Are middle names just a fashion statement?

When did middle names start in your family?

The oldest one of mine is Robert Porten Beachcroft who was born in 1744. I thought 1744 was pretty early, because the majority of middle names in my tree start in the early 19th century, becoming more frequent as that century goes on. I would like to find out more about when it first became fashionable to give children a middle name, and when common-place. The entry in Wikipedia is not very helpful, saying:

It is debatable how long middle names have existed in English speaking countries, but it is certain that among royalty and aristocracy the practice existed by the late 17th century (and possibly much earlier), as exemplified in the name of the Stuart pretender James Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766).

I consulted Alison Weir’s Britain’s Royal Families and discovered that the first Stuart with two Christian names was born in 1594; Henry Frederick, eldest son of James VI of Scotland and I of England, and his wife Anne. Anne was the daughter of the King of Denmark and Norway and she seems to have brought the practice of middle names into the Scottish Stuarts. When the House of Hanover took over the English throne in 1714 they too added a Continental preference for second and third Christian names. George I was baptized George Louis, and his father was Ernest Augustus, (born in 1629). Perhaps it was George II and his family who made the practice of two names fashionable in London from the 1720s onwards. George III’s descendants had three or even four Christian names and from then on, many of the Royal children have had four names.

But the English had, and sometimes still have, a liking for giving a middle name to a child that comes from the surname of a grandparent or great-grandparent (or perhaps a godparent?), whereas the evidence is that our Royal family gave their children grand middle names such as Augustus (meaning ‘great’), not surnames from connected families. Thus Robert Porten Beachcroft is the first in my tree, not only to have a middle name but also one that provides an extra clue to his ancestors, Porten being his mother’s maiden name. His younger brother Joseph Mathews Beachcroft takes the Mathews not from a slip in any spelling of Mathew, but from his paternal grandmother’s maiden name of Mathews.

The Beachcrofts were a family ‘made good’ in Georgian London and they were probably only too conscious of status and the fact that they had no real gentry connections, so they were aping the aristocracy, where it was more common to take a female name into the male line when a wife was an heiress in her own right. I would be very interested to know more about when this practice started in families who were not landed gentry and without aristocratic connections, and whether it is confined to London or occurs country-wide.  I wonder too whether such names were a way of expressing trading relationships in the City of London.  My research has shown that City men married into those families they did business with. Good connections were vital in a world where personal recommendation was key, so a middle name that reminded your associates of connections to well-known business families would be important to help you advance.

The first female in my tree to have two Christian names, is Ann Juliana Taunton born in Devon in about 1748. Why did her parents give her such a European sounding middle name? I am glad they did, because with plain Ann as a name, I might not have found her family. The difference between Ann Taunton and the Beachcroft boys, is that her name does not come from a parental snobbery (or business good sense?) that wishes to emphasize valuable connections, but it is nevertheless a fancy sounding name. Perhaps it signifies a different kind of ‘otherness’; one that wishes to distinguish a female child from the run of the mill. Interestingly either Ann or her name was thought to be important enough for the name combination of Ann(a) and Juliana to pass down three generations in her tree. There is certainly room for some more investigation there.  Was it fashion or something else entirely?

What are the earliest middle names in your tree? Can you beat 1744? Are they female surnames or normal Christian first names and when did your female ancestors start being given middle names?

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14 Responses to Are middle names just a fashion statement?

  1. Gail Roger says:

    I can’t beat 1744 — the earliest males in my direct line with middle names are two of my great-great-grandfathers. William King Hales, born 1817 and later publisher of The Daily News, had his mother’s maiden name as a middle name — as did all of his siblings which is a boon to a family researcher! Charles Lewis Griffiths, born 1816 also had his mother’s maiden name as a middle name — because he was born out of wedlock. My earliest female middle names in the direct line are two of my great-grandmothers, both born in the 1860s – one in Wales, one in Wolverhampton, and both named for mothers and grandmothers.

    My husband, however, has a 6xgreat-grandfather born in Yorkshire in 1694 named Henry Robeson Elgie — I’ve yet to discover where the “Robeson” comes from. My husband’s German family branch has middle Christian names going back at least into the eighteenth century — I believe the German custom was to be known by one’s middle name. His female ancestors also have middle names far earlier than mine did, early nineteenth century, but I’m not sure why. Many of them were born in Kent.

    The funniest middle name wild goose chase came courtesy one of my late uncles, whose middle name was Payne, a name that doesn’t show up in the family tree at all. Finally, my aunt put me out of my misery. He had been a difficult delivery and so named for the presiding doctor!

    • helenosborn says:

      Thanks for the response Gail, and for reminding me that often a female surname as a middle name is a sign of unmarried parents. Henry Robeson Elgie sounds very intriguing! Perhaps he was named for a godparent?

