Battle babies

Four girls and a baby, by F M Sutcliffe (detail)

Four girls and a baby, by F M Sutcliffe (catalogue reference: COPY 1/419 (ii) (detail))

The subject of naming babies after battles arose as much as a result of curiosity as anything else. The home front during the First World War has of late been a research area at the forefront of my mind and the impact that the war was having upon daily life can be considered through examining data such as names. It has been fascinating to discover the extent to which children were named after First World War battles, key military figures and the outcome of the war itself. Whilst some of these names have passed out of use entirely since the First World War, it is interesting to note that some families have continued to include these names as middle names, thus continuing the tradition right up until the present day.

For the purposes of this research, I only looked at first names between 1914 and 1939. This is largely because not all middle names are listed in summaries of the General Register Office indexes, though there are further sources which indicate that many of these names appeared as middle names of children born during this period. Around 1600 babies with First World War inspired names were born between 1914-1919 (though many of these names continued to appear in the GRO lists right up until the beginning of the Second World War, and some even beyond that). Around 220 of these children died as infants, which represents around a 14% mortality rate. It is heart-breaking to consider that mothers might name their child for the battle which had claimed their father, only to then lose the child shortly afterwards.

Battle names (C) Crown Copyright - Infographic courtesy of The National Archives

First World War inspired names peaked in 1916 – 812 children born in this year were given First World War inspired names, with 378 born in the June quarter that year alone (more than in the entirety of 1917 and 1918 combined!). There was a notable surge in such names appearing in the indexes of the December quarter in 1918, as you might expect.

The following battles appear as the names of children born 1914-1919:

Argonne; Arras; Cambrai; Cavell; Neuve Chappelle; Dardanelles; Delville & Delville Wood; Flanders; Heligoland; Helles; Isonzo; Jutland; Krithia; Liege; Loos; Marne; Messines; Mons; Paschendaele; Soissons; Somme; Thierry; Verdun; Vimy Ridge; Ypres.

It is not always clear whether these children are male or female from the GRO indexes, as gender is not specified, but feminine versions of several of the ‘battle names’ do occur. These include Sommeria, Arrasina, Verdunia, Monsalene and Dardanella. Several of these names do not appear either before 1914 or long after the end of the war in 1919, though some such as Jutland and Somme make a brief reappearance during the Second World War. For example, there are no births registered for ‘Ypres’ before 1914. Only one child was named Paschendale, born in July 1918. A further three girls and two boys have Passchendale (or variant spellings) as their middle names, and were all born between 1917 and 1920. Four children named Vimy Ridge were born between 1916-1918 (two boys, two girls) and a further four (two boys, two girls) had the name in full as a middle name between 1916-1920. One child was named Delvillewood, whilst another two were named Delville Wood. Perhaps their parents felt Delville was more passable as a day to day moniker…

Parents were also inspired by prominent figures during the First World War, and this is reflected in the birth indexes. 11 children were named Haig and 166 were named Kitchener between 1914-1919.

Hero and end of war names (C) Crown Copyright - Infographic courtesy of The National Archives

There was a decline in the registration of these war inspired names during 1918, presumably as the general population wearied of war. Only 151 children with such names were registered in 1918, down from 228 in 1917. It should be noted that the December quarter saw a remarkable surge – 88 children (over half) were so named, but the names chosen in this quarter are far more telling. Only one child born between 1914-1918 was named Peace, and then in the December quarter 1918, 28 were registered. 36 babies named Victory were born in December quarter 1918, with a further 69 babies named Victory born during 1919. There was also another name emerging in 1918, though it should be noted that almost all children named Armistice or who have Armistice as a middle name were born on November 11th or thereabouts.

Finally, with peace in mind, the data shows that only 36 girls were named Poppy during the First World War, with a further 8 in 1919. However, from 1920, the name grew in popularity, and peaked every year in the December quarter. This is almost certainly linked with the adoption of the poppy as a symbol of remembrance by the British Legion which was established in 1921.

