Saturday, May 16, 2009

Question from Jacque - Naming conventions

Was there a specific way people (specifically the higher classes) named their children? would it be correct to to say that they usually tried to use names that were in their family? If so, would these be names from the father's side only, or might names from the mother's side be used as well?


kb said...

Elizabethan elites granted the right to name their children to the godparents. The decision was usually reached in consultation between the godparents and the parents. Names were generally chosen to honor one of the god parents or another notable person who might take an interest in the future welfare of the child. This is one reason why there were so many Elizabeths during Elizabeth I's reign.

Kathy said...

kb, do the naming rights really go to the godparents? From the little bit I've read on the matter, nobility, or at least royalty, did not attend the christening of their children, but stayed behind in the nursery. The godparents did attend and it was to them the charge of "Name this child" was addressed. But I don't think that meant they had the right to pick the name themselves. The name would have been picked beforehand by the parents.

In general, names seem to have been taken from family tradition, the current royal family, the Bible, and personal preference in any order the parents decided was best.

kb said...

Kathy -
This is why I said 'usually reached in consultation between godparents and the parents.'. This is also why I said 'Elizabethan elites'.

Royalty picked names for their own children and then the godparents 'named' the child at the ceremony as you pointed out.

If however you were an Elizabethan elite and the queen had agreed to be the godparent of your daughter and asked out of form what you wished to name the child - out of form you would have replied 'what ever your majesty wishes but we thought Elizabeth would be an excellent choice'.

If you were asking Lettice Knollys to be the godparent of your daughter it would have been much more likely for her to say 'were you thinking of Lettice for her name?'

If no son yet carried the father's name, the godparent might ask if you wished to name your son after the father. For example Henry Carey's son Henry was his 2nd son and Francis Knollys's son Francis was his 6th son.

This habit of re-using names across generations and in honor of god-parents makes clear identification of individuals very difficult for the historian. There are some exceptions. For example, Douglas Howard was named after her godparent Margaret Douglas countess of Lennox. The presence of a Michael Carey amongst Henry Carey's sons is so startling as there are no other Michaels in the family and I have yet to identify a godparent for him, that it almost makes one query of this Michael Carey was really a son of Henry and Anne Carey.