January 27, 2012

'The Quarry Whence Modern Names Are Hewn'

The past and the future once again meet in the present, with generally awesome effect.

puritan_curiosities.jpgBecause while it seems normal that you can now instantly find and buy a copy of Charles Wareing Endell Bardsley's suddenly indispensable 1888 book, Curiosities Of Puritan Nomenclature, it still feels like a small miracle that you don't need to. Because thanks to the University of California's Digital Library initiative, the entire book is available for immediate and profitable study.

Bardsley apparently spent 12 years collecting and scouring the church registries of England to create what seems to be the first definitive history of the adoption of Biblical names in the country.

It suddenly makes sense that the proliferation of scripture names like Adam,, John, James, etc. followed the release of "mystery" plays, which dramatized key Bible stories for the masses. And that more obscure scripture names only came into wider use as English translations of the Bible became available. And that hilarity occasionally ensued when, "the parents [would open] the Bible haphazard, according to the village tradition, and select the first name the eye fell on." And also when they wouldn't:

It was but a year ago a little child was christened Tellno in a town within six miles of Manchester, at the suggestion of a cotton-spinner, the father, a workman of the name of Lees, having asked his advice. "I suppose it must be a Scripture name," said his master. "Oh yes ! that's of course." "Suppose you choose Tellno," said his employer. "That'll do,'* replied the other, who had never heard it before, and liked it the better on that account. The child is now Tellno Lees, the father, too late, finding that he had been hoaxed.
And here's another one:
There is, again, a story of a clergyman making the customary demand as to name from a knot of women round the font. "Ax her," said one.
Turning to the woman who appeared to be indicated, he again asked, '* What name?" "Ax
her," she replied. The third woman, being questioned, gave the same reply. At last he dis-
covered the name to be the Scriptural Achsah, Caleb's daughter -- a name, by the way, which was somewhat popular with our forefathers. No wonder this mistake arose, when Achsah used to be entered in some such manner as this :

** 1743-4, Jan. 3. Baptized Axar Starrs (a woman of ripe
years), of Stockport.

" 1743-4, Jan. 3. Married Warren Davenport, of Stockport,
Esq., and Axar Starrs, aforesaid, spinster." -- Marple, Cheshire.

Axar's father was Caleb Starrs. The scriptural relationship was thus preserved. Achsah crossed the Atlantic with the Pilgrim Fathers, and has prospered there ever since. It is still popular in Devonshire and the south-west of England. All these stories serve to show the quarry whence modern names are hewn.

Now that you mention it, Hewn is a pretty great name itself.

Read or download or do whatever you like with Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (1888) [archive.org]

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