Extreme Puritan baby-naming


The Puritans were a lot like the Taliban of today. These were the people that outlawed the celebration of Christmas. They occupy a a weirdly prominent place in American history books, even though they hardly left any distinctive mark on American culture. You could hardly picture them as being central to the American Revolution, since their beef with England was that the British monarchy was too liberal. I’m not sure at what point their influence waned, because I would have expected them to react to the revolution with their own secessionist movement.

Of course we still have our weird fundamentalists who believe that god speaks only to them and the rest of us are less that human, but I’m not sure that this can be traced back to the Puritans.


I’ve always thought Praisegod Barebones would be an excellent Puritan pirate name.
The extreme name tradition seems to be alive in Nigeria. See Goodluck Jonathan and the names you see on Nigerian scam emails.


I just want to know about Fly-fornication. Because, flies. Fucking. Pretty sure they didn’t mean the modern slang ‘fly’, but if they could’ve? Whoa. Porn site name!

And I thought the character Thou-Shalt-Not-Committ-Adultery Pulsifer from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens was completely made up with no connection to real life. Life is stranger than fiction.


Tons of things can be traced back to the Puritans, not least Americans’ problematic sense of ourselves as super-special, elect, “a city on a hill,” as it were. And you can think of their decline over the 1700s as a general morphing into Yankeeism: the Puritan terrors of a wrathful God ever ready to spring the apocalypse turning into Franklin’s fear that he lose a second of his day to waste and unprofitability.


“Fly” as in “run from, flee.” The other sense is indeed funnier. And why stop at just a pron site name? With those macro lenses today, one could have an entire site.

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Of course, these names were FAR from common, at least in America (which is what most BoingBoing readers think of, I would imagine, when you talk about Puritans.) In decades of research I have never seen any of the more extreme names in any of the birth, baptism, marriage or death records from Plymouth on. They don’t show up in court records or town meeting records either. Yes, William Brewster named his kids Patience, Fear, Love, and Wrestling (although his first one was plain old Jonathan) while in England and Holland but by the time kids were born in the colonies, they were almost always back to oldies like Rebecca, Thomas, Mary, John and so on (well, and the occasional, and usually misspelled, biblical name.) Odd names existed in the early colonies (just as you have the odd name now) but by and large, the names were pretty plain vanilla.

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I think we can credit the Puritan naming practice for Franklin’s use of the name “Mrs. Silence Dogwood” to publish his letters to the editor. His running dispute with an elderly cotton Mather is what led Franklin to move (flee?) to Philadelphia.

Cotton Mather’s father (Increase Mather) was involved in a Puritan rebellion against England, the Boston Rebellion of 1698. I had not heard about that one.

I am perplexed by “Has-descendents,” as very few babies do.


The carter parents were a quiet and respectable Lancre family who got into a bit of a mix-up when it came to naming their children. First, they had four daughters, who were christened Hope, Chastity, Prudence, and Charity, because naming girls after virtues is an ancient and unremarkable tradition. Then their first son was born and out of some misplaced idea about how this naming business was done he was called Anger Carter, followed later by Jealousy Carter, Bestiality Carter, and Covetousness Carter. Life being what it is, Hope turned out to be a depressive, Chastity was enjoying life as a lady of negotiable affection in Ankh-Morpork, Prudence had thirteen children, and Charity expected to get a dollar’s change out of seventy-five pence - whereas the boys had grown into amiable, well-tempered men, and Bestiality Carter was, for example, very kind to animals.

Terry Pratchett Lords and Ladies


So I’m guessing that any child with a name like “Tom,” “Sam,” or so forth would wind up being bullied in a Puritan school

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To continue the Terry Pratchett list, “Visit-the-Infidel-with-Explanatory-Pamphlets” and “Smite-the-Unbeliever-with-Cunning-Arguments”.


I learned from reading David Hacket Fischer’s excellent book Albion’s Seed that most of the Puritans who settled New England came from East Anglia, where these so-called hortatory names were not very common. Another group of Puritans living in Sussex used them heavily. He cites that one parish in Sussex had 43% of its children being given these wacky names between 1570-1600. But only 1 percent of the New England immigrants came from Sussex.


