My son came home from PreK with a paper pilgrim hat the other day. After admiring his handiwork, my mind went to the obvious place.
Spokane’s Spokesman-Review reminds us that back in 1620, first baby born to the Pilgrims in New England was named Peregrine. Big brother was called Resolved.
There were, of course, plenty of men called John and William and women named Mary and Anne.
The more interesting masculine names worn by Plymouth Rock arrivals included:
- Degory (though he may have been Gregory. Or Digory – we don’t know much about him.)
- Giles (brother to Constance, Damaris and Oceanus)
- Oceanus (born en route to Plymouth – see above)
- Myles (Standish, of course)
There were fewer women, but a few stand-out names:
- Constance (sister to Damaris, Oceanus and Giles)
- Damaris (see above)
I’ve read estimates that only around 25% of the Purtians ever had names that would’ve seemed unusual in their day. If that’s true, then 75% answered to ordinary appellations for their time, like James and Elizabeth.
It also seems surprisingly consistent with modern day experience. Around three-quarters of all kids born in the US receive a Top 1000 name. In the nineteenth century, names ranking in the 900s were only given to a few kids; today, names at those same rankings are worn by a few hundred. Really unusual names have never been terribly common – but neither was there a moment where every boy was Robert and every girl was Jane.
Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1850 novel of scandal amongst the Puritans, The Scarlet Letter, introduced a few unusual names not worn by the original settlers, including Hester and Pearl. Most of the other names were unremarkable – Arthur and Roger aren’t popular today, but they don’t make you think of the novel, either.
Even in fiction, not every Puritan was called Flee-Fornication.