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Christian Names

( Originally Published Late 1800's )

On reading a note in your number for December, a thought occurred that few people are acquainted with the meaning of what are called their Christian names.

We learn in Chambers's " Encyclopedia " (and the information is copied in that of Dr. Rees), that " Camden takes it for granted that names in all nations and languages are significative, and not simple sounds for mere distinction. This is the case not only among the Jews, Greeks, Latins, etc., but even the Turks, among whom Abdalla signifies God's servant ; Soli-man, peaceable ; Mahomet, glorified, etc. And the savages of Hispaniola and throughout America, who in their languages name their children Glistening Light, Sun Bright, Fine Gold, etc. ; and they of Congo by the names of precious stones, flowers, etc.

"To suppose names given without any meaning, however, by the alteration of languages, their signification may be lost, Camden thinks, is to reproach our ancestors, and that contrary to the sense of all ancient writers."

Since the chief of our Christian names are derived from languages not understood by the generality of people, it shall be my endeavour to present to those who have before overlooked this important knowledge, the meanings of some of the most common of their appellations. Mr. Urban will perhaps excuse the intrusion, and allow me to present his readers with the following, thus alphabetically arranged. I begin with the ladies, not only out of due politesse, but because they may be supposed to be the least informed on the subject.

Agnes, derived from the Greek, means chaste.

Anne and Hannah, Hebrew, favoured (with any excellence or mercy).

Barbara must be an exception to the rule that names have arisen from the good wishes of parents ; if derived from the Latin, it is a name not very much to be coveted. In the dictionary we find its_ meaning, unpolished, foolish, cruel, savage ; it may, however, as Pere grine, have been given to a stranger.

Blanch, French, fair.

Catherine, Greek, purified, pure.

Caroline and Charlotte appear to be the feminine of Charles. Clara, Latin, almost explains itself in its English sense ; it may be understood as signifying fair, noble, illustrious.

Dorothy, Greek, the Gift of God.

Elizabeth, Hebrew, God bath sworn.

Esther is a Persian name. Esther, the Jewish captive, whose history is related in the Holy Scriptures, was named in her own country Hadassah (Esther ii. 8), but, as was customary, lost her name with her liberty. Ster, says Scaliger, is Persian for a star, as in Greek.

Helen has been derived from the Greek word to draw, because the beauty of the famous Helen attracted so many admirers ; and from Hellas, the ancient name of Greece.

Jane: Janus is by Macrobius used as a name of the sun ; thus Jane or Jana may, as Phoebe, mean the moon. The different derivations of Janus are too uncertain and numerous to particularize.

Isabella is Spanish for a bright bay colour.

Laura, perhaps from the Latin for laurel.

Lucy, from the Latin prænomen Lucea, from Luceo, to shine, synonymus with Clara, or from the child being born, primâ Luce, early in the morning. Luce is also an old name for a pike or jack, from the Latin Lucius, or French lus ; I mean not to say the Christian name has any connection with this, but the family bearing that sirname, of Charlecot, co. Warwick, certainly bore for arms three luces hauriant argent, on a field sprinkled with crosslets, as may be seen in Dug-dale's " Warwickshire," of which family was Sir Thomas, supposed to be personified in Shakespeare's "Justice Shallow," since the immortal bard has introduced much punning about luces.

Louisa is most probably the feminine of Louis or Lewis.

Lydia is a country of Asia Minor, said to be so called from Lud, the son of Shem ; its inhabitants were very effeminate, and it might be therefore considered an appropriate name for a female, or very probably the women of Lydia were remarkably beautiful. The name occurs in Horace.

Margaret, Greek, a pearl. We find in Mr. Archdeacon Nares's "Glossary" that Margarite or Margaret was formerly used to signify a pearl in the English language (as in Latin and French) ; and in Drummond's "Poems," 1656, p. 186, is the following epitaph on one named Margaret :

" In shells and gold pearles are not kept alone, A Margaret here lies beneath a stone, A Margaret that did excell in worth All those rich gems the Indies both send forth."

Martha, Syriac ; the mistress of a family ; such was the character of Martha, the sister of Lazarus.

Mary is derived from the Hebrew, but it is of doubtful signification; it may mean either the bitterness of them, as Mary, the sister of Moses, was so named during the bitter Egyptian captivity, or a drop of the sea, or even be synonymus with Martha.

