A fair Puritan
Image via Wikipedia
Virtue names range from the mainstream Grace and Faith to the quirky-cool Amity and Verity to the so-good-she’s-bad Chastity.
Which category does this name fit into?
Thanks to Amanda for suggesting Temperance as our Baby Name of the Day.
Temperance is a virtue, but you’re more likely to hear the word moderation.
Before the colonies were settled, Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queen celebrated Temperance in Book Two, but it isn’t the name of a character.  But if Spenser wrote in praise of Queen Elizabeth I, the use of Temperance may not be accidental.  It is sometimes said that Elizabeth’s half-brother Edward called her “Sweet Sister Temperance.”  It may have been a general term of endearment in their circle; Elizabeth, in turn, is said to have referred to Privy Council member Sir John Pakington as “Her Temperance.”
Temperance appears on the lists of Puritan virtue names, but odds are she was relatively rare.
There was a ship called the Temperance that traveled to Virginia in 1621, and a former Virginia colony First Lady born Temperance Flowerdew.  Miss Flowerdew’s arrival was many years before the ship’s arrival, so there’s no connection, and it doesn’t appear that she passed the name down to her children.

Temperance appears steadily in the US Census records, but never in the US Top 1000.  But the virtue figures even larger in American history.  Back in 1874, a handful of reform-minded women formed the Women’s Christian Temperance Union in Cleveland, Ohio.  The group wasn’t exactly after a complete ban on booze, at least not early days.  But the group’s membership varied widely.  Some chapters did, indeed, march into saloons singing hymns.  Others were more interested in social work, aiding new immigrants and working on a wide range of causes.  They’re still around, too.

Odds are we wouldn’t be talking about Temperance as a name at all, if not for the 2005 debut of Bones on Fox.  Loosely based on the work of novelist Kathy Reichs, the show follows the adventures of high-achieving brainiac Temperance Brennan.  She’s the closest thing the obscure field of forensic anthropology has to a rock star; in a twist, Brennan is paired with FBI agent Seeley Booth.  They’ve been catching bad guys ever since.
Bones is the nickname Agent Booth gives to his somewhat reluctant partner.  Her backstory is wildly complicated; she was born Joy, but assumed an identity in her teenage years.  It is easy to imagine parents wanting their daughter to emulate some of Brennan’s qualities – she’s smart, and driven, too.  Some of the show’s materials give her name as Temperence.
The misspelling seems odd, but it turns out that Temperance misspelled is more common that the dictionary-preferred spelling. Nancy gives a long list from the 2009 stats:
  • Temperance
  • Temperence
  • Temprance
  • Temprence
It may be that Temp- names are having their day.  There’s also Temple and Arizona’s Tempe.
File Temperance with Constance and Prudence.  She’s out of step with fashionable sounds, but her status as a virtue name makes her current just the same.
If you’re looking for an under-used option that strikes a balance between historic and modern, Temperance might be one to consider.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. We are about to have a baby girl and are going to call her Temperance. I am a massive Ella Fitzgerald fan and while I was reading a book about her learnt that her mum was called Tempie (short for Temperance). I have loved the name ever since and was fortunate that my husband also really likes it. Can’t wait to meet her! I know that the reaction to the name is sometimes not great but it is only because it is unusual.

  2. i named my daughter Temperance. We call her Tempie. No one liked or agreed with the name while i was pregnant but now that she’s almost two, it is the only name that would ever suit her. I love the history and meaning. It is very unique and powerful. And i like that it is a very old name, and yet, uncommon. My daughter needs a name that not many others will ever own.

  3. I named my baby Temperance- At first lots of people hated it but now they couldnt imagine a different name for my daughter. Temperance was the only name that my husband and I could agree with and was the first name we had picked even before we were expecting! Temperance is original and beautiful!!!

  4. Myself being named named after Elizabeth the 1st – and falling in love with the name Temperance – I felt it would be 100% appropriate to be naming my daughter Temperance – My husband argued about it a little – until I kept saying the name – and it finally stuck -:)

  5. I love the name Temperance! I have been arguing with my husband that we should name our baby (if we find out it’s a girl next month) Temperance and call her Tempe for short. He thinks it’s just a little “too wierd.” Glad to know I’m not the only one out there we likes the name so much.

    1. *weird not wierd…. gosh I can’t type, I also said “out there we”, should be “out there who”