portrait-of-fraunces-beatrice-james-and-synfyeDo you ever find an unusual name, and have to drop what you’re doing to seek it out?

I was chasing down a completely different name when I stumbled on Synfye.  It appears to be the given name of one of British politician James Christie’s daughters.  She could have been born in the early twentieth century.  Synfye had siblings named James, Beatriceand Fraunces.  That’s their portrait in this post, and that’s really all I can find on the family.

But I did find an 1875 edition of The Church of England and Lameth Magazine, including a lengthy essay on English Gipsies, by the Reverend S.B. James.  James spoke of the “gipsies” and their affection for the letter y, and this sentence: “A Gispy has an eye for a wild or fancy name.”  He wrote:

Deliah is evidently a maimed name, the one missing letter having been unskillfully removed by some experimentalist who thought it might look better without, while Camillia, and its surplusage of one letter and one syllable, shows that a letter or syllable more or less is of little account.

He then mentions Sanpriel and Synfye, disliking them as gender neutral names.

And then, in 1906, a book called The Romany rye, talking about given names.  The names listed are Jasper, Ambrose, Sylvester, Culvato “which signifies Claude,” Pakomovna, Ursula, Morella, Ercilla, Leviathan “was named after a ship, so don’t make a wonder out of her,” Camillia, Lydia, Synfye and Sanpriel.

The first writing is obviously a harsh and ugly judgment, evidence of discrimination.  But the second writing is devoid of that sentiment – if anything, it seems appreciative of the unusual names.  But there’s significant overlap between the magazine and the later writing in terms of names listed.

Could there have been some list of Romany given names in the late nineteenth century?

If it existed, how did the name get from that list to a child of a future Member of Parliament?

Names are baffling things, and endlessly fascinating, too.  If you know anything more about Synfye, please share it in the comments.

Elsewhere online:

  • The snobbish S.B. James has a twenty-first century heir: Katie Hopkins, she of the morning show ugliness about keeping her exquisitely named children from playing with kids called Tyler.  Yes, she has her own baby name book now.  I’m not linking to the book, but I will link to Lou’s write-up, including some excerpts.  I can imagine the rest …
  • Alder Wild and Macon Hayes – proof that boys’ names can be masculine and inventive at the same time at For Real Baby Names.  Can’t you hear them as grown up, becoming successful whatever-they-wants?  The idea that only William and James can go to law school, win elected office, or be heart surgeons, is fading.  (Take that, Katie.)
  • More great ideas for boys’ name borrowed from Hollywood, via Nameberry: Crosby, Flynn, Rooney, Gable, and more surnames to ponder.
  • Elea’s birth announcements from the UK Telegraph make me incredibly happy: Isla, Esme, Ivy, Nell, Nico, Hugo Basil, Felix Beau and, no surprise, a whole bunch of boys named George.
  • This article on the Oxford Words Blog about our affection for a good portmanteau has me thinking – have we simply become more playful with language?  I think about names so much that sometimes I forget they exist in a larger world of words, and that world is always changing, too.
  • Nancy explores what her name means in Chinese – sort of.  Years ago, I took French using the Capretz Method, and I vividly remember Pierre Capretz explaining that there’s no such thing as true translation in one of the early French in Action videos.  Names can be translated sometimes – Alexander becomes Alejandro becomes Aleksandr – but when they can’t, well, they that’s an interesting situation, too, isn’t it?
  • So many fantastic, fabulous names starting with the letter F.  Why aren’t we using them?
  • I think Ceres could make a great name for a daughter.  I remember a Nameberry story about parents who went with Cere – sort of Siri.  Does anyone else remember that?
  • Let’s end with some flashbacks.  In 2008, the featured name was Arthur – my husband’s name!   2009 was Donncha, and a year later, it was Dacia.  Seamus took center stage in 2011, followed by a reboot of Abel in 2012.

That’s all for this week.  As always, thank you for reading – and have a great week!

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. Flavia is my favorite F name for a girl. DH teased about naming our twins Fatima and Filomena. Franklin is my fave for a boy.

    1. Oh, I love Flavia! And Franklin, too – but living blocks from Franklin’s Restaurant, Brewery & General Store, I’d feel like I named my kiddo after the Rubber Chicken Red.