Registration districts across England and Wales feature in this data set, but it is notable that popularity of names is more marked in some areas than others. South Wales features prominently, as does Yorkshire, London and the North East. It isn’t always clear why this is – in some instances it is likely that a regiment engaged in a particular battle had a strong connection to that area, but in others and especially with the Battle of Verdun where the name is especially popular, the connection is not obvious. If anyone has any insight into the naming patterns, I would be interested to hear them.

52 comments

  1. David Underdown says:

    Louvain is another example, appearing after reprted German atrocities there during the invasion of Belgium in 1914. The city is now better known by its Flemish name Leuven. The deliberate destruction of the university library by German troops caused international outcry. The library was rebuilt after the war, but sadly its replacement was destroyed during the Second World War.

    There do not seem to be any records of it being used as a personal name in England and Wales until 1914, but it then became quite popular, outweighting all the battle babies (except Verdun) with over 300 instances of Louvain or Louvaine up to the end of 1919. It seems to retain some currency until the early 70s (and I’m aware of someone in their twenties who has it as their middle name, and is now known by it). South Wales again seems to be a stronghold of the name.

    1. Helen Judson says:

      Ebbw Vale in S Wales has a Louvain Terrace. I do not know when the houses were built but they would definitely have been built well before WW2.

    2. Sophie says:

      Many thanks for providing this information David. My great aunt, Alice Louvaine Staveley was born in 1914 and the meaning of her name has always been a family mystery. She died when she was 11, and it was always assumed it was a nod to some French ancestry. This link makes such more sense, particularly as my Grandad, who was born in 1918, was named Victor for Victory.

    3. David Underdown says:

      The Welsh connection may be a certain fellow feeling for another “small nation”. Quite a large number of Belgian refugees were accepted in Wales, and whereas there had been strong feelings in Wales against the Boer War (contrast also Lloyd George’s attitude to the two wars), there was outrage at teh treatment of Belgium by Germany.

      It’s worth noting that in addition to babies the Royal Navy also named a destroyer after Verdun, and it was HMS Verdun that was selected in 1920 to carry the coffin of the Unknown Warrior back from France. Previously she carried the King and Queen through the interned German High Seas Fleet at Scapa Flow shortly after the Armistice. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Verdun_(L93)

    4. Jeremy Hawker says:

      My aunt was registered as Violet L (for Louvain) Dowse in Merthyr Tydfil (not far from Ebbw Vale) in March 1915. Her parents were from Bristol, but my grandfather was in South Wales working as a coal miner; presumably not the only outsider working there as a coal miner during the war. He had a link with Belgium, as 2 of his brothers and his brother-in-law were all killed there in Sept-Oct 1914, part of the British Expeditionary Force that tried to resists the German advance around Ypres.

    5. Bill says:

      My father Stanley Louvaine Jarvis was born in 1915 in Toronto, Canada while his father Frederick William Jarvis was serving with the Canadian army at Louvaine Belgium. While he was there he made a variety of items out of shell casings, some with the name of his new son on them.
      Might be interesting to expand the search to the other expeditionary forces who served overseas.

      Best regards
      Bill

  2. Richard Webb says:

    My late mother-in-law was actually born on Armistice Day 11th November 1918 and was named Winifred as they had just won the war…! In fact she later shortened it to just Wynne.

  3. Tim Dunce says:

    A stimulating concept. My aunt, Irene Joan Dunce, was born on 28th June 1919, the day the peace treaty was signed at Versailles. Family lore has it that she was thus christened because ‘Irene’ is the Goddess of Peace.

  4. David Matthew says:

    Some of the names could have been used by Belgian refugees in the UK but the use of names does not mean that it refers to the link to the Battle of Verdun in the First World War, there are example on ancestry that are for people who were born in the 1880s and there was of course the Battle of Verdun in 1792. If you go the death indexes you will find some of the middle names. A number of men with the name of Verdun (which itself has variations going back over centuries) were killed, see the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website. As with Belgium names there are usually two versions (i.e. Liege or Luik, Mons or Bergen, Gent or Ghent, Antwerp, Antwerpen or Anvers).

    Incidentally Bedwellty has been mis-spelt as Bedwelty in your graph.

  5. Jan Longmuir says:

    My mother ,born 1915, was named Davina Beatty after Admiral David Beatty.

