Thursday, September 04, 2008

The Victorian Smiths in the 1890s

What this is all about. Data.

Top 10:

1 Mary
2 Ann
3 Florence
4 Annie
5 Elizabeth
6 Edith
7 Alice
8 Ethel
9 Sarah
10 Elsie

Lots of change here. The previous top 4 had Elizabeth and Alice as 3 and 4. These have now been pushed down to 5 and 7 - replaced with Florence (from 5) and Annie (from 7) - a swap. Ethel has entered the top 10 at #8, as has Elsie at #10. Sarah has fallen from 6 to 9, and Ellen and Emily have left the top 10 - though E is still the most popular letter.

A few peakers this time: Annie, Ethel, Mabel and Daisy - a manageable amount to go through. I have reacquired Withycombe from the library, and so can again consult that book's wisdom.

Annie is instantly recognisable as a nickname or diminutive - of Ann (the oxymoron being that Annie - the nickname of Ann - is actually longer than the name it is nicknaming) or of Anna or other 'An-' names. It doesn't really seem to be used independently as a name until the 19th century, and does fall in with the 'nickname' trend of the time - along with Elsie, Nell, Jessie, Kate and Fanny. As Annie has had the most popular thus far of any of the 'nicknames', it can be considered the most 'successful' - Ann (and Anna) are popular names, and unlike Elizabeth - where there are many nicknames - Annie is the easiest and most obvious of the Ann nicknames and so the most commonly used- coupled with the popularity of Ann, making it popular. (A note on Anna - as it is only one letter off Ann, I believe that it was counted, along with Anne, on the BMD counts and that is why it is not noted in these lists - so the popularity of Ann may have increased due to the inclusion of Anna). A few books (Pickering's Penguin Dictionary, in particular) link Annie's 19th century popularity to the Scottish song 'Annie Laurie' popularised in the 1830s. The modern association of the red-headed orphan Annie originated with the 'Little Orphan Annie' comic strips, started in 1924 (though the concept for the title came from the 1885 poem 'Little Orphant Annie'. Another 19th century association is social reformer Annie Besant (b. 1847).

Ethel is a name that is rather maligned in 2008 - a grandmother name on par with Gertrude and Bertha, that hasn't yet reached that vintage chic that Edith now seems to embody. Ethel is indeed a dimunitive - of all those great Angl0-Saxon Ethel-/Aethel- names eg Æthelthryth, Æthelswith, Ethelfleda and Æthelgiva. A little OTT, even for the Victorian Anglo-Saxon revival. I can also (and this is mere speculation) see Ethel as an alternative to Elizabeth. Anyway, it was used several times in literature in the mid-19th century - by Thackeray in The Newcomes (1855) and CM Yonge's The Daisy Chain (1856). Yonge went on to write History of Christian Names in 1884, though she barely mentions Ethel.

Mabel is next. A Medieval name that was never exceedingly popular in Medieval times, that Withycombe states had a resurgence in the late 19th century - as seen here. Once pronounced to rhyme with 'gabble', but now to rhyme with 'able'. Borne by illustrator Mabel Lucie Attwell (b. 1879). Annie Besant, named earlier, also called her daughter Mabel.

Daisy - part of the late Victorian flower name trend. Also helped by the fact that it is a nickname for Margaret (marguerite being French for Daisy). Dunkling and Gosling also state that 'daisy' was a late Victorian nickname for an 'excellent person or thing' - certainly not something that would discourage use of the name. The song 'Daisy bell' was written in 1892, at the height of Daisy's popularity. Daisy Miller - a novella by Henry James, of which Daisy is the heroine, was written in 1878, and was an immediate and popular success.

