Where did the Pilgrim name Degory come from?

Painting "Signing the Mayflower Compact 1620" (1899) by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris

Every November, I get a ton of traffic to my Pilgrim names post. And, every November, I look over those Pilgrim names and think to myself, “What’s up with the name Degory?”

So, this year, let’s finally dig into Degory.

First, Pilgrim Degory — who was he?

His full name was Degory Priest. He was about 40 when he sailed on the Mayflower in 1620. He was a hatter by profession, and he had a wife named Sarah and two daughters named Marah and Sarah. (His family stayed behind in 1620, but all three eventually crossed the Atlantic.)

Degory Priest signed the Mayflower Compact in mid-November, but — like dozens of other Pilgrims — didn’t last long in the New World. He died on the first day of 1621.

Where does Degory’s name come from?

It’s a version of a name that’s been spelled many different ways: Diggory, Digory, Digorie, Digery, Digerie, Deggory, Deggary, Degorie, Degorye, Degore, Degarre, and so forth.

Diggory and Digory seem to be the preferred spellings nowadays, at least among writers. Thomas Hardy’s The Return of the Native (1878) includes a character named Diggory Venn, and C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series (1950s) features a character named Digory Kirke.

No one is certain where the name comes from or what it means, but it may have been inspired by the 14th-century English romance Sir Degaré, which may have been based on an earlier Breton tale called Lai d’Esgaré, which points to the Old French word ésgaré, meaning “lost,” “astray,” or “destitute.”

What do you think of the name Degory/Diggory? Usable nowadays, or too unusual?

Sources: Genealogical profile of Degory Priest [pdf], Sir Degare: Introduction

9 thoughts on “Where did the Pilgrim name Degory come from?

  1. Diggory sounds Harry Potter today. In vol. 4 the true hero is Cedric Diggory (to be killed at the end).

  2. elbowin, I was just thinking the same thing: Diggory sounds like a fantasy fiction name, or maybe a video game character. Still though, I think you could get away with it. I’ve certainly seen people make stranger choices than Diggory, and its Mayflower roots give it a bit more legitimacy.

    I knew a kid named Dougery growing up (I believe he was named after his grandpa whose name was Douglas) and he loved his name.

    I always thought some of the Puritan names were really cool, like Increase and Fear-Not and Constance Deny-Sin and Humility, but I don’t know if I’d have the guts to use them like that. Peregrine and Merritt and Prosper seem do-able maybe.

  3. Digory always reminds me of the similar Digby, so it seems a fairly “normal” name to me, although not common. I would love to see a little Digory.

    Degory doesn’t appeal though – I just read it as “de gory”.

  4. Hi
    We have a family boy first name of Deggory , it goes back to 1841
    My elderest son is the fith generation carrying the first name of Deggory
    On the census over the years it has being spelt in a varsity of ways like you state
    We are based in Stoke on Trent.
    We have always wondered where the name came from
    The first Deggory died at 5mts , the daughter of the parents named her illigimate baby boy named Deggory 3years later (1844)
    Any help would be welcome

  5. Hi, I am descended from Degory Priest. I wanted to name our son “Degory”, but thought it might be too odd for a first name, so it is our son’s middle name. Sometimes I wish we’d gone head and used it as a first name, but basically I’m just glad we used it. At times, I call him “Degory”. His close friends have, too, so, it’s not totally unused!

  6. I am a decendant of Degory Priest as well, and considering using it for a middle name, should I have another son. That’s how I came about this page, I am looking up the meaning. I just wish it didn’t mean “lost”. But I deeply appreciate the ancestry aspect!

  7. I’m so curious now — how many of Degory Priest’s living descendants have considered giving the name Degory to one of their own children…?

  8. I too, am a descendant of Degory Priest, on my mothers side.
    This was brought to light recently when a relative paid for a family genealogy history and his name was prominent among the research. I will have to explore this much further. Matt

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