  6. David Clarke says:

    My mother was born in March 1918, with Christian names Frances Lorraine. So we know where my grandfather was then, in the Royal Engineers after returning from his wounds on the Somme in 1916. An earlier child was born in 1915 (though he died only a few months old) named Romney. Grandfather’s original unit, the 9th battalion Leicestershire Regiment, was based in Romney before going to France.

  7. Peter Ewart says:

    This fascinating phenomenon from the Great War was a continuation of a long held tradition in Britain which had manifested itself particularly strongly at the turn of the century, with the unprecedented level of “battle babies”, as well as those named after senior British military figures in the field, during the Anglo-Boer War of 1899-1902.

    In particular, at the very beginning of the war, a sudden surge of babies carried the names Colenso or Dundee, and very soon afterwards, with Black Week and its aftermath in mind, names such as Spion Kop (one or both), Magersfontein, Modder or Modder River and Pretoria, etc., etc. were quickly popular, more often as middle names. Those babies named after Gen Redvers Buller swamped all other “hero” names, with the moniker entirely unknown in birth registration records before the end of 1899, after which both Redvers and Buller became extremely fashionable throughout the war, the second usually as a middle name but Redvers for both first and middle. Other prominent figures also came in for “naming” but none so numerously as Buller, even after his removal from the scene.

    This patriotic trend, which had apparently peaked only a dozen or so years before 1914, was clearly ready for a second innings as soon as the Great War began, with Mons very popular right from “the off.” It is apparent that research into Great War babies’ names should reflect – and be linked with – the established pattern of 1899-1902 and just after.

  8. Peter Lane says:

    My paternal grandfather enlisted in June 1915 as an RE tunneller.
    His daughter born that year was named Lily Louvain. She died eraly summer 1916.
    He died of wounds in February 1916, and his daughter born August 1916 was named Irene Verdun…

  9. Stuart Tamblin says:

    Para 2 says that you “only looked at first names between 1914 and 1939” but later, you say “three girls and two boys have Passchendale (or variant spellings) as their middle names”. Did you look at middle names or not? I only ask because our family has a girl born Jan 1916 with Ypres as her middle name and I am interested as to the portion in which she falls. I also once met a gent born 1941 with Verdun as a middle name. Neither of these would be evident from the GRO indexes which have middle initials only.
    Lastly, a GRO search for “Vimy Ridge” as forenames brings up five instances 1916-1918. Have you obtained birth certificates to prove that four are “Ridge” and one isn’t?

  10. Clwyd Wynne says:

    This report appeared in the local paper in June 1915
    DEAD DENBIGH SOLDIER’S LITTLE CHILD. A pathetic incident is set forth by a notice in our birth’s column today. The wife of Private Robert Thomas Jones, 96, Henllan street, has within the last few days given birth to a daughter, which has been named France May, because the dear little one will never know her father, he having laid down his life in France in May. He was one of the brave Denbigh men who in the desperate battles of last month was killed. Much sympathy goes out to his wife, who in her hour of trial has also to bear the calamity of widowhood. The deceased soldier was the son of the late Samuel Jones, who at one time was workman and then foreman of the Corporation workmen of Denbigh, prior to the late Meyrick Evans. The mother still survives, and is much sympathised with. 12 June 1915.

  11. Roger Clipsham says:

    My aunt’s middle name was Verdun – March 1916- only a month into the battle which went on for many months, so it wasn’t celebrating a victory or even the end of a battle, and I found many other women with this middle name on genealogy websites. I’m still waiting for an explanation as to why this one was the most popular, when it was entirely fought by the French on the allied side. So there were no British losses. Could it be it was seen as the turning of a tide at the time, or was it simply a gesture of solidarity with the French?

  12. Anne Mellors says:

    Interesting study! 30 years ago in Lanarkshire, I had a work colleague whose first name was Cambrai – she was a young woman, and I think her grandfather may have served at Cambrai in WW1. Perhaps it had become a family name by that time? (I do feel a bit sorry for the recipients of some of the names mentioned, though!)

  13. Anthea Lang says:

    I’ve carried out similar research to this. Two children were given the rather unfortunate first name of Tanky while I have also found Zeppelina and Lusitania.

