A while back, I stumbled upon a register of people associated with Oxford University in the late 1500s and early 1600s. The most interesting part? The author of the register included a chapter dedicated to first names and surnames, and that chapter featured a table of male forenames ranked by frequency of occurrence from 1560 to 1621.
The author claimed that, for several reasons, these rankings were “probably…more representative of English names than any list yet published” for that span of time. One reason was that the names represented men from “different grades of English society” — including peers, scholars, tradesmen, and servants.
Ready for the list?
John, 3,826 individuals
Ralph (sometimes confused with Raphael/Randall in the records), 182
Matthew (sometimes confused with Matthias), 116
Alexander, 98 (tie)
Arthur, 98 (tie)
Simon (sometimes confused with Simeon), 83
Joseph, 78 (tie)
Lewis, 78 (tie)
Roland (also Rowland), 65
Griffith (also Griffin), 60
Abraham, 54 (tie)
Leonard, 54 (tie)
Morris (sometimes confused with Maurice), 51
Bartholomew, 46 (3-way tie)
Oliver, 46 (3-way tie)
Timothy, 46 (3-way tie)
Martin, 44 (tie)
Rice (sometimes confused with Richard), 44 (tie)
Jeffrey (also Geoffrey; sometimes confused with Godfrey), 38
Toby (also Tobias), 34
Bernard, 28 (3-way tie)
Gregory (sometimes confused with George), 28 (3-way tie)
Isaac, 28 (3-way tie)
Jasper (also Gaspar), 26
Randall (also Randle, Randolph; sometimes confused with Ralph), 26 (tie)
Did the relative popularity of any of these names surprise you?
Entries lower down on the list included Lancelot (23), Jarvis (22) Theophilus (19), Marmaduke (18), Fulke (17), and Cadwalader (9).
The author also included every other Oxford-associated name from that general time period, so here’s a sampling of the rare names that popped up in the register just once:
Boston’s Central Burying Ground was established in 1756, so it’s newer than the other Boston cemeteries I’ve blogged about (King’s Chapel, Granary, and Copp’s Hill). Nevertheless, it still contains some pretty interesting names:
The male names below appeared in the Open Domesday database just once, except where noted. (For the record, I overlooked entries in which one person’s name was used to refer to another person, e.g., “Aelfric’s uncle.”)
The most-mentioned name within each letter group is in bold.
If you make it all the way to the bottom, your reward is a top ten list. :)
Which male were mentioned most often in the Domesday book? The #1 name was William, followed by Robert and Ralph:
1. William (166) 2. Robert (127) 3. Ralph (124) 4. Aelfric (88) 5. Alwin (76) 5. Hugh (76) 7. Roger (73) 8. Godwin (72) 9. Walter (64) 10. Godric (59)
Though the names in the book aren’t necessarily representative of name usage in England overall, it does make sense than William took the top spot. The Domesday Book was created a couple of decades after the Norman Invasion, at a time when the name William was very fashionable, thanks to William the Conqueror.
A reader named Kate, who has a daughter named Lucy, is expecting a baby boy and would like some name suggestions. Here’s what she says:
We want what a lot of people probably want – timeless, classic, slightly vintage and old fashioned, an ‘accepted’ name in the sense it’s known, but hopefully he is not one of three kids in class to have it.
So far, Kate and her husband like five names: William, Henry, Oliver, Duncan and Charles (nn Charlie). (She also likes the girl names Abigail, Alice, Clara and Hope.)
The baby’s middle name will be Hawkins, and his surname will begin with the letter t.
Here are some names that came to mind:
Abraham Adam Alfred (Alfie) Arthur Blake Clarence Clark Claude Clement Conrad Dominic
Douglas Eugene Felix Frank Frederick George Giles Gordon Graham Gregory Harvey
Howard Hugh Malcolm Maxwell Miles/Milo Mitchell Otis Patrick Paul Philip Quentin
Roman Sebastian Simon/Simeon Stephen Sylvester Theodore Thomas Timothy Tobias Vincent Walter
I stayed away from the current top 50 (and names that looked like they might be headed that way soon).
Which of the names above to you like best for Lucy’s brother? What other name suggestions can you come up with for Kate?