      • hjl says:

        It is also worth noting that German children often had 3 or 4 names – the first being the name of their godparent. This meant that you may have had, say, two girls in the family named Anna Catharina and Anna Catharina Dorothea (as in my husband’s family) – we would normally assume that the first must have died before the second was named but in fact they both lived to a good old age – the first being called Catharina (or Catherine in Australia) and the second called Dorothea/Dorothy. It can be assumed that in both cases their godmother was Anna Catharina.

  2. Within in my own family, on the English side, I cannot beat 1744. The earliest I have is a 4th great-grandmother, Mary Collins Plier, born in 1754, in Cornwood parish, Devon. The baptism entriy does not show the name of a father although she had a brother, James Collins, also with no father listed, indicating the father’s name might have been Collins.

    Another 4th great-grandmother was baptized as Jane Treby Shepheard in 1769, also in Cornwood parish. None of her siblings had a second name and the name, Treby, does not appear with any other family member. Treby was the surname of a prominent land-owning family in the area. Jane Treby’s father, Nicholas Shepheard, was also a land owner, tax assessor, churchwarden and otherwise important individual in the community. He is listed in the Devon Freeholders lists between 1762 and 1783. He may have been a friend of the Treby family and was undoubtedly involved with them in both parish and business affairs.

    The early use of second names may have been more common in mainland Europe, as Helen comments. I have one family line that originated in Germany – surname Kettenring. The earliest individual found so far by family researchers is Hans Jacob Kettenring, born in Pflaz, Bayern, Germany, in 1595. Another line had the name of De Busk in Virginia with possible (unconfirmed) connections to France. A 4th great-granduncle, William Province De Bouse, born in 1744, is shown in the family tree.

    In my work as a Devon Online Parish Clerk (http://www.cornwood-opc.com/) I have transcribed all of the parish records for Cornwood, Harford, Plympton St. Mary and Plympton St. Maurice parishes which gives me primary name data. In Cornwood only eight children, out of a total of 930, were baptized with a second name between 1685 and 1750. The earliest was in 1695. Four of them were base-born indicating the second names had something to do with the unnamed father. One was the child of a local baronet. In Harford, two of 124 children were baptized with a second name between 1699 and 1750. In Plympton St. Maurice, six of 1,720 children baptized had a second name, the earliest in 1729. In Plympton St. Mary parish, 5,578 children were baptized between 1602 and 1750. Twenty-one of them had a second name and, of these, four were base-born. Curiously, three children from different families, baptized between 1730 and 1736, all had the second name of Pearse. There is no explanation for the coincidence although the Pearce/Pearse family appears to have been important well back into the 1600s in the area.

    As to Helen’s question about whether the use of a second name was fashionable, it seems more likely that it was used in acknowledgement of family connections or ancestors or as a sign of respect for other important people within the community.

    • helenosborn says:

      Wayne, thank you for some hard statistics! In these Devon parishes for these years the incidence of middle names is less than 1% except in Harford which is the smallest sample and is 1.6%

      As in my comment to Gail, the Pearse family may have been godparents, or perhaps people owed them money (credit being hard to obtain at the time except by borrowing from your neighbours) and wished to ingratiate themselves.

  3. Sherry Irvine says:

    At the moment, after a quick look, the earliest Middle name I find in my records is 1785. However, I have west country ancestors who used the first name Juliana a long time ago. Juliana Keigwin, born 1696, was the daughter of James Keigwin (Mousehole, Cornwall) and Juliana Musgrave. (Nettlecombe, Somerset). This given name is used in almost every generation of descendants for 200 years. In this line of my ancestry is Juliana Smith, who is quite easy to find thanks to her first name and the fact that she married Hollingsworth Bramley.

    • helenosborn says:

      Now I am thinking that the name Juliana is somehow connected to the West Country. My Ann Juliana Taunton’s father was born in Cornwall I believe and the surname Taunton is rather suggestive of Somerset! It would be very interesting if there was one Juliana who has many descendants also called Juliana. It is complete speculation of course!

  4. jaygen2014 says:

    I can’t beat 1744 either, and in agreement with Wayne’s comment about family connections, I’m sure some of my ancestors were given a middle name, to show their connection to an ‘eminent’ family who were part of the landed gentry. The connection was through the wife’s mother, her maiden name being used as a middle name for most of her grandchildren who were born between 1787 and 1812. One of those grandchildren even dropped his surname at times and went by his middle name. He also gave his middle name to his wife and children. So, I agree, a middle name would certainly have connected them to well-known business families, and yes, it did occur further afield than London – I’m talking of Manchester and Liverpool.

    Within the families of those landed gentry, I’ve found that many used the mother’s surname, though that could also be true of those who were ‘upper middle class’ and in trade. From my own research, certain names and middle names such as Juliana and Henrietta immediately make me think of upper middle class or those aspiring to be such because this is where I’ve found those names.

