In 2016, our blog featured research I had been undertaking into the naming of children after key places and personnel related to the First World War: this post picked up a great deal of interest. I’m still getting comments and questions about it, two years on – and with the impending centenary of the Armistice of the First World War, it seems timely to update the findings.
In my preliminary research, I looked at first names of children born between 1914 and 1939, and this research focuses on the period 1919-1939. Again, I have focused on first names: not all middle names are listed in summaries of the General Register Office indexes, although there are further sources which indicate that many of these names appeared as middle names of children born during this period. The lack of consistency in the recording of middle names through publicly-available resources means that it is difficult to be sure that the full data set has been realised.
Around 1,600 babies with First World War inspired names were born between 1914 and 1919: find more information about these names. In addition to this pool of unusually-named children, my research focuses on the children named in accordance with events in the immediate aftermath of the First World War.
Victor and Victoria were fairly popular names during the First World War – but in the December quarter of 1918, and in 1919 more generally, there was a marked increase in the number of children named thus. In comparison to the previous December registrations, there was a 48% increase in boys called Victor and a 45% increase in girls called Victoria. Overall, in comparison to 1917, there was a 51% increase in the number of children named Victor or Victoria in 1918.
There were also a number of children born after November 1918 called Victory – 36 in the December quarter of 1918 and 69 in 1919, in addition to one child who was named Victorious! Of the children named Victory born in 1919, it is notable that 52 of them had their birth registered in the September quarter – connecting their conceptions, perhaps, rather than their births to the end of the First World War.
In the December quarter of 1918, there were other themes emerging in the names. No children had been named Peace since 1915, but in the last quarter of 1918, 27 children were registered with the name Peace and one with Peaceful. Across 1919, this name continued to appear in the registrations; notably 42 births registered in the September quarter of 1919, with Peaceful and Peaceirenis also making an appearance. There were a total of 53 babies born in 1919 with Peace as the principle part of their name.
On a similar theme, the name Irene – which is derived from the Greek work for peace – also saw a surge in popularity. Irene was a fairly popular name during the First World War, but during 1919 it saw an increase of over 20%. Again, there was a notable increase in registrations during the September quarter of 1919 which saw almost 2,000 girls named Irene, an increase of 43% on the previous quarter. The following quarter saw a further 2,200 girls named Irene, an increase of 11% on the previous three months.
In addition to this thematic pattern emerging in the naming trends in the late 1910s, there were also a number of babies named Armistice born in the later months of 1918 and in 1919. Eleven children were given Armistice as a first name after November 1918, and evidence suggests that a good number of those were born on 11 November itself. There were another four babies named Armistice as a first name in 1919, and the name continued to appear intermittently throughout the 1920s, with ultimately 27 children named Armistice. Many of those were born on Armistice Day.
A geographical association with events of the First World War continued to show itself in the naming trends of children in 1919, too. In the June quarter of 1919, three children were named Versailles – no doubt after the treaty signed by the Allies in the same month. There were not any children given Paris as a first name, however, in this period.
The final and perhaps most notable naming trend can be tied to the emergence of the poppy as the recognised symbol of Remembrance during the 1920s. During the Victorian era, there had been a significant fashion for floral names; however Poppy, although extant in the birth records, never really took off in the way that some of the other flower names such as Rose or Violet did. Between 1900 and 1920, there were an average of nine children named Poppy each year, totaling 169 altogether. After 1921, however, there was a significant take up of the name: 404 children were named Poppy between 1921 and 1930, averaging 40 each year. It is also worth noting that the use of the name Poppy peaked each year in the December quarter of registrations, and continued to do so well into the 20th century.
Overall, it’s been fascinating to look into these naming patterns and to research what this might tell us about the impact of the First World War on this aspect of daily life. When I first began looking into this, it appeared that there was potentially a great deal of memorialisation going on in the naming of children in this way, often closely linked to the service and/or death of a close male relative. As this research project has grown, it has become apparent that there are significant clusters of these names in particular registration districts where the majority of employment was in reserved occupations, especially in coal mining areas. Perhaps the naming of these children might be more closely tied to an explicit expression of patriotism, perhaps, rather than memorialising military service. Equally, it is entirely possible that these names and places had become such an accepted part of daily life in that period of time that they naturally transferred into the lexicon of names for children.
Ultimately, while we can try and suppose the motivation for these names, without the ability to travel back in time and quiz these parents, it is unlikely that we will ever know the answers to the questions that this pattern of naming generates.