  2. Love Ceres, though I’ve been slightly enamored with names associated with fall for a bit–Harvest, Theresa, Autumnus, etc…

    As far as names starting with “F”, I remember encountering a book (can’t remember the name) a while back that discussed names in terms of their sounds and what kind of impact that had. I only remember looking up my name, Meghan, and my husband’s, Matthew, and it mentioned that the “M” beginning was really important and conveyed a nurturing and caring vibe–and went on to mention how mother terms often start with or contain “M”s. So some social/cultural subconscious association may be at the root of the beginning initial “F” seeing less popularity. The formal grading system gives at least one unfavorable association with the letter “F”. To me, “F” names often have a sort of dry, formal feel, that can also have an intelligent or witty air. Few “F” names make my personal favorites, and the top ones would have to be Fiordelisa, Frances, and Ferdinand.

    1. There’s definitely something to that, Meghan. There’s a concept called sound symbolism in linguistics. I don’t understand it very well, but yes – there are definitely associations with sounds. What I can’t puzzle out is that the sounds we favor in names change. That’s not quite as true with words, I think.

      1. I don’t know. It seems each new generation has slang that is used by them and not by the generation before or after. Maybe that has something to do with the sound of the words?

  3. I do not want to sound like Katie, but I would have an extremely difficult time imagining a doctor named Macon. I think it is because to me, Macon is the name of a small city where I do not care to spend time. That is also why I cannot get behind Camden. It is funny how the same place name can be entirely different because of where you live.

  4. Read the above comments after posting mine. I’ll be waiting to hear what else Elea can find on the name. Perhaps there was a gypsy grandma in the family of this mp, who could have been a fairly ordinary person. I couldn’t find anything about James Archibald Christie’s mother or the children as adults, but I won’t be surprised if Elea can come up with something!

    1. I meant to say that I couldn’t find the name of James Christie’s WIFE — or his mother either.

    2. I found both Synfye and Sanpriel as characters in books and a play from that time period. Perhaps something like that was the inspiration? There was a play with both Synfye and Sanpriel in it, though they were male characters.

  5. >>Do you ever find an unusual name, and have to drop what you’re doing to seek it out?

    Often! In fact I found Synfye so intriguing that I had to immediately look for more about it, but my ideas didn’t yield anything but more speculation. Christie is a Scots clan, so perhaps there’s a Scottish connection? Fraunces, the name of another daughter of James Archibald Christie, is also a surname. So maybe Fraunces had a family/surname connection for her parents, and Synfye’s name was chosen similarly? James and even Beatrice seem very conventional alongside the names of their other siblings.

    I can’t say that I care for Synfye: it sounds like a mispronunciation of “Cynthie” from Cynthia. And that just gave me another idea, which may have been verified my Think Baby Names

    Cynthie \

    cy(n)-thie\ as a girl’s name is a variant of Cynthia (Greek), and the meaning of Cynthie is “from Mount Kynthos”.
    The baby name Cynthie sounds like *Synthie* and Cinthie. Other similar baby names are Cyndie, Synthia, *Synthee*, Kynthia, Cythia, Cyntia, Cynthya, Cynthea, Cyntha, Cynth, Cynnie and Cinthia.
    Read more at https://www.thinkbabynames.com/meaning/0/Cynthie#UKvltJwpbs7mvg68.99

    So perhaps Synfye came from Cynthia -> Cynthie, as lisped by a young child?

  6. If Peter hadn’t “looked” like his name, his back-up names were Franklin and Frederick.

    Before her infamous hatred of Tyler… I had only heard of Katie Hopkins because twitter exploded after her comments that she wouldn’t employ an obese person, because because she thinks they’re bad for business! https://www.itv.com/thismorning/life/too-fat-to-work-debate/
    My opinion, Katie Hopkins wants to be an English Donald Trump and I don’t care what she thinks.

    1. I almost hated to give her any more press – which is why I stuck with linking to Lou’s post … And yet, I think that she’s a great cautionary tale, a reminder that we shouldn’t be so quick to judge. It’s definitely something I’ve struggled with over the years.

  7. There are 9 females on the 1911 census named “Sinfy”, “Synfie” or “Sinfi”.

    * Sinfy Thorpe (27) is living with her parents James & Eliza, sister Lammery and brother John; they are all listed as “Licensed Hawkers” and for their postal address they’ve written “travellers”
    * Sinfy Smith (21) lives with her husband Trayton who is a “General Dealer.”
    * Sinfi Taylor (6), lives with parents Algar & Beatrice and siblings Nathan, Agnes & Algar; their home is listed as a caravan.
    * Sinfoy Butler (4) is living with parents Spencer and Emily and dad is listed as “Travelling Rat-Catcher (Gipsy)”.
    * Synfie Harris (2), lives with parents John & Sylvia and siblings John, Clarence, Andrew, Sylvia and Reuben; their home is listed as a caravan.