Phoebe was the Greek name for the moon, the sister of Phoebus, the sun, supposed to mean the light of life.

Let no parents name their daughter Priscilla, if it be derived from the Latin, unless they mean to call her a little old woman.

Rebecca, Hebrew, at. Belzoni relates in his " Travels " how great a beauty plumpness is considered in the East.

Rose, the flower of Sharon.

Sarah, Hebrew, a princess. Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was called Sarai, till her name was changed by the express command of the Al-mighty; " And God said unto Abraham, as for Sarai, thy wife, thou shalt not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall her name be." Gen. xvii. 15. Sarai means my princess ; Sarah, the princess not of one family, but of many nations, as we read in the next verse : " She shall be the mother of nations."

Sophia, Greek, wisdom.

Susan, Hebrew, a lily. Susiana, an antient province of Persia, is by some supposed to have been so called from its being a country abounding in lilies ; the Persian name of that flower assimilates to the Hebrew.

The ladies having extended so far, the gentlemen must be deferred till my next.


My present communication shall begin with some common female names omitted in my last :

Alice, from the German Adeliz, signifies noble.

Amelia, I conceive to be from the French Amie, and Latin Amata, beloved.

Bertha, Saxon, bright, noble.

Bridget, the same, apparently Irish.

Emma is probably the same as Amie.

Emily, either the same as Amelia, or from the Roman aemilia, meaning in Greek, affable, pleasant.

Frances, German, free. It is convenient that Frances be so spelt, to distinguish it from the male Francis ; but there is no other reason for it.

I find from more than one authority, with respect to. Isabella, that Isa is a corruption of Eliza, and thus Isabella (an Italian, French arid Spanish name) signifies the beautiful Eliza.

Matilda, Saxon, a noble lady. Rachel, Hebrew, a sheep or lamb.

I now proceed with my list of male Christian names :

Abraham, Hebrew. However little difference there may appear between Abram and Abraham, we find in the 17th Chapter of Genesis, the Almighty talking with Abraham, and saying, " Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham, for a father of many nations have I made thee." Abram means a high father, Abraham the father of a great multitude, in short, a Patriarch.

Adolphus, Latinised from the Saxon Eadulph, happy help. Alexander, Greek, the defence of man.

Alfred, Saxon, all peace; the Hebrew Solomon, the Greek Irenæus, meant peaceable.

Alphonso, from Gothic Helfuns, our help.

Andrew, Greek, manly.

Anthony, signifies flourishing, thus this name may be synonymous with Thales and Euthalius of the Greeks, Florentius of the Romans : the Roman family might have come from Antium, a town of Italy, said to be so named from a son of Hercules.

Archibald, German, a bold observer.The name is very common in Scotland ; from Archee Armstrong, the fool of James the First, some have supposed the adjective arch, meaning waggish, witty, to have originated ; Mr. Archdeacon Nares, however, believes it to be of an earlier age.

Arthur, British, mighty ; or perhaps the name originated from the child being born under Arcturus (a star in the Great Bear).

Augustus, Latin, increasing (in wealth and honour) ; unless it come from the Greek, and mean splendid, illustrious. It was first given to Octavius Cæsar, and has ever since been common in princes' families; hence it almost becomes synonymous with the Greek Basil, royal, which was formerly used.

Bartholomew, Hebrew, the son of the raiser of the waters, that is, perhaps of God, in allusion to the passage of the Red Sea.

Benjamin, Hebrew, the son of the right hand, see Gen. xxxv. 18.

Charles. Carl or Kerl is an ancient word, by which strong and brave men are called ; it may thus answer to the Roman Valens, (meaning prevailing, valiant) whence Valentine; the Saxon ceorl meant a rustic, whence our churl; carle, derived from the same source, is used by Spenser in nearly the same sense, but with the Scotch it means an old man.

Christopher, Greek, bearing Christ. St. Christopher is said to have carried our Saviour on his back through the sea ; he is supposed to be a fictitious character—an allegorical representation of a true Christian. Paintings of St. Christopher, on a large size, were frequent ornaments in our early churches. [See The Antiquary, vol. viii. (1883), pp. 193-200.]

Daniel, Hebrew, God's judge, God hath judged, see Gen. xxx. 6. David, Hebrew, beloved, a friend.

Edgar, Saxon, happy honour.

Edmund, Saxon, happy peace.

Edward, Saxon, happy guardian.

Edwin, Saxon, happy winner or conqueror.

