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In the larger scheme of things, choosing a name for a new baby is no world-shaking matter. How, then, justify a serious study of so apparently trivial an event? Two related premises warrant it. First, small rituals reflect larger values, and, second, their performers need possess no personal importance in order to signify those values. This, then, is an inquiry into a universal species of human social behavior, one readily susceptible to measurement and situated to signal deep cultural change. The site is early New England, and published family genealogies supply the data.(1)
New Englanders shared with English settlers elsewhere in British North America many common social institutions, such as those respecting justice, property rights, and family law. Where they principally differed, some historians believe, was in the nature of their religious ideas, as well as in the vigor with which they espoused them. This belief system shaped the middle-class character of the migration, everyone concedes, but what, exactly, was "Puritan" about the society that they created? Surely the environment into which they moved played some role in molding their culture. Long life, large families, and limited agricultural resources combined to fuel population pressures early in New England's history, and organizers of new settlements had to contend with the prior rights of Native Americans. Every able-bodied male trained to march against the enemy and to defend against the Catholic French to the north. English and Puritan, Yankee and American, New Englanders combined old and new as they adapted and evolved, each generation a product both formed and formative. The emergence and subsidence of naming patterns tracks some of those transitions.(2)
The sources for this study consist of a sample of published genealogies of families formed by first marriages, as listed in the appendix. Some pertain to families settling in specific locales, and others to descendants of founders wherever they lived or moved. Modern genealogies normally include information about names, dates, places of birth, baptisms, marriages, and deaths of family members, insofar as compilers have discovered them. The underlying records from which such information comes vary widely in quality and coverage, just as the compilers themselves have proven uneven in their diligence and care.
The four principal factors organizing the genealogical material are (I) the place where parents resided while bearing the majority of their children ("place" in this study includes seven widely scattered townships, plus three counties in Plymouth Colony, plus Rhode Island Colony); (2) time (marriage cohorts of parents and birth cohorts of offspring); (3) sex; and (4) birth order of children, relative to their siblings of the same sex. The sample is sufficiently large to support statistical testing of hypotheses concerning differences among places and long-term trends.(3)
NAMING THE FIRSTBORN
Fischer proposed that naming children for their parents was a supremely New England folk phenomenon - that the custom originated as a product of covenant theology among Puritan emigrants from East Anglia, who counted among their numbers the founding elite of eastern Massachusetts, and later spread. This viewpoint raises questions concerning the mechanisms underlying cultural creation and diffusion. In particular, it is not clear why parent-centered naming should have emerged among Puritans from just one region in England if it were a natural product of a "covenant theology" espoused by coreligionists generally.(4)
Fischer carried out his own research on children born in the town of Concord, Massachusetts. Smith's study of Hingham is more useful, because he focuses on the naming of the firstborn, which provides a more rigorous test of Fischer's hypothesis, for two reasons. First, New England families produced more living children, on average, than did families elsewhere, thereby increasing the chances for a son or daughter to receive the same name as a parent. This fact alone would tend to overstate the practice in comparison with other colonies. Second, and more important, the choice for the firstborn of either sex usually carries special significance for the parents, relative to subsequent offspring, thus magnifying its usefulness for historical analysis.(5)
Smith's study town of Hingham became predominantly East Anglian as the result of a factional schism between the original settlers who came from the West of England and later arrivals from Norfolk in East Anglia, who thereafter dominated the town. Smith's analysis of naming practices in Hingham counted 74 percent of the firstborn daughters in the period before 1735 sharing their mothers' name and 67 percent of the firstborn sons [TABULAR DATA FOR TABLE 1 OMITTED] sharing their fathers' (see Table I). These are substantial majorities, supporting arguments that the town's residents had united culturally, but when and why? Fischer provides anecdotal evidence that the pre-Puritan naming practices in East Anglia had given priority to grandparents over parents. Hingham's practice, then, was presumably the product of conditions in New England.(6)
Table I compares Hingham with four English parishes, a Virginia county, and New England family genealogies. The English data show marked variation. The sample village in the North of England differed substantially from its counterparts in the midlands and the west, but all three places favored grandparents over parents in choosing names for the firstborn, especially for girls. This same preference for grandparents over parents emerges even more clearly in the Virginia data. We do not know how many firstborn were named for grandparents in Dry Drayton, Cambridgeshire, but the proportion of girls named for their mothers rose abruptly after 1650.(7)
New England naming habits departed sharply from those of old England and Virginia, but did not shift as far toward parent-centered naming as Hingham did. Parents in our genealogical sample who were born in England initiated the transition, but it emerged more strikingly among those born in the New World. American-born parents proved three times more likely than parents in England to name a firstborn daughter for her mother and almost twice as likely to name a firstborn son for his father. New England naming was indeed different and its origin English. Was it also specifically "Puritan"?
New Englanders varied among themselves, as the bar charts in Figures I and 2 disclose. The towns and counties constituting the sample are arranged along the axis according to their naming preferences. The parents from those on the left end, led by Windsor, Connecticut, tended to name their children after themselves. Parents living in communities on the right side of the chart - Rhode Island and Rowley, Massachusetts - took the more traditional approach of naming their firstborn, especially gifts, for their own parents. Those from areas between the two extremes - Wallingford, Connecticut, and Barnstaple and Plymouth Counties in the Old Colony - inclined neither way, whether out of a conscious rejection of both old and new modes or, more likely, from a comparative weakness of the institutions responsible for framing these decisions.
What lies behind these three sets of responses to New World conditions? The argument about East Anglian origins can be readily dismissed. The New England town closest in naming practice to East Anglian Hingham was non-East Anglian Windsor, established in 1635/36 by West Countrymen who had settled four years before at Dorchester, Massachusetts. Parent-centered naming characterized Windsor families from the beginning, as Table 2 reveals. Because Dorchester lies just west of Weymouth and Hingham, one might speculate about the possibility of East Anglian hegemony. However, all three of these towns were first settled by West Country immigrants prior to the influx of East Anglians at middecade, who were arriving just as the Dorchester party was already setting out for Windsor.(8)
Regional traditions did not simply evaporate. They throve where conditions were right. The strong persistence of Yorkshire customs that Allen found in Rowley probably accounted for the high proportion of daughters named for grandmothers there. Since polyglot Rhode Island shows a strikingly similar pattern, however, one must conclude that the regional origins of settlers, per se, cannot successfully predict postemigration patterns.
The absence of pattern can be instructive. The Mayflower descendants living in the Old Colony and settlers of New Haven's northern neighbor, Wallingford, stand out for their apparent indifference to both ideological and lineal concerns in naming their firstborn of either sex. What did Wallingford and Plymouth share in common? They were both dispersed settlements, more intent on making a living than building communities. Plymouth Colony had started out as a single fortified site, but the flood of new immigrants arriving in the 1630S bid eagerly for its cattle and grain. Residents fanned out to ensure ample supplies of fodder for their livestock. This dispersion to maximize returns per farmhand made excellent economic sense but it eroded old ties as it created new ones.(9)
The reasons for Wallingford's rejection of traditional naming customs …