Sunday, June 28, 2009

Name o' the Day

From Old Deerfield Cemetery in Deerfield, MA:

Fanny Forward.

That would be a great name for a gregarious, flirtatious (and doomed) young lady in a 19th-century cautionary tale.


Robert J. said...

As a nomenclateuse (hapax!), what can you tell us about middle names? I see that Miss Forward was in fact Fanny A. Forward, born about 1782. Wasn't that early for a middle name? I haven't generally come across then in small-town New England until the early 1800s.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Yes, indeed, middle names were somewhat unusual in 18th-c. New England, though they were gaining popularity by the end of the century.

Until the Revolution, middle names were generally surnames — either the mother's maiden name or an important family name from a previous generation (Robert Treat Paine, John Quincy Adams). They seem to have been more common for men. I don't have data on this, but my sense is that middle names were more common among the planter class in the South than among other English-speaking colonists — the Lee family all have middle names (men and women).

Miss Fanny A. Forward is certainly unusual — her middle name is Alumina, which is a name I can't find elsewhere in her family. Her father, Abel, was a Yale-educated minister, so he may have been playing with turning "light" into a feminine name. According to the OED, "alumina" is an early name for aluminum, but it was not named until 1790. As a minister, Abel Forward also may have been more attuned to modern naming trends than his rural neighbors.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

I'm looking through a book of Deerfield epitaphs and have found one other individual with a middle name:

Mary Cook Ashley (mother of an infant who died in 1779)

Robert J. said...


I think the protagonists of the Henry-Fieldingesque novel should be Miss Fanny Forward, her cousin Miss Daisy Fleabane, and their eccentric Aunt Alumina.