The Baby Name Fathergone

What’s the story behind the name Fathergone from yesterday’s list of rare names in early Boston?

Well, it’s similar to the story behind the name Posthumous.

Fathergone Dinely was born in late 1638, just after the death of his father, William (a barber-surgeon). On the 1638 baptismal list, Fathergone is described as, “son of William Dynely our gone brother”:

Fathergone son of William Dyneley our gone brother

After Fathergone himself was gone, the story of his name took on a life of its own. (The same thing happened to Ono Titchiner.)

The earliest account I found was in a 1869 speech by Oliver Wendell Holmes:

A little incident throws a glimmer from the dark lantern of memory upon William Dinely, one of these practitioners with the razor and lancet. He was lost between Boston and Roxbury in a violent tempest of wind and snow; ten days afterwards a son was born to his widow, and with a touch of homely sentiment, I had almost said poetry, they called the little creature “Fathergone” Dinely.

Here’s another account, from a 1885 book by the American Antiquarian Society:

William Dinely is perhaps remembered by most people rather through his son, Fathergone Dinely, than in his own personality. He was a barber-surgeon, and combined with this vocation the art of drawing teeth, as was then customary. He was a favorer of the heretical doctrines advanced by Mrs. Anne Hutchinson, and on account of his peculiar calling had a very great opportunity to instill these doctrines into the minds of his patients. But being sent for on a winter’s night by one of Roxbury (and may be read in Johnson’s Wonder-Working Providence, Book II. chap. xv.) to draw a tooth, he went forth with the maid who had summoned him, and there being a violent snow-storm, they both lost their way on going over the Neck, and died in the snow. His son, born shortly after this event, was baptized with the name of Fathergone.

I won’t list all the others, but here’s a smart-alecky one from 1922:

This grotesque naming habit [of the Puritans] overlapped into nonsectarian camps and all sorts of descriptive cognomens were hung about the necks of newly born babes. When Dinely, Senior, of Boston rushed for the doctor he fell in a snow-drift, and was brought home a stiffly frozen corpse on a shutter. It seemed infinitely appropriate to name the infant “Fathergone Dinely,” and throughout a long life Fathergone Dinely strode the Boston streets.


  • American Antiquarian Society. Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society. Vol. 7. 1885.
  • Holmes, Oliver Wendell. “The Medical Profession in Massachusetts.” Medical Essays. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin and Co., 1892.
  • Sawyer, Joseph Dillaway. History of the Pilgrims and Puritans. Vol. 2. New York City: The Century History Company, 1922.

One thought on “The Baby Name Fathergone

  1. Descriptive cognomens. That is the term I needed, yesterday. Can’t wait for a chance to use it in a crossword puzzle!

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