Ideologically the Puritans were far different from the Taliban, or any modern fundamentalism. After decades of persecution their primary belief was in the free practice of all religions. It was Cromwell who first allowed Jews to return to England, and his constitution forbade the state from imposing its beliefs. The second main plank of their platform was the rule of parliament and laws over monarchy and absolutism.

After the English Civil War, the Puritans party became the Whigs, who became the Liberals in the UK and the Secessionists in America. The links from the Puritans to the founding of the United States are quite clear both ideologically and institutionally.

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Seriously? Free practice of religion? If you travel Scotland or Ireland and see all the scenic ruins of monasteries and churches, they did not fall into decay, they were blown up by Cromwell. Morality police patrolled the streets and beat people who dressed immodestly.

Actually Cromwell in England and Richelieu in France had remarkably similar agendas - crush the system of feudal landowners and local armies while creating an official state religion. Both of them created reforms that lasted although their personal power structures were destroyed by the intense hatred they created among their own people.

I’ve just been reading about mental priming. Which is the idea that what you have just heard influences how you will hear the next thing. There is extensive research which has shown that priming has measurable effects even on your physical responses.

Two groups were given a task to read a list of words and then go down the hall to do the next part of the task. One group was given a list of words heavy on subtle references to old age, such as “gray” or “Florida” (seriously.) The testers then timed the trip down the hall to the other room. The group who had read the primed list took longer to walk the same hallway on average.

The unconscious mind is a powerful actor in all our lives. Much more than we realize.

This makes the naming practice sound like a good idea, doesn’t it?

I’d have thought it was more purity of faith, the free practice of their own religion and a full reformation in England (beyond the compromise position of the CofE). The Guardian at least questions the validity of the claims of readmission under Cromwell. I think a lot of reformed Christians in particular and evangelicals in general would trace their roots to puritanism, or would at least have good things to say about them if they read their history. I’d say the individualism of many evangelical churches owes itself in part to the way that their ancestors were nonconformists outside of the established church. The idea of the free practice of all religions (and possibly the separation of church and state) would seem to be an extrapolation from their ideas rather than what they were actually fighting for.

My great-great-great-grandfather was the president of the Baptist Union in 1866 (which was reformed at that time). His son (not my direct ancestor) was the first non-conformist to be named Senior Wrangler (top Cambridge mathematician of the year) in 1861. He actually refused the prize on religious grounds, but he was instrumental in changing the rules to allow non-conformists to become fellows and women to take part in degrees and examinations. He was the leader of the “Association at Cambridge for the Removal of Religious Disabilities from the Universities” and made a petition “Memorial for the admission of women to examinations and degrees” in 1888, as well as publicly supporting Philippa Garrett Fawcett in 1890 (who achieved the highest result in mathematics that year but could not compete for the senior wrangler prize).

This may be completely apocryphal, but my father reads (and republishes) a lot of non-conformist literature and may have seen something that Google can’t find. He quoted a famous Baptist of the same period (C. H. Spurgeon) that in his opinion, the only reason Baptists hadn’t been accused of abusing their power is that they had never had any (which made me chuckle 130 years later!).

Let me guess, “You are not so Smart?” I’ve been reading that too.

Another interesting take is in chapter 6 of Steve Levitt’s book Freakonomics. He concluded that names were not destiny. They definitely could cue people in to your back ground, such as race, politics, education, and economic situation. But for example, having a black name or a white name didn’t seem to effect where they ended up economically. That isn’t to say that their name didn’t have any effect in their lives - just that where they ended up didn’t depend on their name.

Here is a transcript of their radio show where they were talking about it. http://freakonomics.com/2013/04/08/how-much-does-your-name-matter-a-new-freakonomics-radio-podcast/

One fun example is a guy who named his kids Winner and Loser. Winner ended up on drugs and in jail, while the other became a detective. Another example is a woman named Marijuana Pepsi Jackson - http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/40874017.html

Now see, with the brothers it makes sense because “Winner” would never say his own name, but he would call his brother often. Priming his own mind to see things in a negative light, and vice versa for his brother.