1 Florence
2 Mary
3 Ann
4 Annie
5 Edith
6 Alice
7 Elizabeth
8 Elsie
9 Ethel
10 Dorothy

First, this list appears groundbreaking - Mary has been replaced at the top by Florence. But...looking at the data, Mary and Florence actually share the top spot - both having 1497 births, Florence is earlier in the alphabet so comes first. Anyway, Florence is extremely popular and has risen from #3. Mary has also fallen from it's untouchable spot in the mid-1850s where it had over 3000 births, down to merely 1500. Elizabeth has slipped down to #7 from #5, and is now far from her #2 and 3 spot held until 1890 - quite a fast fall. Edith and Alice are both pushed up by Elizabeth's fall. Elsie is up to #8 and Ethel is already falling, down to #9. Dorothy is a new entry at #10 (from #12) and Sarah has departed from the top 10, for the first time, to #16.

Quite a few peakers for this period: Florence, Edith, Elsie, Lily, Nell and Victoria.

Florence was really the anme that started this whole study for me - I had known that it was popular in the late Victorian period, but I had wanted to know HOW popular, and to compare it with names like Mary, Elizabeth, nicknames like Annie and Elsie, Anglo-Saxon revivals such as Edith and Ethel, and florals like Daisy and Lily. The most famous Florence, and the woman to whom it's popularity is attributed, is Florence Nightingale - the 'Lady with the Lamp'. Prior to her, it is fairly uncommon: see below:
Nightingale became famous during the Crimean war - 1854-6. I had, prior to this research, assumed that Florence had become popular very, very quickly after the war, but this graph shows that the growth in popularity was quite gradual. Aside from Nightingale, Florence had been used by some as the Anglicised form of the Irish name Finian - as in Florence MacCarthy.

Edith is a name that is experiencing a revival in the UK at the moment - it has a certain 'vintage chic', mainly aided by it's nickname Edie. An Anglo-Saxon name, like Ethel though actually used then. Edith survived into the Middle Ages, but was gradually phased out from the 16th to 18th century. It appears on only one of Redmonds' lists - 1538-49 at #10. It experienced a revival in the 19th century as part of the trend for Anglo-Saxon names. The majority of its bearers had their accomplishmeents after the Victorian period, but Edith (E.) Nesbit (b. 1858) published 'The Story of the Treasure-Seekers' in 1898/9 and (probably her most famous work) 'The Railway Children' in 1906.

Elsie is a nickname for Elizabeth from the Scottish name Elspeth (Elisabeth-Elspeth-Elspie-Elsie). Dunkling and Gosling state that it has been used independently since the 18th century, and was reintroduced into England in the 1870s. It was used by Oliver Wendell Holmes in his 1861 novel Elsie Venner but I can find very little information on this novel so I doubt that it was a complete and lasting bestseller.

Lily is both a flower name and so fits in with the late Victorian trend for flower names, and Lily is a nickname for Elizabeth - or, more strictly, Lillian is a nickname for Elizabeth and Lily is a nickname for Lillian. Lilies also had the Christian association of being symbols of purity. Phew. Like Edith, all of Lily's notable bearers made their impact after the Victorian period. There was, however, a popular music hall song Lily of Laguna that was written in 1898.

Nell is a nickname for Ellen - which has been seen on the top 10 lists for previous decades, and for Helen and Eleanor. Nell Gwynne, mistress of Charles II, is probably its most famous bearer. In Victorian times, it was also known as the heroine of Charles Dickens' book The Old Curiosity Shop, published 1840-1. However, this does not seem to have had an immediate effect (if any) of the Victorian naming habits - no Nell Smiths were born until 1855-60.

Victoria is a name that I have slipped in. It does not actually 'qualify' to be in the lists as it has much fewer than 1000 births - only 216 but I wanted to see how the popularity of the monarch's name changed throughout her reign. Victoria experiences a true peak in popularity from 1885-1905 - indeed this was the part of Victoria's reign when she was most celebrated - with her Golden Jubilee in 1887, Diamond Jubilee in 1897 (which falls in this post's time period) and death in 1901. It took fifty years for Victoria's subjects to embrace her name, and it never soared to the heights of her contemporary Florence Nightingale, but indeed, it did change over her reign.