Eugene, Greek, well or nobly born.

Ferdinand, is of disputed origin. Camden, in his "Remaines," thinks it may come from the German words Fred and rand, pure peace. Francis, German, free.

Frederick, Saxon, rich peace.

George, Greek, a tiller of the earth ; Agricola was a Roman, Urian a Danish name of the same meaning. Georgia may have been so called from its being a country of husbandmen, as it is very fertile. The national Saint probably brought George into repute in England; and the name of Majesty must have made it more common during the last century.

Giles, "miserably disjointed," says Camden, by the French from the Latin Ægidius, Greek a kid; this appears an unlikely name, but he mentions a man whose name was Capella, meaning the same in Latin; it most probably, if from Ægidius, means bearing an aegis, or breast-plate, anciently made of goat's skin. Camden thinks, however, it may be derived from Julius, as Gillian from Juliana, which appears more likely from Jules being used for Julius in French.

Gregory, Greek, watchful, vigilant:.

Henry, if from the German Herric, rich lord, synonimous with the Greek Plutarch.

Horatio, Horace, is a Roman name, perhaps from the Greek, worth looking at, sightly.

Hugh, Dutch, high; or Saxon, joy, comfort.

Humfrey, Saxon, peace at home ; " a lovely and happy name," says Camden, "if it could turne home-warres between man and wife into peace."

Jacob, Hebrew, whence also our James, a supplanter. Stackhouse, in his History of the Bible, explains Jacob as one that taketh hold of, and trippeth up another's heels ; see its origin, Gen. xxv. 26 ; and in Gen. xxvii. 36, Esau says, " is he not rightly named Jacob, for he hath supplanted me these two times," etc.

Jeffrey, Geoffrey, Saxon, either joyful peace, or, if from Godfrey, good peace, or the peace of God.

Jeremiah, Hebrew, high of, or exalting the Lord.

I was much pleased with the derivations of Christian names given by Nepos in your Magazine for January, p. 32, and only regret the shortness of his catalogue. In vain has many a fair damsel cast her eye down the page with anxious expectation, in hopes of discovering the meaning of the word which was probably the first with which she became acquainted. You have too much gallantry, Mr. Urban, to reject any thing that may satisfy the curiosity, and perhaps add to the happiness of the fair ; I shall therefore attempt to fill up some of the deficiencies of your other Correspondent.

Agatha, from ayak, means good.

Amy, from Amie, French ; a fair friend.

Beatrice, from the Latin or Italian, a bestower of blessings.

Euphemia, from the Greek, fair of speech ; and Frances, free.—So far we have gone on well, the names are of auspicious omen, and happy they to whom they apply. Must I proceed further? Amelia is a sweet name, a pretty name.—Yes, and moreover, it admirably befits the sex to which it belongs, thoughtlessness.—What must we say of Ursula ? Vixens and termagants have long been out of fashion ; then, Ursula, I am afraid we cannot patronize thee, for if we believe what the vile Latin tells us, Ursula is a she-bear. And it grieves me to say that the soft, the innocent-sounding Cicely is derived from caecus, blind, or caecilia, a blind-worm.

But let us turn our thoughts away from these heathen etymologies, and consider what good and proper Christian names our forefathers have culled for us in the ample field of our own language—Charity, Constance, Faith, Grace, Patience, Prudence, Silence, Temperance. Who does not regret that these have given way to the fantastic names of the heroines of novels and romances ? Some of them indeed are not entirely discarded, but so mutilated and dislocated as not to be recognised without difficulty ; Grace is drawled out into Gratiana, and Rose fritted away into Rosabella. And the worst of it is, the affectation of these sesquipedalia verba is not confined to the circles of the rich and the fashionable. The fireside of the farmer echoes to the sound of Mary-Hariot and Louisa. Our workhouses and manufactories are filled with Selinas, Adelaides, and Virginias. If you go into the country you hear the greasy scullion cry to the parish 'Prentice, "Honoria, feed the pigs." If you walk through the town you hear a filthy hag exclaiming to her child, "Evelina, come out of the gutter."

John, signifying in Hebrew the grace or mercy of God, is apparently from the same root as Anne, and is used to express joy and rejoicing: we have a manifest reference to the peculiar import of this name in Luke i. 14, in regard to John the Baptist, "And thou shalt have joy and gladness, and many shall rejoice at his birth." Camden says, " John was thought so unfortunate in Kings, for that John King of England well neere lost his kingdome, and John King of France was long captive in England, and John Balioll was lifted out of his king-dome of Scotland, that John Steward, when the kingdom of Scotland came unto him, renouncing that name, would be proclaimed King Robert."