    Among ‘working class’ ancestors, I think middle names, start to appear about the middle of the 19th century in my family (other than a Mary Ann b.1797). Perhaps this is when it became ‘fashionable’ – I don’t know.

    Another reason for middle names was national heroes. One of my ancestors served during the French Revolutionary War, and named one of his sons George Horatio in 1798 and another Wellington in 1811! Quite a few Horatios and Wellingtons were around at that time!

    Middle names can be a blessing or a curse – the surname that was used as a middle name for some of my ancestors was a ‘gateway’ that eventually led me back to 1066 and beyond. However, I’ve also found an ancestor’s birth was frustratingly difficult to find because she was registered under her middle name – presumably her first name was added later!

    • helenosborn says:

      Jaygen thanks for mentioning another reason for middle names – famous leaders and heroes. They almost come under the heading of f’ashion’ being the reason for the name, because there was certainly a fashion to name children in that way. I wonder if the parents thought some of the qualities of the famous person would rub off on their offspring?

  5. Wanda Crawford says:

    I found a Thomas McBride Abraham, born in about 1835 in Lower Canada, of Irish Protestant parents. Treating McBride as a clue, I wondered whether Thomas’ paternal grandmother’s maiden name could have been McBride. I was able to verify that fact from Church of Ireland parish records (in Dublin). Thomas continued the naming tradition when, in 1862, he and his wife named a son for his great-grandmother–John McBride Abraham.

  6. Guy says:

    Middle names aren’t found in my direct family don’t start until the 1820s and are amixture of forenames and surnames of the extended family. In the branches of the tree middle names first appear in my Barbadian families in the 1760s. In one family all children had the middle name Grant, their mother’s surname, and some passed the name to their children. Someone else had Garrett which I can’t place and until I saw this post this didn’t think it was a typical Barbadian surname (it is) – I may explore it further – though he is someone else’s ancestor.

  7. Andrew Millard says:

    The earliest in my tree is Joseph John KRULL, chr. 1711 Clerkenwell, son of Joost KRULL and Priscilla nee WHITE. Given the father’s name there could be Dutch influence on the use of a middle name. The longest use of a middle name I have is from Joseph John KRULL’s second cousin twice removed William Brooksby CRABB, b.1776, down to the present day amongst his father’s 8th-generation descendants.

    For a systematic evaluation of the early use of middle names it would be worth looking at Hugh Wallis’s IGI Middle Names index. For example, for middle name Smith in London the earliest example is 1606: http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~hughwallis/IGILondon/S/Smith.htm#Title
    This record is on the current FamilySearch at https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/NYFY-7YK

  8. Sue Mastel says:

    No, I can’t beat 1744! The earliest example of a middle name in my ADAMTHWAITE one-name study does not occur until 1793 when William Vipond Adamthwaite was christened at St Michael Cornhill. Two years later his brother John Allen Adamthwaite was christened at the same church.
    Both these middle names honour a female ancestor’s surname – Lucy VIPOND was their mother and Deborah ALLEN their grandmother. The VIPOND family name has carried on through this line in every generation right up to the present.

    Another Adamthwaite line featured the LUPTON surname as a middle name – though in this instance Lupton was the business partner of a John Adamthwaite who rose from being an illegitimate pauper to making his fortune running the Adamthwaite Lupton Brewery in Manchester.
    There have however, been several early incidences of the maternal surname ADAMTHWAITE appearing as their son’s given name:
    Adamthwaite BUCK (born about 1752 in Ribblesdale, Yorks) was the son of Thomas BUCK and Mary ADAMTHWAITE. One of his brothers was Dawson BUCK (born 1750) … Margaret DAWSON was Mary’s mother.
    Another Adamthwaite BUCK was christened in 1800 in Dent, Yorks – the grandson of the first one.
    We have also recorded an Adamthwaite LAW and an Adamthwaite LORD – both of their mothers being Adamthwaites.

    Amongst my Bristol SNARY ancestors is one Ernest Colston Boon SNARY – born in 1871 in Bristol but not christened until December 1885. BOON was his mother’s surname, but the COLSTON was probably included for Mr Edward Colston, a wealthy Bristol merchant who died in 1721 and during his lifetime founded Colston’s Hospital free school in 1708; Colston’s Almshouses in 1696;and left endowments to other schools and charities. In the past I have read somewhere (why didn’t I write down the source?) that it was a requirement that boys educated at one of his schools named their sons Colston … there are certainly a substantial number of children carrying the given name Colston (a search on FMP threw up 1,978 results with Colston as either a first or second forename – the vast majority in Bristol, Gloucs or Somerset.
    I included this last name mainly because it seems to be rather topical … http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/jun/09/edward-colston-bristol-statue-slavery

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