1850.