Puritanism has its roots in the late sixteenth century, after Henry VIII broke ties with the Catholic Church. The Puritans believed that reforms had not gone far enough and advocated for a church entirely divorced from Catholic ceremonies. For over a century, Puritans argued amongst themselves, schismed, predicted the end of the world, and still found time to fight the English Civil War and start colonies in the Northeastern United States.
Perhaps their greatest gift to history, however, is their wonderfully strange taste in names. A wide variety of Hebrew names came into common usage beginning in 1560, when the first readily accessible English Bible was published. But by the late 16th century many Puritan communities in Southern Britain saw common names as too worldly, and opted instead to name children after virtues or with religious slogans as a way of setting the community apart from non-Puritan neighbors. Often, Puritan parents chose names that served to remind the child about sin and pain.
Many Puritan names started to die out after 1662, when the newly restored monarch, Charles II, introduced new laws that cracked down on nonconformist religions and consolidated the power of the Anglican Church. Despite this, some of the names have remained in common use in Anglophone countries.
I’ve collected some of the best, worst, and strangest names the English Puritans came up with. Most of these are courtesy of the 1888 book by Charles Bardsley, Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (seen here on the Public Domain Review’s website), which includes Parish records with details about some of the people who had these names. To show that some of these names are still in use, I’ve referred to 2012 statistics on names in the UK from the Guardian’s interactive chart of baby names.
20 Puritan Names That Are Utterly Strange
- Dancell-Dallphebo-Mark-Anthony-Gallery-Cesar. Son of Dancell-Dallphebo-Mark-Anthony-Gallery-Cesar, born 1676.
- Praise-God. Full name, Praise-God Barebone. The Barebones were a rich source of crazy names. This one was a leather-worker, member of a particularly odd Puritan group and an MP. He gave his name to the Barebones Parliament, which ruled Britain in 1653.
- If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned. Praise-God’s son, he made a name for himself as an economist. But, for some inexplicable reason, he decided to go by the name Nicolas Barbon.
- Fear-God. Also a Barebone.
- Jesus-Christ-came-into-the-world- to-save. Brother of “Damned Barebone”. I can only imagine this name shortened to “Save.”
- Joy-in-sorrow. A name attached to many stories of difficult births.
- Fear-not. His/her surname was “Helly”, born 1589.
- Die-Well. A brother of Farewell Sykes, who died in 1865. We can assume they had rather pessimistic parents.
- Continent. Continent Walker was born in 1594 in Sussex.
12 of the Cruelest Puritan Names (meant to remind children of the pain of the world)
- Humiliation. Humiliation Hynde had two sons in the 1620s; he called them both Humiliation Hynde.
- No-merit. NoMerit Vynall was born in Warbleton in Sussex, a fount of beautiful names.
- Sorry-for-sin. Sorry-for-sin Coupard was another resident of Warbleton.
12 Strangely Pleasant Puritan Names
- Desire. In the UK, seven babies were named this in 2012.
- Make-peace. This name was in use at least until 1863; see William Makepeace Thackeray, the novelist.
- Tace. It’s another word for silence, and is of course a female name.
- Kill-sin. Kill-sin Pimple did Jury service in the 1650s.
10 of the Sweetest Puritan Names
- Liberty. 129 were born in the UK in 2012.
- Felicity. 302 babies got this name in 2012.
- Hope. 416 babies took this name in 2012.
- Prudence. 13 babies got this name in 2012.
- Amity. 5 babies got this name in 2012.
- Verity. 131 babies were born with this name in 2012.
- Trinity. 69 Trinities were born in 2012. The name saw a burst in popularity in 1999—due to a particular film, I suppose.
Despite their eccentricities, the Puritans did leave us some beautifully resonant names. Names like Verity, Felicity, and Hope more than make up for the Humiliations, Die-wells, and Kill-sins.
Kill-sin Pimple probably wouldn’t have agreed. But, to be fair, his first name was only half of his problem.