A famous Arnold...


The web-based genealogy company ancestry.co.uk must be making huge wads of cash from the recent upsurge in enthusiasm for family history.  Ever since Who Do You Think You Are? first appeared on tv, people have been digging around in register offices, archives, graveyards and each other’s memories in order to fill out the often bare branches of family trees - my own family included.

In order to keep their name firmly at the forefront of this trend, the company recently published a fascinating report about an aspect of past-digging that rarely takes centre stage:  our ancestors’ forenames.  They have combed birth registers to come up with a list of names whose unquestioned popularity has been almost entirely eclipsed since about 1905 and which are very nearly - and, in some cases, completely - extinct (for want of a better word).

So, before a generation arises which simply doesn’t believe that these names ever existed  - let alone uttered unironically - I think it’s time we gave them a final airing.
A celebrated Dorothy...

Have you, for example, ever known anyone called Gertrude?  Or Blodwen?  Or Bertha? 

(My great-aunt’s next-door neighbour was called Bertha - and, as you’d expect, she looked the part.  Naturally, she joined a rich panoply of ‘adoptive aunties’ by whom I was surrounded in my youth - including...

- Aunty Norah, with that all-important ‘h’.  She was my godmother, but I wonder now how old the youngest person in England is who is called Nora(h);

- Aunty Sissy; Cecilia, presumably - a glorious name which is apparently making a comeback;

- Aunty Lil; Lily - a name which, I suspect, has no hope whatsoever of future popularity; and

- Aunty Topsy, whose name has genuinely puzzled me ever since her tall, thin and immaculately well-dressed figure stood at nana’s kitchen door; I feel seriously honoured to have had a Topsy in my life.)
An infamous Phyllis...

My great-aunt herself was called Mill.  It wasn’t short for anything - it was the only forename she was given and it’s the only one that appears on her headstone.  Despite extensive family research, no-one has found a satisfactory explanation as to why her Victorian parents chose the name for her.  Perhaps it was some sort of family in-joke.

In any case, I’ve never come across anybody else whose name was simply Mill.

But I digress…)

According to the report, we have already said Goodbye to Willie and Cecil and Rowland.  I draw a blank with all of those, as I do with Horace and Cyril and Arnold, all of which seem to have hit the baby-naming buffers once and for all (although I did once know a Norman (as it were).
Arguably the best-known Ethel EVER...

No little girls seem to have been christened Dorothy or Gwendoline or Phyllis for decades.  Where have all the Marions and Cynthias gone?  And when my great-aunt Ethel (Mill’s daughter-in-law) died last year, she may well have taken her name with her.

So spare a thought.  Although there is still at least one Ada gracing us with her presence - the august and venerable Honorary President of the Truckshunters - the world is surely a less richly-patterned place without an Agnes or an Edith in it.
Esther (my nana) and Mildred...

Two names on the list intrigued me, though.  Mam’s name was Mildred, which I’ve never heard applied to anyone else, before or since.  It now seems to have vanished forever.

And the other is Hilda, which is on the official ‘danger list’.  So we’d better look after our own Hildie really carefully; she carries an awesome responsibility….

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...is now hopelessly out-of-date.  I looked at it just now to remind myself of who I was and realised that it's now merely a description of who I was when I wrote it.

Please consider it a work in progress...

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Post comments on this blog or email me:  truckshunters@googlemail.com


Bentonbag said...

I knew a Mildred. She was married to one of my Dad's school-friends Morton, and I used to fight with their son on the school bus home. I only got to know Mildred and Morton when I started working in The Plough Inn (Rhosmaen) as a student. Mildred was a waitress in the restaurant and Morton a regular in the bar. He would come in the public bar at lunchtime, and if Mildred spotted him she would give him a 'look' through the serving hatch and Morton would shrug and mutter "Cold tongue for tea tonight" into his pint.
Mildred was the epitome of Dylan Thomas' "tidy wives". She would have made a great Lyons Corner House Nippy - always neat, clean, groomed, pretty and with just a hint of red lipstick. Morton, on the other hand. was a poacher and always had been.

Ian Robinson said...