Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Celebrate Your Name Week: Most and Least Poetic Names

I’m going to stray a little bit from the schedule for Celebrate Your Name Week. (And thanks to Janet the Researcher for finding this!) Later I’ll get around to my name, but since this is a genealogy blog I thought I would introduce a little game I’ve played mentally since I started genealogy: What is the most poetic sounding name (or most beautiful or most impressive, if you wish) in your genealogy database and what is the least poetic sounding (ugliest, silliest, etc.) name?

This was inspired by my reaction to new names I would encounter as I discovered new ancestors and families. Men’s names particularly intrigued me since so many of them now seem old-fashioned: Hiram, Absalom, Micajah (“Cage”), Elmore, Josephus (“Seaf”), Algernon, Lycurgus, Buford (wait, that’s a living cousin – oops), and also more recently, Girlie. And how many of you smile in recognition when you see the initials “MDL” in the slot for the first name on the census – that’s Marquis de Lafayette, thank you very much. The name may assume a different incarnation on other censuses: Marcus, Fayette, or Fate. And then there are odd spellings based on pronunciation: my great-grandfather Hiram shows up a couple of times as “Harm.”

Finally, there is my nominee for most amusing combination of names in my database: Pauline Martha Goodnight married Clarence Clifton Knight and became Pauline Goodnight Knight.

So what do I consider the most and least poetic names in my database so far? Most poetic so far I would say is Hopestill Hathaway – alliterative, rhythmic, and intriguing. Least? Ebenezer Blatchley (with William Sugg a runner-up – my apologies to all Suggs).

Who was I named for? My mother, sort of – my names were chosen to give me the same initials. I was given the same middle name as she had and the pool of possible first names was limited to “G” names, since her real first name was Grace (though she was usually called “Mandy”). My parents made no final decision until I was born, when it was decided that I looked like a Greta.

Greta was not a great name to have as a child (I’ll confess that I like it just fine as an adult, though). There always had to be at least one brilliant rhymester who would come up with the same rhyme: “Greta, spaghetta, your meatballs are redda.”

So of course I spared my daughters from unusual names. Not. Their names are even less common than Greta. I’m with the Guy Named Sue – it builds character!

(Note added later - Greta comes from Margaret/Margarita/Margarete, which is supposed to mean "pearl," I think.]


  1. You're right, great minds think alike! I love your post. You definitely do have some interesting names :) I love Pauline Goodnight Knight.

    I love the name Greta. I think it sounds sophisticated.

  2. Greta isn't a bad name. Try going up as Harriet, I was an adult before I knew another Harriet who wasn't my grandmother's age.
    I thought that we did better for our kids names until my son started school. He informed me that he wanted his name changed to Hunter.

  3. Yes, I did come to like my name when I grew up. But when I was a kid, it was best to have ordinary names. And my kids also went through that phase when they wanted to have someone else's name.

  4. Greta - I love this post! My husband has an ancestor that came over on the Mayflower. His name was Degory Priest. And there's another called Robert cum Barba, or Robert with the beard. I like them both!

  5. Very clever! I think some of my most unusual are Bathsheba, Ethelbert and Oliphant. After all those, Linda is pretty plain!!! LOL

  6. Oh my, I wonder what kind of comments Ethelbert got on his name!