What Regency Parents Named Their Children

Recently I blogged about Debrett’s and Burke’s Peerage and mentioned in an off-the-cuff comment  that those Regency mamas tended to stick to the same 15 or 20 Christian names for their children.

This holds particularly true for the aristocracy. The older the aristocratic family, the more they recycled the same names. They still do. The interior designing daughter of the Duke of Marlborough is named Harriet Churchill. Not too many Harriets around these days – unless your father is a duke.

The former Lady Diana Spencer, who became the beloved Princess Diana, was one in a very long line of Lady Diana Spencers.

Even British kings are keen to recycle the same names. Therefore, you’ve got your Jameses, Charleses, Edwards, Georges, Richards, Henrys, to name some of the most prominent.

Earlier in my writing career I was cognizant of my heroes – most of whom were aristocrats – holding proper-sounding Regency first names. I had Charles, James, Thomas, Edward, George, Richard. I batted a thousand.

But I really struck out with my females. After meeting a woman named Glee, I told her I would make that name the heroine in one of my books. So I did. She had a sister named Felicity, and a child named Joy. Oh, boy! Then I threw in a Carlotta, the raven-haired vixen who always wore purple. Guess what? No Regency women had those names. (I got it right in my first two published books – before I strayed.)

The more I’ve studied the Regency, the more offensive it is to me when a fictional heroine or hero bears a decidedly non-Regency name. Especially if the character is an aristocrat. This wasn’t done.

To prove my point, I went on a search of my period Burke’s Peerage. I did digital searches as well as eyeballing about 50 random pages.

It was amazing how much the same names kept popping up. For females, Elizabeth was the most common. There were also many Anns as well as Annes, tons of Harriets, Franceses, Charlottes, Janes and Margarets.

There were variations of Mary which included Marie, Marian and Mary Ann. Dorothy as well as Dorothea were fairly common, as were Catherine, Catharine, and Katherine.

For men, the repetition of a handful of names was even more obvious. James, John, and William win, hands down, as the most common, but there were a lot of males named Thomas, Robert, Richard, Edward, Hugh, Philip, Charles, and Alexander.

Some other popular male names included Arthur, Francis, and David.

Some male names twisted into female names include Frederick/Fredericka, George/Georgiana, and Henry/Henrietta, all of those combinations being very popular in Regency England. More rarely, one could find the Jacob/Jacobina variation or Justin/Justina.

Here are some less common female names in use during the Regency: Abigail, Alice, Agnes, Alicia, Beatrice, Barbara, Caroline, Emma, Emily, Eleanor, Ellen, Hannah, Helen, Isabella, Julia, Joane, Jemima, Louisa, Lavinia, Lydia, Lucy, Letitia, Martha, Rebecca, Sophia, Sarah, Susan, and Teresa.

Less common names for males included Benjamin, Cecil, Christopher, Dudley, Daniel, Edmund, Evan, Henry, Joseph, Lawrence, Michael, Matthew, Miles, Martin, Nicholas, Patrick, Ralph, Reginald and Stephen.

Occasionally, younger sons would be given what I assume to be old family surnames. I found a Willoughby, Albemarle, and Montague.

I recently read a book where the aristocratic hero was named Jared. My search of almost 1,400 pages of the peerage yielded zero males named Jared. I think it’s harder for an author to pull off an out-of-period name for an aristocratic hero because these families abided by an unwritten rule that the heirs would carry on the same old family names.

All of this being said, I must point out that all these names I’ve listed here are for aristocrats. For characters of the lower classes, the rules might change. Most aristocrats were Church of England. Many of the lower classes belonged to evangelical churches and oftentimes would give their children names that might harken back to the Old Testament.

For period authors in doubt, think back to the signers of the American Declaration of Independence. Most of those men descended from British; therefore, their names are spot-on for our period.

And for a hero, you can never go wrong if he bears the name of an English king of the past five or six-hundred years.

Next week’s blog will address Regency surnames. © 2011, Cheryl Bolen

 

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6 thoughts on “What Regency Parents Named Their Children

  1. Great post on Regency names. I’m always on the lookout for a good name :-)
    I had a hero named Jared, and while I knew that wasn’t a common English name, it did appear in the Bible (as well as Matthew, David, etc) so I figured it was safe enough to use.
    I’ve bookmarked this post for future reference. Thanks

  2. Oh, thank you!! Now if only people pay attention. :) You just know it’s a certain kind of book if the Regency aristocratic hero is Jordan and the heroine is Amber (not real examples, but just a slight titch off from one’s I’ve encountered.)

  3. Silly question, but I have been searching for it EVERYWHERE. How would adults address children? Heir is Master FIRSTNAME (as a child), who will grow up to be Lord TITLE, correct? What about younger sons? As adults they are Lord FIRSTNAME, but when they are under 12? What about daughters? Is a six-year-old called Lady XXX by the nanny? What about parents? Family friends? This has been driving me mad.

    • As far as I can tell, Mari, parents did not directly address their youngsters by their titles, but everyone else did. An interesting thing I’ve found out is that in aristocratic families, one did not refer to, say, an uncle as my Uncle David. The uncle would always be addressed by his title, usually without the “lord.” So instead of Uncle David, he’d be simply Radcliff–or whatever his last name was. Unless he was being referred to, when he’d be Lord Radcliff.

      • Thank you. This is really helpful. I am going with Master Alex to the nanny, Lord Herrendon or Herrendon to everyone else (courtesy title as heir to Lord Firthley), and Lady Julia. I may, in the manner of gentry, have Julia called “Miss Marloughe” by the nanny… oldest daughter and all. At any rate, I don’t feel like I am screwing things up utterly now, and I am so excited I found your blog. (I will be asking any number of silly questions in no time.) Thanks!

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