What’s in a name? An Archivist’s personal perspective

Recently Queensland State Archives hosted the Loveday Finn seminar at Strathpine Library for members of the Strathpine Local History group. The Loveday Finn story is a family history case study following records and indexes available at QSA and other agencies across Queensland and New South Wales.

The seminar sprung to life when I happened upon the name Loveday Finn within the QSA on-line Index to Brisbane Hospital Deaths 1933-1963. I loved the sound of the name, a pretty, romantic and whimsical name that totally captured my imagination. A name that belonged to a beautiful young woman who sadly had died in 1941. I had to know her story, so began researching, locating snippets of information about her life in the QSA records. This research ultimately became the family history case study we use as an education tool for researchers.

Loveday Finn
Image of Loveday Townsend Finn taken circa 1936 kindly supplied by the Miller Family

But what is in a name? I’ve always had a fascination with names, they draw me in and beg me to ask more questions about the lives of these people that I research. In particular you begin to appreciate an unusual name as it makes a researcher’s life so much easier to pick out the odd name from a list of pedestrian ones. Let’s be honest, as researchers we audibly groan when we have to look for a John Brown or Mary Smith in the records!

I must confess that I am fascinated by what parents name their children; the stories behind those choices; do the names fit, how do they sound, is the name too lofty and difficult to live up too or is it too childlike for the adult to live with. I know I have a doozy of name that no-one can ever spell and no-one can ever say it properly. I have spent my life spelling my name out aloud and endlessly correcting mispronunciations of it or out rightly correcting those people who insist on calling me Sally, Sandra, Sonia or other strange inventions like Salada!. My name is Saadia (pronounced Sah-dee-ah).

What were my parents thinking? It’s not even English, Scottish or Irish which is my ancestry. It is a foreign name (spelt in the masculine) and means “Princess” and relates to part of our family history in India. Named after my Grandmother Sadie, I am eternally thankful I wasn’t actually called Sadie. It would have been far more difficult to live with as Sadie the Cleaning Lady was a chart topper at the time.

The perennial question we ask ourselves when coming across names that are unusual, weird, romantic, whimsical, ugly and just downright funny is “what were their parents thinking?” Anyone doing any level of family history research will come across indexes with row upon row of names. We love the names that jump out as they make our researching lives so much easier. Actually if you are looking for a name for that new family member, an index is a great place to start.

Queensland State Archives has over 56 online indexes that cover more than 970,000 names at the present time. While indexing the wonderful archival records in the collection, QSA volunteers and staff often come across names that make us laugh out loud or shake our heads in wonder.

As we know the naming of a child is a very important one, a poorly chosen name can be burden for life, a joyful reminder of a much loved relative or an honour to be named after a well-respected person. Fashions come and go.

The 1890s, when literature and art were influenced by Arthurian myths and legends (think Pre-Raphaelite art or the Arts and Crafts movement) clearly provided many boys with the names of Lancelot, Arthur, Percival and Gawain – take a look at the QSA Teacher Index 1860-1904 for a good representation of Percy’s and Lancelot’s.

Of course we have the Royal fashion of George, Henry (Harry) and William for boys and for girls Adelaide, Beatrice, Charlotte, Elizabeth, Eugenie, Margaret and Victoria. The passion for floral names in the 1920s gave us the likes of Rose, Daisy, Aster, Fern, Iris, Marigold and Gladioli. Then later the gemstone fashion gave us the likes of Beryl, Garnet, Topaz, Ruby, Coral, Pearl and Sapphire to name a few. Then there was the fashion of feminising a masculine name as Edwardina, Herberta, Hugheena, Roberta, Thomasina or Wilhelmina. Some work well though others aren’t quite as pleasing! Though you could always ignore gender related names, like the parents who called their daughter Christopher! My family has heaps of Christians, all girls, but that is a Scottish take on Christine after all. Take a look at the Assisted Immigration Index 1841-1912 to see if you can find any more.

Sometimes a name is funny not because of the name itself, but because it describes ones occupation like Charles Fowler, a chicken keeper! Or there are the poor fellows whose parents very proudly gave them a list of family surnames. However growing up sounding like a legal firm might not be fun especially if your name was Myatt Truby Commins who was a not a lawyer but a teacher (Series ID 5136, Annual Returns of Teachers 1878-1950).

Some names grab our attention because they are very unusual such as Eulalie Cumming, Ulla Cummins, Rechabina Cheeseman and Amrie Clarkson, all female teachers by the way. (Series ID 5136, Annual Returns of Teachers 1878-1950).

A personal favourite from the Land Selections index is Thomas Littleboy. I imagine Mr Littleboy could have suffered terrible bullying as a child if he were either very tall, very short or very chubby.

Some other names in our indexes that always cause a chuckle are: Carl Bugslag, Karma Fowles, George Hay Hives, Mr T Popoff, Ethel Smoker, and Will Wacker.

Peruse the A-Z list of uncommon if not unusual Christian names that we have compiled from our records and see if you can find a favourite (* denotes a masculine name). Please note all these Christian names are real, truly we did not make them up!

Adelong Dundas* Iam Myrtle Trifilla
Albany Egmont* Ilma Nevis Tyldsley*
Albion* Ellaline Ina Nowlan* Una
Aldyth Eliveira Kezia Nudrah Vada
Alexandrina Evended* Laureate* Olivette Vale*
Augulene Everill Laureen Ossian* Vida
Bates Felician Lauretta Pelessis Vita
Bedelia Fern Lissome Penual Venetta
Beroll* Floris Logie Pembroke* Vicary*
Beulah Geraldina Lurline Phemie Vulvinia
Byam* Griffin* Lyman* Royal* Weida
Cessyl Gwenllian Maizellah Rubina Wensley*
Chaffia Gwyladys Meaby Seranette Willoughby*
Channon Heaton* Melrose* Sethrick* Wilma
Clodagh Hedwig Mephibosheth* Silence Winsome
Chloris Hethersett Moella Silvenius* Xaviera
Cuttorm* Hewan* Monday* Tarceille Ysolda
Dagmar Hoard* Morice Thorolf* Zaidie
Dilworth Hortense Morvey* Thurza Zazel
Dowglass* Howil* Murzillah Tilby Zillah

Who knows what researchers will think of our generation in another century with the names we are choosing and inventing in the 21st Century. To browse more names and indulge a passion for old ones check out the QSA online indexes today.

Saadia Thomson Dwyer

Senior Archivist, Queensland State Archives

About Queensland State Archives

For more information about Queensland State Archives visit www.archives.qld.gov.au.

2 Responses

  1. Brenda Koster

    Hello Saadia, my comment is over a year late (I’ve only just seen this blog) but given your interest in names I’d like to share my recent find. My hobby is family history and while researching the life of a school friend of my grandmother’s, I’ve encountered one of the most unusual names. Honor Philomena Pauline Battledoor Donnelly 1915-1916 was the infant daughter of Thomas Joseph Donnelly and Elizabeth Mary Marcella Ryan. A bit of internet sleuthing discovered that Battledore was the early name of Badminton, but “battledore placenta” is when the placenta is shaped like a badminton or battledore paddle (bat). So this dear little baby who didn’t live long was either named after a favourite game or was one of 7% of births with an unusual placenta. Kind regards, Brenda Koster

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