  14. Lalita Carlton-Jones says:

    My aunt, Yvonne Thompson was not born until 1927 the sixth child. She was named Yvonne after the train which took my Grand Father and his men of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers to safety in St. Malo at the end of the war before sailing back to England.

  15. Norman Young says:

    My wife’s mother was born in October 1915 in the Pembrokeshire village of Lampeter Velfrey. She was named Mabel Doris Louvain Lewis, but the civil registration index shows her as Mabel D L Lewis, thus giving only her first name in full. This seems to have been the style used for the majority of entries in the civil index, although second names were also given occasionally. I suspect that many if not most parents who decided to give war a related name would choose to give it as a second or third name, and so statistics derived from the civil indexes for such names may be only the tip of the iceberg.

  16. Jessamy Carlson says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your stories. It’s fascinating to hear the different examples.

    The principle data source was the General Register Office indexes, which you can search online. Our data analysis focused on first names only, but there is a lot more which could be identified through further analysis of records e.g. the death indexes which often include middle names.

    1. Kim says:

      Jessamine
      My forenames are Kimberley and Parker. I was told that this was to retain a family name of Parker which was going to be lost and that someone of that name had fought in the Seige of Kimberley. I wasn’t aware of the earlier tradition of ‘baby battle names’. However the Boer War predates your study.

    2. Kim says:

      Sorry for the misspelling, auto text ‘corrected’ your name without me noticing.

  17. Katherine Simpson says:

    My grandfather was christened Alma as were some of his ancestors after
    the Battle of Alma in the Crimean War. This did cause confusion later in life as the name was then regarded as a female name.

  18. Norman Young says:

    Readers who have access to newspaper archives may like to see a group of articles about war-related names in the Western Mail – as early in the war as 3Apr1915 (search on ‘Louvain’).

    I recently learned from a talk given by Dr Christophe Duclerq – who has extensively researched the Belgian refugees who came to UK in WW1 – that of the 4,000 or so who came to Wales about a thousand of them came to Pembrokeshire where Mabel Doris Louvain Lewis (my mother-in-law) was born. Some were housed together in groups (such as those at nearby Rhydygors, in Carms), but others were probably dispersed. It would have taken only one or two of them, living with local people, to motivate Doris’s parents (and also those of a nearby friend) to choose Louvain for one of the names of both their daughters, but records for the refugees there are almost non-existent. Louvain, in Belgium, is well known of course as having suffered appalling atrocities and destruction early on at the hands of the Germans.

  19. Mrs M J Miles says:

    My great-uncle-by-marriage Aubrey Paine ( Payne) was born in ?1915 ( the youngest of 12) in Harpole, Northants. He was named Aubrey after the battle of Aubers Ridge as his eldest brother Tom was in France fighting in this battle at the time, having enlisted on 4 August 1914 aged 17.

  20. Janet says:

    My Great Uncle’s middle name was Norval after Norvalspont in South Africa. He was born in 1901 and his father was serving there during the Boer War at the time.

  21. Heather Williams says:

    I’ve been carrying out some research for a project and was recently told that a boy was called Mons – after the battle. He was named this by his mother whilst his father, known as Harry Jones (his actual name was Henry), was still in France. Shortly afterwards Harry Jones was killed in France on 1 March 1915. Letters which Harry wrote to his wife are in Denbighshire Archives in Ruthin

  22. Alexander Jackson says:

    Perhaps it might be worth looking at how many boys were called Victor around the end of the war? My grandfather was born on Nov 9th, 1918 and instead of naming him John after his father, as was normally done in the family, he was named Victor. His father, John Thomas Jackson, volunteered for the Durham Light Infantry and was serving in the Labour Corps in France when his son was born. On his service record we found that he initially recorded the 9th as the date of birth during his applications for war disability payments but within a few years was recording it as Nov 11th. In our family we always celebrated the 11th as Victor’s birthday and only found out it was the 9th after he died and we found the birth certificate.

  23. Jeffrey Davies says:

    My father was one of twins born in Tafarnaubach nr Tredegar. Both had Welsh first names, Ieuan and Morlais but their middle names were Lorraine and Verdun. Thought it was uncommon but now know not so.

