“Remember that a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” - Dale Carnegi
My favorite book genre is historical fiction. My only occasion for learning something about history. Or, in some cases, relearning something long forgotten through the years. Given that historical fiction topics are based on an actual character or event, I habitually find myself researching to learn more about the author’s inspiration. Well, maybe some suspicious fact checking too. [Sidebar: Did you know that the Dixie Cup was invented way back in 1907. I would have guessed the '60s; just seems like a “mod” type of invention.]
A recent historical fiction book I read was set in the 1600's. An interesting aspect of the book was the unusual character names. In particular, Makepeace. Thinking that the author was merely indulging a creative whim, I still couldn’t help googling. Sure enough, during this period, some parents bestowed onto their offspring a name based on religious belief or circumstance. For example, Elizabeth Hopkins gave birth while sailing to America on the Mayflower. She named her son, Oceanus. Suzanna White also gave birth on the Mayflower, naming her son Peregrine. Other noteworthy passenger names on the Mayflower included: Remember, Love, Wrestling, Desire, Resolved, and Humility. These virtue-type names were primarily used by Puritans, hoping their children would be influenced by a particular characteristic. For most of us, we consider virtue synonymous with goodness. And although unconventional, most Puritan virtue names were optimistically meaningful and quite delightful. Wisdom, Charity, Blessing, Destiny, and Honor. However, in having deep convictions regarding sin, Puritans also focused on names that would safeguard against destructive virtues. Deliverance, Obedience, Forsaken, Abstinence, and Temperance. Humility, for instance, served as a perpetual reminder to be submissive to God. Even more straightforward were phrase-type names: Hate‑evil, Kill‑sin, No‑merit, Joy-in-sin, and Die‑well. Yikes. Maybe Puritans believed that in understanding the nature of any virtue, one must be vigilant to a potentially hidden vice. That is, an unguarded virtue could naturally amend itself as a vice – being organized could become obsessive; daring could escalate into risk‑taking; modesty could slip to insecurity; confidence to arrogance; cautious to anxious; or persuasive to domineering.
My curiosity turned up close to 100 virtue and phrase names. My faves: Endeavor, Pleasance, Solace, Make‑peace, Free‑gift, Fear‑not, and Hope‑still. The more creative parents also took advantage of their surname. In 1679, Samuel and Sarah Bliss named their son Experience. These eclectic naming customs faded away in America because of the diversity of immigrants from other countries, giving rise to cultural names. I find myself wishing that this naming practice was still fashionable. I think most kids with unconventionally positive names grow into that name and become proud of it, enriching their sense of identity. Although teasing could be relentless for some names, maybe virtue names will make a comeback for at least a middle name. I may have to lobby for virtue names when the grandkids come along. Or, perhaps it’s time to get a pet. Maybe a dog named Just-as-you-are (Jaya, for short). Or, Consider-all-possibilities (Cap, for short). How fun!
When you have a moment, check out this witty naming website. The site lists every possible name, its origin, meaning, and popularity time frame: nameberry.com. For you exceptionally curious folks, check out the nominative determinism theory – a belief, originating in ancient times, that a person’s name could determine not only their character, but their profession. Like some of the virtue names still around today, some of you may know these present day meteorologists: Amy Freeze, Larry Sprinkle, and Storm Field. And, how about Usain Bolt, the record-breaking sprinter. Makes you wonder.
© Copyright Paula Davis