In general terms, parents in 19th century Merriott confined themselves to a fairly small selection of Christian names for their children. Sometimes a relatively unusual name will be seen in successive generations of a single family or perhaps two families. An example of this is the name Aaron, used by the Pattemore family. Another example is Alexander, used by the Osbornes and, to a lesser extent, the Mitchells. Looking at the Baptismal Registers for Merriott for 1812 to 1876, names like Ann/Anne, Mary and Eliza/Elizabeth, Emma, Hannah/Anna, Sarah, and Susan/Susannah were common for girls; Edward/Edwin, George, Henry, John, Joseph, Robert, Samuel, Thomas and William for boys. Some Christian names are conspicuous by their absence from the Baptismal registers 1812 – 1876 – Peter being one of those names. Towards the end of the nineteenth century, a range of names began to become more popular, including Ida, Maude, Mabel, Flora, Lily, Lucy, Blanche, Arthur, and Walter.
The Greek and Latin Influence
Scattered through the Merriott records you will occasionally find some rather unusual Christian names. The practice started within the families of Hallett and Higgins. The use of Greek names from ancient literature is an interesting finding in a village otherwise dominated by the regular use of names such as Thomas, Mary, Samuel, Ann, George etc. The trend started in the 1730s, with children of George & Ann Hallett being named Pantenus, Laodamia & Theophania. One wonders which parent was interested in Greek literature, surely an uncommon occurrence in 18th century villagers! Both Pantenus & Laodamia went on to marry & continue the tradition.
Pantenus & Elizabeth Hallett baptised children between 1760 and 1774 with the unusual names of Theophania, Pantenus, and Paris, as well as “ordinary” names such as George, Joan, John & Anne.
Laodamia Hallett married John Higgins in 1754, and managed to name her fifth & sixth children Parthenia. The couple also baptised one William, two Thomas’, and four Georges. William went on to name one of his children Parthenia, and one Laodamia. The surviving Thomas named one daughter Laodamia.
Other members of these families chose to name their own children more “ordinary” names.
By the 19th century censuses, there were only a few Parthenias and a few Laodamias left, of the surnames Higgins, Eason, Osborne, Sweet, Doutch and Lawrence.
So where did these names originate? I am no student of Greek Literature, but here follows some shortened research on these names.
- Paris: As the Greek Myth goes, Paris was the son of the King Priam of Troy and his wife Hecuba, exiled as an infant as a result of a prophecy that he would someday cause the ruin of Troy. He was raised by a shepherd, and as a young man entered a boxing contest at a Trojan festival, in which he defeated Priam’s other sons. He was received home again by his father when his identity became known. Later Paris was helped by Athena to lead Troy to victory against the Greeks. Aphrodite gave him the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, wife of Menelaus, king of Sparta. Helen’s abduction led to the Trojan War. Paris shot the arrow that, with Apollo’s help, caused the death of the hero Achilles, shortly before Paris himself was mortally wounded by an arrow shot by Philoctetes.
- Pantenus: Pantaenus was a Christian philosopher of the 2nd century. His student, Clement of Alexandria, was a Greek theologian and an early father of the Christian church after conversion from paganism.
- Laodamia : In Greek Mythology, Laodameia was the wife of the Thessalian commander Protesilaus, the first Greek killed when the Greek
fleet reached the coast of Troy in the Trojan War. Laodameia was so distressed at her husband’s death that she implored the gods to bring her
husband back from the dead. The god Hermes led Protesilaus back from the dead for a three hour visit, after which Laodameia killed herself
and returned with her husband to the underworld.
- Parthenia: Parthenia was the name of the first printed volume of virginal music, published in 1613 by composers John Bull, William Byrd
and Orlando Gibbons. Previously, several hundred years BC, Alcman, a Greek Poet, wrote Parthenia (songs for choruses of virgins). Only fragments of his poems still exist.
- Theophania: In Greek, Theophaneia means “appearance of God”. The term theophany refers to the manifestation of a god in a sensible form, ie a human form.
I would be interested to hear from any other researchers with Greek names in other places in England around the 18th century.