  24. Stephen shields says:

    My uncle Arthur was posted missing during the battle of the Somme. My grandmother who I never met gave birth to a baby girl named violet Somme martin. Shortly after myunvle was found safe and well anddurbivrf the war

  25. Val Horton says:

    I was born in 1950, my given names give me the initials V.J. and my father was in Burma during WW2. I have come across quite a few people the same age (+ – 2 yrs) who have the same initials, and whose fathers were also in Burma, not necessarily FEPOWs.

  26. Stephen Benham says:

    Continuing the Welsh theme, the background level of birth registrations of ‘Hedd’ (‘Peace’) and compounds such as Heddwyn, Heddwen, Heddfron and Heddwch is less than one a year pre-war. This jumps to six in the Dec. 1918 quarter, and then seven in Sept. 1919. The only other peaks are June 1945 (9) (but with no repeat peace premium in 1946), Dec. 1959 (7), and March 1975 (6).

    > Alexander Jackson, re. Victor.
    In the case of ‘Buddug’ (‘Victoria’, the modern version of Boudica), the background level is two or three births most quarters, with only a slight swelling of numbers in 1918 and in 1943-1945.

  27. Richard White says:

    When I started work at the Foreign Office in 1969 I sat opposite Verdun Petain Friend, known to his colleagues as Pete and his wife as Verdun (rhyming with Burden!). The 1970 Diplomatic Service list gave his date of birth as 10 March 1916.

  28. Dana Brown says:

    My mother was born 14th Dec. 1914 and named Cressy. Her Dad James Barlow was a Stoker on H.M.S. Cressy, one of the three ships of “The Live Bait Squadron” which had been sunk 3 months before on 22nd Sept 1914.
    One of my middle names is Cressy and I have a niece with the middle name of Cressy.

  29. Chris Betts says:

    Very interesting, I’ve always been proud of my middle name ‘Verdun’ passed on to me from my grandfather who was born in 1916 and first in our family to have Verdun as a middle name. Sadly he passed away some years ago, long before I had any interest in ancestry – I just assumed that is was because his father was away fighting in WW1 and although he eventually returned a year or so later at the time he was believed to be missing / killed in action, all of which coincided with the battle of Verdun.

  30. David Parker says:

    Although no British troops were not directly involved in the Battle of Verdun there was a strong contingent of British Red Cross taking part. I have a passport and Croix de Guerre with two mentions in dispatches citation for one member and the citation with one mention in dispatches and medals for another. So maybe this could have some connection.

  31. Melissa Hermes says:

    This is a very interesting article and thought-provoking. I wondered if it carried over to The States and sure enough I found children named Verdun and Mihiel, often as a middle name, and even an example of one little boy named Belleau Wood (nickname “Billy”).

  32. Jane Cunio says:

    My mother was Eunice Louvain, and was born in 1915. Her sister Marion was born in an earlier conflict – her middle name was Pretoria!

  33. Richard Lloyd says:

    A very interesting bit of research, I would love to know why there was such a concentration of Verdun as a name in the South Wales valleys?

  34. Marigold Cleeve says:

    Followers of this blog might also be interested in a short article which appeared in the Autumn 1915 issue of The Green Tiger (the journal of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment Association) on this theme of naming babies after battles.

    The article is freely available online at:
    http://www.royalleicestershireregiment.org.uk/archive/journals/green-tiger-2015-spring-present/2015-autumn/592921

  35. Rob Illingworth says:

    We have an entry for the birth of Tiny Somme Gray on our online timeline of Kent & Medway During the First World War: http://www.kent.gov.uk/ww1

    20th March 1917

    Tiny Somme Gray born in Northfleet

    Tiny Somme, daughter of Emma and Herbert Gray, is named after the Somme, where her father was killed in action in October 1916.

    In 1916 Tiny Somme’s father, Herbert Grey, from Tooley Street, Northfleet, was conscripted into the Army and joined the Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment). In June 1916 he returned home on leave and during that time his daughter was conceived.

    Just four months later, on 22nd October 1916, Herbert Grey was killed in action in the Somme, at the age of 33.

