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


22 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.)

      • And how easy it would have been to massage the name to Electra – same meaning, rather unusual, but not impossible for a classically-minded papa [I have, as a minor character in the WIP, a Hermione, surviving brother Nicostratus, and recently deceased siblings Electra, Iphigenia and Orestes…. father a clergyman with more learning than sense].
        If anyone wants an outstandingly unusual name, plead learned father and turn to the classics, where one might have fun and games with a little classical knowledge by giving, say, an Alcithoe a bat aversion… or to take taxonomy and make her a bit of a snail….

  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!

    • the servants of the nursery will likely call them Master This or Miss That using their first name, depending how starchy the household is, they might be Lord Boysname or Lady Girlsname from the cradle to all the staff. They certainly would be to those outside their own personal servants. And the heir might well be born Lord Boysname if his father’s title carries other titles with it – for example an earl’s son is very often a viscount. If the lord who is the father has no other titles and is [IIRC] a viscount or below [Baron, baronet], the children will be the Honourable Master Surname or the Honourable Miss Surname for best and likely Master Boysname and Miss Girlsname to the servants. If the heir bore a title – let’s say father is James Rother, Earl Rothersby, and the boy is born Henry Rother, Viscount Roth, his parents would probably call him Roth. It was part of his training to his position. His Nanny would call him Master Henry, the nursemaid would call him My Lord, his siblings would likely call him Harry, and his best friend would call him Harry too when out of hearing of grownups.

  4. Jared didn’t even appear in any document that I found in the period before all the people with Biblical names went off to found America, though in theory it might appear in a person born between about 1550 and 1700 might bear it. Many of the Puritans who used such names left England for America after the Restoration in 1660. Timothy was a name which gained currency after the Reformation but became popular across the relgio-political divide, and remained; some of the Biblical names were retained by Methodists. I have 7 generations in my family spanning the Regency in which the name Noah appeared, and 3 generations each of Obadiah and Elijah. However, on the whole, by the Regency, Biblical names were Lower Class, which is why I deliberately picked ‘Caleb’ for my lower class hero who bettered himself. Oddly there were a few Old Testament names that were used from earliest times and never wholly disappeared: Abraham, Samuel, Daniel and Jacob for the men, Sarah and Susan[nah] for women.
    It was also a tradition amongst the better off [including the middle classes] to give the mother’s maiden name as a given name to the firstborn son, the example most people know being Fitzwilliam Darcy… however in my research through wills, lawsuits and the assizes I’ve come across this many times, including a Chileab whose family tree is on line, and who sired several American generations in which Chileab was used as a first name rather than the more traditional mother’s maiden name. Artlebert, Bostocke and Pelham were just a few of those I found, though I do pity the child called Hunnibun. This fashion was certainly in place amongst those leaving as little as a pound to each of their children in 1600, and we know it was still in place in the late 18th century when Austen first penned ‘Pride and Prejudice’. I suspect it died out as a general thing some time during the Victorian era.
    Interestingly two female names from the 17th century which were from opposite sides of the religio-political fence keep appearing well into the 19th century because I got curious and chased them; the Biblical Bethia and the Saxon Friswith.

      • I hope you find it useful, I have a selection of labels about names and a search button. I am – slowly!- writing a book of european names from Etruscan to Reformation, to be followed up by volumes covering later periods, which is largely to be for the use of writers and re-enactors. I’m struggling with the various countries of Medieval Germany at the moment…. which means census reports, and the likelihood of having to untangle gothic blackletter which is a pig to read…even when my library can get hold of the things I want!

      • It really is an undertaking! I have been keeping a book in longhand of names [it’s an old page a day desk diary] since 1984 and a year or so ago I thought I’d actually start collating them properly on the computer and publish my findings, but it went on hold as all my work did when my mum had a stroke… it’s one of those things where I fill in a few tables of names when I’m suffering from block! it will get there, I’m sure…. most writers I know email me and demand a list of names from x period while it’s in the throes of being written!
        Georgette Heyer named most of her Regency characters by using a map of Britain, by the way. Which is quite valid! And I tend to make places up based on the way places are named, and call my titled people after them….
        This is the link to my surnames post

  5. Hello, does anyone know if Valerie was a named used in the Regency era, I am writing a novel, and I am thinking about naming one of my characters as ‘Marie Valerie’. Please, if anyone could let me know! Thanks!

    • Maria, I was almost positive that Valerie was not a period name. Marie is. I have an old 1800s copy of Burke’s Peerage, digitalized, that I am able to do a search function on. No Valerie among thousands of listings.

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