Weird and wonderful are the names that people burden their children with, and it isn’t only the Beckhams. It’s been going on for a very long time – you have only to read your Bible. In slightly more recent times, the Puritans didn’t stop at labelling their offspring with virtues like Patience and Prudence, but saddled their babes with slogans too. You can check some of them out here.
Noteworthy among these are the Barebone brothers: “Jesus-Christ-Came-Into-The-World-To-Save” and “If-Christ-Had-Not-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned.” You’d have thought that, with a surname like Barebone, a simple Christian name like Jack or Jim would have sufficed. But not for their daddy: his name was “Praise God” Barebone and he wanted his sons to go one better.
Praise-God was a particularly pious member of the Parliament called by Oliver Cromwell in 1653. The Parliament was named after him – Barebone’s Parliament. His second son was known as “Damned Barebone,” not the greatest of appellations, so he wisely renamed himself Nicholas Barbon.
He was something of a wheeler-dealer and after the Great Fire of London in 1666, he became involved in various reconstruction projects. Worried that he might lose his investment, he formed what is thought to be the first fire insurance company in 1667.
But it wasn’t only the Puritans. Pity the little boys called Sacheverell Sitwell or Isambard Kingdom Brunel. With a moniker like that, they simply had to become famous. Yet another solution when the babies keep arriving and you are running out of relatives to name them for, is to number them – hence Sextus, Septimus and Octavia. I have never met a boy named Sue, but I did know one called Hilary and another called Clare, not a very kind trick for parents to play.
I’ve always been grateful to my parents for giving me a name that is internationally acceptable, not particularly dated, and doesn’t come loaded with negative associations – like Adolf or Benito, in themselves quite pleasant names – or impossible ambitions, like Napoleon. I suppose a female equivalent might be Boudicca or Godiva. And I have read somewhere – possibly an urban myth – of a woman naming her twin girls Syphilis and Gonorrhoea. She claimed she had never heard these words before and thought they had a pleasant ring. Hopefully, someone enlightened her before she reached the font.
Researching my family tree hasn’t turned up any very exciting names: a multitude of Janes, Elizabeths, Susannahs and Marys, James, Johns and Williams, several Jeremiahs and Jonahs, a couple of Phoebes and a Lionel, a Luce and my aunt whose middle name was Lille, since my grandmother believed that’s where her husband was fighting in 1915. He was actually at Ypres, so my aunt had a narrow escape with that one, otherwise she’d have gone through life answering to “Wipers”.
However, back in the mid sixteenth century, my tenth great-grandmother had the evocative name of Goodith Ancleye. I have never come across either of these names before, and wondered if Goodith was an illiterate clerk’s misspelling of Judith, until Google revealed two quite well-known present-day Goodiths: Goodith White and Goodith Heeney. So the name is still in use. Not one I would recommend to my grandchildren to be passing on though, especially in Switzerland where the English “th” poses a pronunciation problem. Still, I’d like to know its origin. Perhaps it is only a variant spelling of Judith. Or was there an Anglo-Saxon name like Godwitha that evolved into Goodith?
Goodith White is a linguist, so perhaps I could ask her if she knows the etymology of her name. If she tells me, I’ll tell you.