    Five months after her husband’s death, Emma Gray gives birth to a baby girl and she names her daughter Tiny Somme in memory of Herbert.

    An article about Tiny Somme Hammond, nee Gray, features on the BBC News Magazine Monitor webpage: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-magazine-monitor-31967883

    Mrs Hammond passed away on the 9th of August last year: http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/13639661.TINY_SOMME_HAMMOND/?ref=arc

    The timeline also features an entry for the birth of Raida Margaret Fanny Collins:

    4th November 1917

    Child named ‘Raida’ after Air Raid over Newington

    Raida Margaret Fanny Collins is christened in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Newington, near Sittingbourne.

    Raida was born on the night of an air raid over Newington in September.

    Her christening is recorded in the diary of Florence Fitch Palmer, organist at the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Newington.

    For further information see the book “Newington Remembers: Our village and its people at the time of the Great War” produced by Newington History Group.

  36. Nancy Man says:

    If the babies named Dardanella were born in the early 1920s, they may have been named with the popular song “Dardanella” (1919) in mind as opposed to the Dardanelles Campaign.

  37. Liza says:

    My grandmother Mary Louvain born 1915 in England. Middle name Louvain for Luerven Belfium where her Uncle was fighting the war. My mother Ann Louvain(1938) England, myself Liza Louvain(1968) USA and my daughter Camryn Louvain(1999) USA. We didn’t realize it was a ‘battle baby’ name until I started to research.

  38. Mark McGuinness says:

    This is our Australian connection. Dad’s Mother Lila lost two brothers, Leslie and Sidney Woods. She named Dad after the older brother and the town of Mons, although Australians were not engaged there. Dad’s name, Leslie Mons McGuinness.

  39. Jim McGregor says:

    My great-grandfather served in the Great War and had a daughter, Malta Marea in 1915. There is conjecture in the family that she was so-named because he served in Malta around that time.
    Unfortunately, Malta Marea died in 1918 and there is no positive proof that this is how her name came about.
    Marea means ‘tide’ in several Mediterranean languages.

    Your article (via BBC News) is very fascinating and has spurred me to do more research on this interesting name.

  40. Paul Rodgers says:

    I wish I’d found this blog sooner. My paternal nan was born Charlotte La Bassée Alice Wright on 2 January 1915. I know that there was a battle at La Bassée in France in October 1914, but I have been unable to find out whether any of her (and my) relations were involved in that battle. Because of the restrictions on service records I only have records that my nan had applied for as next of kin prior to her death in 1999.

    Amongst her papers, photographs and relics I have a ‘dog tag’ for another Wright, but I’ve been unable to match the number and regiment on it definitely to any of my relatives I knew in my lifetime (I was born in 1968) or other ancestors.

    I’m looking forward to today’s PM programme on BBC Radio 4, which my brother tipped me off about, which will feature people who have had these names passed down to now. There have been no female births in the line from my nan down, do this rare name hasn’t been passed within our family.

    I mention this mainly because I can’t see any reference to La Bassée amongst the list of commemorated battles.

    1. Danny Wilde says:

      Hello Paul, my Grandfather was with the 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment who were at the battle of La Bassee Oct 1914, where he was wounded, after his recovery he was transferred to the 5th Battalion who went on to Gallipoli and Mesopotamia, my Father was born 22nd Dec 1915 his was Ronald La Bassee Shrapnel Wild my Grandfather died from wounds while in Mesopotaima 10/ 05/1916.

  41. Stuart Harrington-Rutterford says:

    My 6 month old son’s middle name is Arras, in memory of his grandfather Reginald John Arras Pinn. As his father was fighting in Arras when he was born.

  42. mel says:

    My uncle, born in 1916, was named James Festubert (registered as James F). We assume it’s because my grandfather fought in that battle just before James was born. There are five or so other babies registered with Festubert as a first name from around that time.

  43. […] Information supplied by UK National Archives – Read Jessamy Carlson’s blog here  […]

  44. Val says:

    A cousin of my mother’s was born during the Battle of Verdun, so was given the name for that reason rather than a family member or friend being killed.

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