Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Victorian/Edwardian Smiths in the 1900s

What this is all about. Data.


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

So Mary has regained or reassured her top position, pushing Florence down into #2. No change until #7 where Elizabeth has slipped down to #10. Ethel has slipped down to #11 and Doris has jumped up from #21 to #9.

A little note before we go onto peakers. It is about Eliza. Whilst we have seen, to an extent, the fall of Mary and Elizabeth, the fall of Eliza has not yet been documented. Eliza was #7 in the 1840s, and remained in the top 10 in the 1850s. By the 1900s, Eliza has the least number of births of any of the names that is seriously being studied (Victoria was merely to see how the name did, and I thought Joan would end up with many more births). Eliza has been pushed away to make room for Elsie and has followed Elizabeth down in popularity - just a little more dramatically. Fun graph (the numbers are the numbers of Eliza Smith births, years along the bottom):

Anyway, onto the peakers: Dorothy, Rose, May and Jessie.

Dorothy was a new entry to the top 10 in 1895-9, and has already been eclipsed by Doris. A Greek name, once pronounced with a hard 't' rather than a 'f/th' sound. Dorothy was fairly popular in the 16th century - it appears on the Redmonds lists consistently between #10-#15 from 1550-1700 so it was fairly antiquated by the Victorian age, and in 1840-4 had been reduced to 25 Dorothy Smith births. I consider Dorothea to be the more Georgian of the Dorothy names - it was borne by George I's wife Sophia Dorothea of Celle, and by his daughter Sophia Dorothea of Prussia. Anyway, back to Dorothy - a notable 19th century bearer was Dorothy Wordsworth (b. 1771), sister of the poet William and author of the Grasmere Journal.

Rose is another in that long line of Victorian flower names. It was previously used (Norman times onwards) as a German name meaning 'horse' or 'fame', but close to the Victorian age it was used much more for the flower rather than the meaning. It's Middle Ages usage may also be due to its association with the Virgin Mary (and may account for its decline in the 16th century onwards in Protestant England, and revival as simply a flower name). Borne by author Laura Ingalls Wilder's daughter Rose Wilder Lane (b. 1886) and novelist Rose Macauley (b. 1881) - whose first novel was published in 1906. More on Rose.

May - both a month name, and a nickname for Mary and Margaret etc. which contributed to its popularity (Mary and Margaret both being popular Victorian names). Also a nature name - the hawthorn is also known as the may, mayblossom or maythorn as it flowers in the month of May. In 1900-4, Mary or May of Teck was the Duchess of York then Princess of Wales, and from 1910 she was the Queen of England. May was a childhood nickname that survived to adulthood - relating to her birth month.

Today, Jessie is best known as a nickname for Jessica. However, in Victorian times it was more frequently used as a Scottish diminutive of Janet or Jean then adopted as an independent name in its own right. It was used in literature, Withycombe notes that its early uses in England were as characters in Charlotte Brontë's Shirley (pub. 1849) and Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford (pub. 1851-3), though there appear to be no particularly notable bearers of the name in the Victorian period.

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

You know the 1895 list that I said appeared groundbreaking but wasn't? This 1905 list appears groundbreaking and is. Florence has overtaken Mary with 34 more Florence Smiths being born than Mary Smith. More than that is the rather meteoric rise of Doris - #21 in 1895-9, #9 in 1900-4 and now #3. Elsewehere there is a lot of movement: Edith is into #5 with Annie slipping down to #8, Dorothy up to #5, Alice down to #9, Elizabeth leaving the top 10 to #11, and Gladys rising from #12 to #10.

I was vaguely interested in what would happen for 1910-4 if these birth numbers continued the same way. So I subtracted (or added) the change between 1900-4 and 1905-9 to the 1905-9 numbers and got this:
1 Doris
2 Florence
3 Mary
4 Dorothy
5 Gladys
6 Ann
7 Edith
8 Winifred
9 Elsie
10 Ivy
I'm not saying that that is how the top 10 does look for 1910-4- names do tend to slow down in popularity after a large leap, but I do think that it's quite likely that Doris overtook Florence in some time over that period. This list looks totally different to what I would call the traditionalism of 1840-4.

Anyway, onto the peakers. There are a lots - mainly because some of them may have peaked in later decades, but as they have not been studied then it is difficult to tell. They are: Doris, Gladys, Winifred, Hilda, Ivy, Violet and Olive. To be honest, to me most of these names sound like 'grandmother' names (not Ivy or Violet) - names that haven't been revived. I suppose that is due to being the most 'recent' of the list, and may not have peaked for another 10 years - placing them into the grandmother age range.

Doris is the Edwardian (post 1905, I doubt that I can get away with calling the era Victorian any more) skyrocketer. Doris seems to have come to popularity for a number of reasons - a more 'modern' sounding version of Dorothy, it is a Greek nymph name, a combination of Dorothy and Phyllis (or Iris/Francis/Alice etc.), and an alternative to Dorcas/Dorcis. There doesn't seem to be steadfast reason why Doris became popular.

Gladys is a Welsh name, used in Wales since the Norman Conquest but only taken up in England in the late 19th century. Featured in some (minor - never widely popular) literature - Puck by Ouida (pub. 1870), Gladys of Harlech by Welsh novelist Anne Beale (pub. 1858) and Gladys by Edith M Dauglish (all from Dunkling and Gosling). Continued in popularity until the 1930s and then pretty much disappeared.

Winifred is the second Welsh name - from Gwenfrewi. Used in Wales, but not in England until the 16th century. Most of the Winifreds listed on Wikipedia seem to be born prior to 1905-9 so it's interesting to see it peaking in this 5 year period. Winifred is a name that comes from very few births until 1870 to 771 in 1905-9.

Hilda reminds me of Ethel - a short form of the variety of 'Hild' names (Hildegard, Hildred etc) but unlike Ethel it was actually used independently prior to the 19th/20th century - an example being St Hilda of Whitby, and in the Whitby area it seems that Hilda was continually despite dying out elsewhere in England in the 13th century. Revived in the 19th century - Dunkling and Gosling attribute this revival to Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel The Marble Faun (pub. 1860), of which Hilda is a main character, whilst Withycombe attributes it to the Tractarian revival of Anglo-Saxon names. The reality is that it is probably a mixture of both influences - but the first Hilda Smith was born in 1860-4 (in Halifax, quite a way from Whitby) soon after the publication of Hawthorne's novel. For more on Hilda see here.

I am going to tackle Ivy, Violet and Olive together. Victorian flower names that began the period with very few births and end with much, much more. Ivy is the 'newest' of the three names - not being used at all prior to the Victorian age. Violet was used in Scotland from the 16th century onwards. Olive is related to Livia - used in Roman times, and Olivia - used by Shakespeare, and Oliva - a saints name, and was used sparingly from the 16th century onwards. It was not until the 19th century that it became anywhere near 'common' or 'recognised'. For more on Ivy see this earlier post. And for Olive - here.

And that is it. I think there will be a final post on this subject (with graphs hooray) and then finished!


Anonymous said...

Really good post!