Civil War Baby Names – Lincoln, Grant, Elmer

Elmer E Ellsworth
Elmer E. Ellsworth
Today is not just the anniversary of the first manned space flight. It’s also the anniversary of the start of the Civil War. (They were exactly 100 years apart, in fact.)

I’ve seen military names catch on as baby names during times of war, so I was curious to know if this had happened during the Civil War. The problem? The war ended in 1865, so all that easy-to-access SSA data, which only dates back to 1880, wouldn’t be of any help.

But census data would work. And economist Douglas Galbi has made things easy for me: he’s used 19th-century census data to come up with lists of popular given names, sorted by decade of birth. Talk about convenient.

Using only data from the 1880 census, I looked up the following Civil War-related names:

  • Abraham & Lincoln – Abraham Lincoln was the leader of the Union
  • Jefferson & Davis – Jefferson Davis was the leader of the Confederacy
  • Ulysses & Grant – Ulysses S Grant commanded the Union Army at the end of the war
  • Robert & Lee – Robert E. Lee commanded the Confederate Army at the end of the war
  • William & Sherman – William T. Sherman was a Union general
  • Elmer & Ellsworth – Elmer E. Ellsworth was an early Union casualty

Here’s what I found. An x indicates “fewer than ten.” Also, keep in mind that the number of births overall increased significantly from decade to decade — 20,862 the first decade, 36,188 the second, 48,000 the third and 64,041 the fourth.

Name 1841-50 1851-60 1861-70 1871-80
Abraham:
Lincoln:
78
x
89
11
105
35
83
x
Jefferson:
Davis:
24
10
26
12
74
25
38
x
Ulysses:
Grant:
x
x
x
x
15
94
10
43
Robert:
Lee:
349
15
602
33
887
109
1,268
104
William:
Sherman:
1,732
x
3,114
x
4,704
70
5,693
30
Elmer:
Ellsworth:
x
x
24
x
232
21
161
x

So it seems as though the Civil War did indeed give certain names a boost.

I was most surprised by Elmer. Elmer E. Ellsworth, though not well-known nowadays, captured the nation’s attention in early days of the war. He was killed in mid-1861 while trying to confiscate a Confederate flag. Here’s how the NYT ended Ellsworth’s obituary:

He has been assassinated! His murder was fearfully and speedily revenged. He has lived a brief but an eventful, a public and an honorable life. His memory will be revered, his name respected, and long after the rebellion shall have become a matter of history, his death will be regarded as a martyrdom, and his name will be enrolled upon the list of our country’s patriots.

According to Wikipedia, Ellsworth’s death inspired thousands of men to enlist. His many namesakes include U.S. Commissioner of Education Elmer Ellsworth Brown (1861-1934), artist Elmer Ellsworth Garnsey (1862-1964), Minnesota legislator Elmer Ellsworth Adams (1861-1950), and pro baseball player Elmer Ellsworth “Mike” Smith (1868-1945).

Source: “Obituary; Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth.” New York Times 25 May 1861.

*

UPDATE, 6/15/15: Turns out that the data I used for this post isn’t so reliable after all. (See the comments here for specifics.)

So here are some new numbers — basically, search “hits” for these names on the 1880 Census (via FamilySearch) grouped by birth year. These aren’t perfect either, but I think they’re an improvement.

Let’s go backwards…

Elmer & Ellsworth:

1841-50 1851-60 1861-70 1871-80
Elmer:
Ellsworth:
767
55
2,686
128
21,464
2,516
16,848
878

And here are the year-by-year “hits” on Elmer specifically:

  • 1856: 236 babies named Elmer
  • 1857: 259 babies named Elmer
  • 1858: 325 babies named Elmer
  • 1859: 388 babies named Elmer
  • 1860: 605 babies named Elmer
  • 1861: 2,533 babies named Elmer
  • 1862: 3,964 babies named Elmer
  • 1863: 2,665 babies named Elmer
  • 1864: 2,097 babies named Elmer
  • 1865: 1,617 babies named Elmer

William & Sherman:

1841-50 1851-60 1861-70 1871-80
William:
Sherman:
203,072
305
313,786
523
413,820
7,864
451,502
3,151

Robert & Lee:

1841-50 1851-60 1861-70 1871-80
Robert:
Lee:
38,445
3,423
57,213
6,171
83,640
17,930
109,409
25,661

Ulysses & Grant:

1841-50 1851-60 1861-70 1871-80
Ulysses:
Grant:
49
209
63
324
2,003
11,819
811
5,309

Jefferson & Davis:

1841-50 1851-60 1861-70 1871-80
Jefferson:
Davis:
2,020
718
3,109
1,094
7,075
2,356
3,270
1,713

Abraham & Lincoln:

1841-50 1851-60 1861-70 1871-80
Abraham:
Lincoln:
4,411
74
5,071
663
7,951
4,292
5,482
620

If anyone has any tips on using the U.S. census to get relatively accurate data on first names (only), I’m all ears!


11 thoughts on “Civil War Baby Names – Lincoln, Grant, Elmer

  1. I had a great-great-grandfather named Elmer Ellsworth LN. I never knew that was a name of someone famous.

  2. @Elizabeth – That’s cool. The fact that he was born 25 years after the incident occurred makes me wonder if his father had the name as well and was passing it down.

  3. I know three little boys named Lincoln, one named Abraham (nm Abe) and two named Grant. I personally really like Lincoln the best of all those.

  4. I am planning on naming my baby boy Jefferson Davis Bowden! I am a history author, my dad is a history author and I want all my children to have historical, but practical names. With jefferson Davis Bowden, he can go by Jeff or JB if he wishes. Yet he still has a historic name. When one researches Jeff Davis one really knows he is not the evil man our public schools and mainstream historical works have made him out to be.

  5. From a ’20s Cosmo:

    Another friend of mine, named Osborn, doesn’t profess to be gifted in second sight, but he once mystified a stranger by telling him that he–the stranger–was born in April, May, or June, 1861; moreover, that he was born in a Union state, and that his father was an enthusiastic Northern sympathizer during the Civil War. He knew all this just by noting that the man’s first two initials were “E.E.” The whole thing was a matter of simple deduction. The man appeared to be the age of one born during the Civil War. Osborn happened to know that one of the great Northern heroes of the Civil War was one Elmer Ellsworth, the first man klled on the Union side. Thousands of babies born during the two or three months following Ellsworth’s death were named “Elmer Ellsworth.” Knowing these facts, the “E.E.” in the man’s name meant much. There was nothing occult about it–just synthetic reasoning.

    Source: Kelly, Fred C. “Do We Like to Be Fooled?” Cosmopolitan March 1921: 65-67, 149-152.

  6. I named my son Jefferson Davis (JD) and my daughter Alexandra Stephanie, after Alexander Stephans the VP of the confederacy. Never really knew thy had a VP but should have just figured it. You never really hear about him unless you read history books about the civil war. If I ever have any more children, they will have some sort of civil war name.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *