This post is prompted by my daughter’s birthday and a Twitter thread about name inspirations.
Way before the resurgence in popularity of Amelia as a name in England, we chose it for our daughter. She was named after my all-time favourite childhood book character – Enid Blyton’s Naughty Amelia Jane.
As a child I spent lengthy periods in hospital. One of my earliest memories is one of the nurses in the now long-since closed Batley Hospital reading me a chapter from an Amelia Jane book before bedtime. Incidentally it is in the grounds of this hospital that my grandad died whilst building an air raid shelter.
It also brings to mind my two cousins and I (separated by only three months in birth and five minute’s walking distance as children) swapping Enid Blyton books in school holidays.
In the early 1990’s my love for Amelia as a name was reinforced by my reading of William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Whilst pregnant my initial favourite name for a girl was Alice. But in the final weeks I returned to a name which evoked happy childhood memories, combined with more recent literary reading.
As to family links, to put in perspective it’s family associations a decade or so ago I was inordinately happy to learn my 4x great aunt was an Amelia. That’s really the closest ties family history-wise.
I did baulk at a middle name of Jane. My daughter was unique and I’ve never been keen enough on my name, which has no real family history, to saddle my daughter with it. In fact I’ve no idea as to why I ended up with it as a name. Funnily enough some do think it is her middle name!
Amelia’s name origins continued to have relevance as she grew up, with me reading to her bedtime stories and tales of the naughtiest toy in the toy cupboard. I loved reading them to her, reliving my childhood in the process – though I do think she preferred The Faraway Tree (Silky was NOT a naming option.)
And so I think about my ancestors and naming patterns. So many names are recycled across the generations. But that recycling is disappearing. Family sizes have diminished so there is less opportunity for generational-straddling family names. And in the last century or so name choices have widened. We have literary, musical and cinematography associated names. Travel horizons and migration have broadened, also correspondingly increasing choice. And have middle names also increased in usage? Also we are no longer bound by the same religious constraints with saints names.
In fact our naming choices are far less prescribed than in other countries. Responding to a FOI request in 2008, the General Register Office (GRO) stated:
Registrations of births in England and Wales are made under the Births and Deaths Registration Act 1953 and the Registration of Births and Deaths Regulations 1987. The legislation does not set out any guidance on what parents may name their child.
Our advice to registrars is that a name should consist of a sequence of letters and that it should not be offensive. The reason for limiting the registration of names to a sequence of letters is that a name which includes a string of numbers or symbols etc. has no intrinsic sense of being a name, however the suffix ‘II’ or ‘III’ would be allowed.
The only restriction on the length of a name is that it must be able to fit in the space provided on the registration page. There are no leaflets or booklets available giving guidance on this matter.
Where the registrar has any concerns over a name they will discuss this with the parents and point out the problems the child may face as they grow up and try to get them to reconsider their choice.
For those name and stats geeks (like me) the most popular first names for baby boys and girls in 2017 using birth registration data can be found here. You’ll have to wait until September 2019 for the 2018 stats. The historical data for the top 100 names for baby boys and girls for 1904 to 1994 at 10-yearly intervals is here. Another ‘names through time’ using civil registration information which is great fun is here.
My family history also displays the vagaries of names. And this is something to consider when searching for ancestors in the GRO Indexes.
Dad was never known by his registered first name. My grandma registered it unbeknownst to my grandad who detested it. Hence my dad was always known by his middle name – the source of much official confusion. And payback for my grandma was her next son was born on the saint’s day my dad was registered under.
Another example is of a collateral ancestor known by a totally different name than the one registered. Anecdotally the parent registering apparently used the similar-sounding name of an old girlfriend.
And my 2x grandmother and great grandfather were both initially registered under different names, their parents changing their minds and exercising their option to amend, something I wrote about a while ago.
So for family history purpose do ask why your parents chose your name. Note to self: I need to ask mum why she and dad chose my name. I recall dad saying his choice was Michel(l)e. I reckon they were just popular names at the time.
And if my daughter ever asks, she owes her name primarily to Enid Blyton, and William Makepeace Thackeray was the deciding factor. Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll) didn’t quite match up.
- Naming Children – England & Wales 2013: http://www.lawandreligionuk.com/2014/08/15/naming-children-england-and-wales-2013/