As you may have discerned, I love 17th-century names. Even when I am supposed to be doing other work, I often find myself thumbing through indices and vital records, looking at names.
Last semester, I was working on a project about the Dorchester Removal, a 1636 incident in which most of the town of Dorchester, MA picked up stakes and moved to the Connecticut River Valley. As part of my research, I converted the Connecticut Historical Society's 1930 publication of the Windsor church records into a handy little database. This allowed me to discover many interesting tidbits, such as average age of marriage, family size, instances of bridal pregnancy, etc.
Unsurprisingly, my favorite side project involved analyzing the Windsor settlers' names. Here are some of my findings:
1. The top five names were very popular.
Today, many parents attempt to avoid choosing common names for their children, hoping that their baby won't go through school as "Joshua S." or "Emily D." In the 17th century, parents weren't so worried about that. Among the 478 girls born in Windsor (1637-1684), 65% shared the top five female names. About 51% of the 533 boys of the same generation shared their top five.
Among the older generation, the breakdown between top five and other names is exactly the same as for their children.
2. Old Testament names are more common among the younger generation.
You'll notice that among the top five names for both males and females, Old Testament names (Sarah, hannah, Abigail, Joseph, Nathaniel, Samuel) are slightly more common among the younger generation.
The real difference becomes apparent when you look at the other names. (I was very pleased that the percentages were identical for both the older and younger generations. It saved me a lot of messy conversions.)
Among babies born in Windsor who did not have top five names, 53% of girls and 68% of boys bore Old Testament names. Their parents were much less likely to have Old Testament names (35% of women and 29% of men, excluding those with top five names). To me, this suggests that members of the older generation were born to more secular families, turned to stricter religion later, and named their own children in honor of their new faith.
3. Some families liked to name their children after particular Bible stories.
Sometimes, children were named in honor of groups of characters in the Bible. The best example of this is the case of the Cook children: Moses (b. 1645), Aaron (b. 1640), and Miriam (b. 1642). Of the 1,011 children born between 1637 and 1684, only three are named Abraham and each of them has a brother named Isaac. I think that this is evidence that the Windsor settlers thought of themselves as Biblical actors recreating the history of the Old Testament.
4. Some names have me stumped.
Most of the Windsor names come from the Bible. Others are secular English names (Jane, Alice, Henry). Some are a mystery to me. If anybody knows the origins of the names Benaga (male), Bethiah (female), or Asubath (female), please let me know.