Move over, Jesse Roper. This might just be my new favorite baby name story of all time.
Robert, daughter of William Thompson, bap. 15 Feb. 1730, the midwife mistaking the sex, ebrietas dementat.
Ebrietas dementat is Latin for “crazed with drunkenness.” So, this baby girl was given a boy name because the drunken midwife got the gender wrong.
Cracks me up. :)
How could this have happened?
Back in 18th-century England, when newborns were baptized as soon as possible, the midwife was typically the only person to get a good look at a baby between birth and baptism.
Midwives who were tired, or overworked, or stressed, or…well, drunk…sometimes became confused amid all the excitement and reported the wrong gender.
Once the baptism took place and the name was affixed, though, there was no going back.
Gender mix-ups like this one were rare, but not unheard of. English baptismal registers include other baby girls with boy names, and baby boys with girl names.
And here’s another interesting fact: Did you know that midwives also sometimes named the babies they delivered?
If a midwife saw that the baby was in danger of not being delivered alive, she was obligated to baptize the child as soon as it began to emerge. Because the baby’s gender would be unknown at that point, it was customary to bestow a gender-neutral name. Here are some examples:
- Chylde of God
- Creature of Christ
- Creature of God
- Creatura Christi
People with these names sometimes pop up in parish marriage records, proving that at least a few midwife-named babies managed to survive infancy and live to adulthood.
The practice of lay-baptism was long gone by the time baby girl Robert was born, though. It ceased after England adopted Protestantism. (It was officially ended at the Hampton Court Conference in 1604.)
- Bardsley, Charles Wareing Endell. Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature. London: Chatto & Windus, 1897.
- Thiselton-Dyer, T. F. Old English Social Life as Told by the Parish Registers. London: Elliot Stock, 1898.
- Waters, Robert Edmond Chester. Parish Registers in England. London: Fred J. Roberts, 1883.