Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Victorian Smiths

There are going to be a few posts (for clarity) upon this subject. This is post 1.

Frustrated by the lack of data on the British popularity of certain names in Victorian times (strictly 1837-1901). I decided to conduct my own preliminary research. Using the count feature on Free BMD's site to gain the number of births for a five year period, starting at March 1840, and ending at December 1909 - each data going from eg Mar 1840 to Dec 1844 and so on. I used the surname Smith with each of the names researched, as Smith is famously the most popular surname in the UK, in 1881 1.56% of the UK's residents had the surname Smith. The limitation of using this name is that 98% of the the bearers were English, and so it does not take into account Scottish and Welsh trends. Surnames I have chosen if I choose to investigate this further that end up covering most of the UK are Williams (for Wales), White (for South England), Campbell (NW Scotland), Wilson (S Scotland and N England) and Taylor (Central England).

Onto Smith.
As Female Names tend to change more and quicker (a great example of the staidness of male names is Michael being #1 in US for almost 50 years), I chose to focus upon these female names. This also feeds in to my interest in the development of Florence as a name -I'm sure I will post what I have researched on Florence one day, but currently I am finding this study of Victorian names much more inspirational.

I sat with my book of names, and keyed each of the possible names into the free BMD index for 1840 to 1909. Any name that had more than 1500 hits got examined for each of the five year periods. The majority of names examined showed some sort of progression - from popular to less popular, unheard of to common or the complete works - unpopular-popular-unpopular (or the opposite). Something that has to be taken into account with the figures is the high population grwoth that occurred during the Victorian period due to (simply) industrialisation, improved healthcare and still the mindset of needing large families. Thus any increase in number of births may be due to the natural increase in population. A few names that did not seem to show much of a dramatic increase or decrease were: Catherine, Eleanor, Frances, Isabel, Isabella and Lucy.

The following posts will go through the 'decades' looking at the most popular names, and those that experienced peaks during those years.

For the data collected, please feel free to go here