Jonathan, Hebrew, the gift of the Lord.

Joseph, Hebrew, addition, see its origin, Genesis xxx. 24. Joshua, Hebrew, the same as Jesus, a saviour.

Isaac, Hebrew, laughing. The name originated with the son of Abraham, so called from the joy of his parents at his birth. Gelasius was a Greek name of the same meaning.

Lancelot, Spanish, a little lance ; it is supposed to have been invented for the famous hero of romance, Lancelot of the Lake, whence it became a common name.

Laurence, Latin, flourishing like the bay, the Daphnis of the Greeks; or crowned with laurel.

Luke, if Hebrew, lifting up ; if Latin, splendid, or, in that case, why should it not share the glory of lucus in being a non lucendo, and tell us the child was found in a wood !

Mark, if Hebrew, high. Marcus was a Roman name, of which Dr. Littleton gives many derivations, the most probable are, either from being born in March, or from an old word meaning male.

Marmaduke, Saxon, more mighty.

Matthew, Hebrew, a gift or reward.

Michael, Hebrew, who is like God? Bp. Horsley considers it evident from the description of the archangel Michael in the tenth chapter of Daniel, that it is a name for our Lord Himself.

Nathaniel, Hebrew, the gift of God.

Nicolas, Greek, the conqueror of the people. Nicodemus, Demonieus, and Laodamas, were all Greek names of the same meaning. Oliver, Latin, from the olive-tree, an emblem of peace.

Patrick, Latin, patrician, noble.

Paul, Greek, or Latin, small. The Apostle was of low stature, but the similarity of sound between this and his Hebrew name Saul, might also contribute to his being so called (as Silas was changed to Silvanus, both having become Roman citizens) ; Paul being a common Roman name.

Peter, Greek, a stone, or rock. The name originated with our Saviour, when He said to His Apostle Simon: " Thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build My Church " (Matt. xv. 18).

Philip, Greek, a lover of horses, is a good name for a jockey; but when first used by the ancient Greeks was undoubtedly intended, as perhaps the greater part of the names of that heroic age, to convey the idea of the owner being a valiant warrior.

Ralph, from the Saxon Radulphe, help-counsel.

Richard, Saxon, rich heart.

Robert, Saxon, bright counsel.

Roger, German, guardian of rest.

Samuel, Hebrew, hearing, or heard by God.

Simon, Hebrew, listening, obedient.

Stephen, Greek, crowned.

Theodore, Greek, the gift of God.

Theophilus, Greek, a lover of God, or beloved by Him. Amadeus, and Amadis, Latin, have the same meaning.

Thomas, Hebrew, a twin, or double, as the Apostle's Greek name, Didymus, who might be so called also from his doubting our Lord's resurrection.

Timothy, Greek, one that honours God.

Walter, Saxon, a master of the woods, a forester, nearly answering to the Latin Silvanus. From the same source come the Weald of Kent, and Waltham in Essex (the town by the wood). Walter may also signify, however, the ruler of an army.

William, German, the defender of many. Verstegan in his " Decayed Intelligence," 1673, tells a long story concerning this name, saying that it was not anciently given to children, but to men for their merit ; for, during the wars between the ancient Germans with the Romans, the latter wearing gilt, the former un-ornamented helmets, when a valiant German slew one of their invaders, assuming his guild helm, he was afterwards named from it ; the French made it Guillaume, we William.

Those I have now endeavoured to explain are names really of frequent occurrence, and my lists might have been greatly enlarged by inserting those less commonly used, the signification of which are equally interesting. I have naturally noticed those most familiar to my own ear, but, at the same time, it is to be observed, that many Christian, as well as Surnames, are, it may almost be said, peculiar to a particular part of the country; for example, in the North of England there are Cuthberts and Osmunds (the names of their saints) without end, Cuthbert, Saxon, means bright knowledge, Osmund, Saxon, peace of the house, thus being similar to Humfrey.

The first principle on which Christian names are given is from some family relation ; this is not a bad reason ; the next is according to some fancied beauty of the sound ; but they who would give a name to their children in a right spirit, should consult, more than is the custom, the signification, which surely is a better standard on which to form a preference.

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