I Dub Thee “Fly-Fornication”: Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (1880)

The Norman Conquest was above all else an invasion of names, suggests Charles Wareing Endell Bardsley in Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature (1880). Within a few generations, “Jack and Jill took the place of Godric and Godgivu as representative of the English sexes”. By the twelfth century, “nearly one-third of Englishmen were known either by the name of William or John”. A new type of designation was needed — pet- and nicknames became exceedingly popular. The suffix -kin cutified Anthony into Tonkin, Philip into Potkin; the diminutives -ot and -et made Evots out of Eves and Jills into Juliets. Even pets had pet names: Tomcats were popularly Gilbert (from Gib); the fashionably feminine Tib found new life as Tibet.

And then, in the wake of the Reformation, English nomenclature experienced a sea change once again, as Puritan naming practices turned toward the Bible and beyond for inspiration — intending “to separate the truly godly . . . from the world at large”. Names unthinkable in 1558 were “household words” by 1603. “What a spectacle meets our eye !”, exclaims Bardsley as he spelunks church records for nominal gems. In a chapter titled “Puritan Eccentricities”, we meet Kill-sin Pimple, Zeal-of-the-land Busy, Muche-merceye, More-fruit Fowler, Sin-denie, Fear-not, Accepted, Thankful, Job-rakt-out-of-the-asshes, and the delightful Fly-fornication. In their war against idolatry, argues Bardsley, Puritan parents allowed themselves the indulgences of onomastic excess. The seventeenth-century progenitors of the Barebone children were particularly inspired. Praise-God was raised in a linguistically distinguished family, alongside his brothers Jesus-Christ-came-into-the-world-to-save and If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned. Names were blunter but no less evocative in America. During a section on eponyms of circumstance, Bardsley meets one Preserved Fish, a child rescued from the wreck of a ship off the New Jersey coast.

Born in Burnley, Lancashire in 1844, Bardsley attended Oxford and then made his career in the church, writing fiction in the off hours. The most pleasing works, however, are his picaresque adventures in nomenclature. After digesting Puritan curiosities, we recommend curling up with The Romance of the London Directory (1879) and Our English Surnames: Their Sources and Significations (1875). Not merely a linguistic antiquarian, Bardsley saw the late-Victorian period as particularly vulnerable to newfangled forms of designation. He concludes Curiosities of Puritan Nomenclature with a rant against the proliferation of baptismal and middle names — something he experienced firsthand in his clerical duties. “We have reached the stage when three baptismal names are almost as common as two; and we cannot but foresee, if this goes on, that, before the century is out, our present vestry-books will be compelled to have the space allotted to the font names enlarged. As it is, the parson is often at his wits’ end how to set it down.”