Ono Titchiner was born in south London the late 1730s. He became a carpenter, married a woman named Sarah in 1764, had several children, and passed away in 1799. He was buried somewhere on the grounds of St. Giles’ Churchyard in Camberwell.
Ono’s headstone was intact at least until the mid-1880s, when, according to one source, it could be “plainly read from the public footpath which crosses the churchyard.” (I’m not sure if it’s still there.)
Nothing was written about Ono’s curious name while he was alive, but plenty has been written about it since then.
The earliest explanation for “Ono” I could find was in the 1875 book Ye Parish of Camberwell, in which a footnote explains:
Mr. Ono Titchener came by his Christian name in rather a peculiar way. When taken to be christened, the clergyman was about to make a mistake in his name, and his sponsors were proceeding to put the Rev. gentleman right, by remarking, leisurely, “Oh, no.” — “Ono,” remarked the too impetuous parson, “I baptize thee in the name of the Father,” &c.
The story was eventually picked up by the papers. Over the next few decades, it ended up traveling all over the world.
Here’s one version, published in 1885 in a New Zealand newspaper:
With reference to a note upon the subject of curious names that appeared in the St James’ Gazette recently, a correspondent writes:— Possibly there is no stranger baptismal name than one which may be seen in Camberwell churchyard on an old tombstone which is sacred to the memory of a certain Mr Titchener. There is a tradition, and I believe a well-founded one, to the effect that, at the christening of Mr Titchener, the god-parents were unable to agree upon a name for the child. One suggested one name; and another exclaimed, “O no!” and suggested another; and this kind of thing went on for so long that at last the officiating clergyman, declaring that in spite of themselves the sponsors had come to a unanimous decision, baptized the victim Ono.
Here’s another version, published in 1900 in a New York newspaper:
Ono Titchiner, of Peckham, was named under the following circumstances: On arriving at the church his name was not settled upon, and when the clergyman said: “Name this child,” one of the friends said “John,” and another said: “Oh, no,” meaning not John; and as no one else spoke the clergyman thought that was his named and baptized him Ono.
And here’s another, published in 1909 in a Utah newspaper:
“An example of a curious Christian name may be found,” says a correspondent, “nearer your offices than most of the cases you have printed. The facts are these. The father of a boy baby wished him to be christened Thomas. The mother favored the name of Robert. When they arrived at the church the matter was still undecided. The father informed the curate that the child’s name was Thomas. “Oh, no” gasped the mother distressfully. The curate regarding the woman as the ruling spirit promptly baptized the infant Ono.”
So is the “oh no” explanation legit?
It’s plausible, I suppose. Naming errors caused by confusion and miscommunication weren’t unheard of back then. (Remember the baby girl named Robert?)
But I doubt it’s legit. More likely it was just a made-up story that grew into a rumor that got twisted a bit more with every retelling (similar to what happened to Return).
The real source?
I’m guessing the Bible, in which the word “Ono” — the name of both a town and a valley — appears several times, mostly in the Book of Nehemiah.
Bax, Alfred Ridley. Allegations for Marriage Licences Issued by the Commissary Court of Surrey Between 1673-1770. Norwich: Goose & Son, 1907.
Blanch, William Harnett. Ye Parish of Camberwell. London: E. W. Allen, 1875.