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From the Biblical to the Bizarre: Puritan Names

A Puritan name in early New England was given for a purpose: either to remind a child of moral qualities, Biblical characters, family relations or a dead sibling.

Sometimes that didn’t go so well.

One Puritan child was named Mahershalalhasbaz. Another was Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.

Why the Puritan Names

It all stemmed from the ‘Puritan naming revolution’ that took place in England in the late 16th and early 17th century.

A Puritan minister explained, "a good name is as a thread tyed about the finger, to make us mindful of the errand we came into the world to do for our master."

Hence, a 5-year-old girl aboard the Mayflower was named Remember. There was a Constance, too.

Increase Mather, born in 1639, was so named in the midst of the Great Migration of Puritans. “Increase” meant "…the never-to-be-forgotten increase, of every sort, wherewith God favored the country about the time of his nativity."

Increase Mather

Increase Mather

The New England Puritans valued family ties, and children were often given the surnames of a parent. So Increase Mather named his son Cotton after his maternal grandfather, John Cotton.

Firstborn Puritans were likely to be named after their mother or father (never a godparent, considered Popish).

The Puritans loved to name their children after people in the Bible. In 17th century New England, 80 percent of children were given Biblical names. In Boston, 90 percent of all first were taken from the Bible; in Concord, 91 percent; in Hingham, 95 percent.

In 17th century Massachusetts, half of all girls were named Sarah, Elizabeth or Mary for their moral quailties. Obedient, hard-working Ruth was also a popular Puritan name, as were the names of the female prophets, Anne, Hannah, Deborah and Huldah.

John was the most popular Puritan name for boys, followed by Joseph, Samuel and Josiah.  Not so popular: Moses, Adam, Abraham and Solomon.

Not all Biblical names were equal. Almost never did the Puritans name their children Jesus, Angel, Emmanuel or Christopher. The Puritan minister Thomas Adams explained, "Emmanuel is too bold. The name is properly to Christ, and therefore not to be communicated to any creature."

Michael and Gabriel, the archangels, were popular names in Anglican Virginia but not in Puritan Massachusetts. The Puritans thought they were ‘not fit for Christian humility.’

But why Notwithstanding Griswold and Maybe Barnes? Maybe their parents shut their eyes, opened the Bible and pointed at a word.

Bizarre Puritan Names

The bizarre Puritan names came with the small percentage of immigrants from the county of Sussex in England. A 17th century list of jurors from that county included Make Peace Heaton, Be Faithful Joiner, Fight the good Fight of Faith White, God Reward Smart and Kill Sin Pimple.

Dancell-Dallphebo-Marke-Antony-Dallery-Galleiy-Caesar takes the cake for the longest and weirdest name.

Praise God Barebone

Praise God Barebone

Some names were meant to remind children of the world’s evil.  Humiliation Hynde doubled down on that effort: He named both of his sons Humiliation Hynde.

Praise-God Barebone was a leather worker who served in Parliament; the 1653 Parliament was called the Barebones Parliament.

The New England Puritans often named a child after a dead sibling. In Concord, Mass., Ephraim and Elizabeth Hartwell, married in 1732, had five children named Ephraim, Samuel, John, Elizabeth and Isaac. By 1740, they all died from throat distemper. The Hartwells had nine more children; five had the names of the ones who died.

The New England Puritans also kept in mind their station in life when naming their children.

David Hackett Fischer, in Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, notes:

On New England muster rolls, the name of Hezekiah the king of Judah appeared 10 times as often for officers as for enlisted men. Amos, the name of a simple herdsman, was generally more common among the rank and file.

With thanks to Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer.






  1. My ancestor was named Bezaleel. Bezaleel was the chief artisan of the Ark of the Covenant.

  2. Following on from the Puritans, here is the story of a uniquely named woman, once a resident of Ipswich, Mass. https://www.facebook.com/groups/ipswichhistory/permalink/1924066511190933/

  3. Not quite in the early Puritan settler group, my favourite ancestor’s name is Zerubbabel JEROME [b. 1715, Windham CT], who who named two of his sons [one died] Zerubbabel – 1745ish, 1750ish. None in later generations, it appears.
    And then there’s my children’s Mayflower connection to Resolved WHITE, son of Wm and Susannah WHITE. Another ‘firm’ name!

  4. Steven Weyand Folkers

    I do have a few interesting and by today’s standards, unfortunate names in my family tree. My fifth great grandfather was Preserved Tripp (1742 – 1801). I guess he was saved from the fall! Then there’s my eighth great grandparents Thomas Fish (1649 – 1684) who married Grizzel Strange (1645 – 1691), the Strange Fish wedding! But the name that takes the cake is their son’s. I don’t know if he was smoked, pickled, or dried, but his name was Preserved Fish!

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