    The Wilson family in Norfolk, all “traveller hawkers”, are listed as living in “Caravans” on both the 1891 and 1901 census. The family all have rather interesting names:
    Mark & Eliza (parents),
    Aida (g),
    Honty or Houty (b)
    Countess (g)
    Friday (b)
    Horston (b)
    Cansey / Makenzer (b)
    Sinfy (g)
    Laissy / Lazarus (b).

    1. Elea, you are the best! But it still leaves the q about how Synfye Christie got her name … Any guesses?

      1. I just had a look at “The Romany Rye” that you quoted (great find btw) and I noticed that the footnote for the quote you listed says:
        “Synfye: Slavonic form of Cynthia–th in Russian is pronounced bh or f”

        and the word list at the end says:
        “Synfye, Cinthia (Slav. th is pron. Ph)”.

        Interestingly, James Christie was an MP for South Norfolk, and quite a few of the Sinfys I found were from the Norfolk/Suffolk area. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a family name. I’ll do a bit of digging and report back.

        1. Aha! Now I know why I couldn’t find Synfye Christie in the birth records; the birth index lists her as Ursula S Christie in 1917 (middle names were only initialised at this time) so presumably she was officially Ursula Synfye Christie (although equally likely she could have been Ursula Sedgwick Christie). Her siblings are listed as “Frances M” “Beatrice M” and “James”.

          James’ father (also James) was a retired auctioneer from London — presumably descended from the James Christie who founded the auction house “Christie’s”. As James’ mother Beatrice was a Norfolk girl, the family moved to Norfolk in about 1880, lived in a big manor house, and James the younger went to study law.

          I can’t find any Romany connection at all. His mother was Beatrice Utten Browne, daughter of W. J. Utten Browne, Esq., Justice of the Peace of Heigham Grove, Norwich (so quite well-to-do) and his wife was Mabel Sedgwick, daughter of Rev. Gordon Sedgwick, Vicar of Sherbourne, Warwickshire. One grandfather was a lawyer, the other a farm owner and surveyor.

          So, still a mystery how she got the name. The only connection I can make is that of the few Sinfys I can find on the census, a good chunk come from Norfolk. Synfye Christie was also born in Norfolk so perhaps her parents were inspired when they heard a local name.

          1. My goodness, Elea – I saw Ursula S, too – but just cruised right past her! Didn’t even think of that … you really are brilliant at genealogical research.

            Your explanation – that they just embraced a local name – makes the most sense. But oh, I wish there were a romantic tale …

          2. I’d like to think there is, too. Hopefully a relative will one day stumble upon this page and enlighten us!

          1. Elea, your unraveling of the mystery of Synfye Christie’s name is fascinating! Where did you find the info about Synfye and her family? (A genealogy website?) Synfye may been seen as a sweet name for a third daughter, but Ursula more suitable as her given name. What year did she die? It sounds like she never married.

          2. I used catalogued census pages and birth, marriage and death indexes on various genealogy search engines (such as ancestry.com or findmypast.com). I’ve been tracing family trees since I was a teenager, so after years of practice, I’m quite quick at it now.

            Synfye did marry — actually it was her marriage that helped me find her death record. She married a Francis G Dunham in 1948, Norwich, and died in Dec 1985, Norwich. I can’t find record of any children.

    2. Now I’m at least as curious about the name Lammery as Synfye. I’ve never seen Honty or Houty as a name and would assume it was a nickname. But what for?

  8. Well I feel extra British now that my George Frederick is on the birth announcement list twice! 😛 Plus even a Frederick George. No Henrys though.

    I didn’t realize how rare F names are. Love Frederick. My cousin is named Florence, so that made that one unusable. Flora is pretty. I met one at the library once. Frank is cool, but my brother had a dog with that name recently. Felicity is very nice too.

    Ooops and my 3 kids names all show up in the excerpt of Katie Hopkins book as names that she likes. 😛 I’m surprised to see Caitlin, Stella and Stanley on the lists of ones that are ‘unlikeable’ though.

    1. Caitlin to her would be a modern made up name, an appropriate sibling to the most unfortunate Tyler. I am surprised too Stella though. A Stella would seem to fit right in with her children Poppy and India.

  9. I suspect from other Gypsy name lists (came across a great one about ten years ago but never wrote down the title – the guy who wrote it also wrote a gypsy dictionary called Gypsy Jib) that Synfye is either a spelling variation on Cynthie or a respelling of Sin fie, a Puritan name.

  10. WOW that Katie Hopkins is a piece of work! I hate to think of her making money off of snobbery and meanness.

    How would Synfye be pronounced? SIN-fee? SIN-fie? SIN-fyah? I can’t make heads or tails of it! LOL