Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700

Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700

Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700

Names and Naming Patterns in England, 1538-1700

Synopsis

This is a study of names given to children born in England between 1538 and 1700. Drawing on statistical data from forty English parishes, Scott looks at the most commonly used names, how children came to be given these names, why they were often named after their godparents and parents, and how social status affected the names chosen.

Excerpt

The chief conclusion of Chapter 4, a comparison of the names of men of different social groups, was that names did differentiate between people according to their rank in English society. the task in this chapter is to venture one step further down the rung of the social ladder and pose one key question: did names also distinguish between the poor, a group already separated by other social and economic measures, and other members of society?

Our task begins with the records of the poor, inclusion among which has been accepted as proof of an individual's poverty. This examination of the names of poor men and women is based on two types of record: surveys or censuses of the poor, and printed heath tax returns which contain lists of those deemed 'unchargeable' according to the terms of the tax--in general those in receipt of alms. in geographical terms, these records cover disparate parts of England--from Norwich and Ipswich in the East to Exeter in the South-west, and from Cheshire and Chester in the North-west, to Surrey and Oxfordshire in the South. in chronological terms the earliest record is that relating to the Norwich poor of 1570, and the latest the 1699 census of the poor in Exeter, with the majority of the evidence concentrated on the hearth tax returns of the 1660s.

Each of these types of record has its shortcomings as far as the aims of this study are concerned. There are two principal objections which may be raised against using lists of the poor as a possible indicator of the link between names and social status. Firstly, if we are to claim there was a link between names and social status, then it is of the utmost importance to establish the group into which a child was born. Thus when looking at the poor, could the child's father be deemed poor at the time of the child's birth? This is an awkward problem because of the time difference between the date of a child's birth and that of his later inclusion, as an adult, in the list of the poor. I have been forced to assume that the child's social status remained unchanged: evidence of poverty in adult life has . . .

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