Given Names - Their Origins

Author: Robert W. Penry @2023

A previous page discussed the origin of surnames.  But there is also a history of given or first names.  This article will discuss those.
One of the most common is that of naming the first son after his father.  He becomes a Junior (Jr.)  There are many thousands of males in America who bear the same name as their father.  Females, of course, are not Juniors, but it is not unusual to see a firstborn daughter with the same name as her Mother.  
As a teenager I dated a girl who was the firstborn child in her family.  Her father’s name was Charles, so she was named Charly. 
In Christian countries, the New Testament was a common source of given names, especially those of Jesus’ apostles.  There are still many boys named Peter, Matthew, James, John, or Thomas. Occasionally we see Nathaniel, (Nate) Bartholomew (Bart),  Levi (Matthew was also called Levi), Philip, Simon, or Thadeus (Thad).  Judas is uncommon, but we sometimes see Jude.
Another type of given name is the derivatlve name.  This is when a nickname becomes a given name instead of the original name.  Examples:  Thomas – Tom, Robert – Rob or Bob, Mattthew – Matt, Peter – Pete,  Joseph – Joe. 


Another is when there are various spellings or variations of a name, which are often because the name is different in another language or country.  Example:  Mary, Mari, Marie, Maria.   Also Thomas, Tomas.  Also Joseph, Josef, Sepp, Yawsef.  Also Rebecca, Rebekah, Rebeka, Rebecka and Rhebekka. Also Jesus, Jezu, Isuds, Íosa, Iesu and many more. Sometime a name in English is pronounced different in another culture. Jesus is pronounced as ‘Heysoos’ in Spanish. 


In today’s society, newborns are often named after celebrities. There are many girls named Brittany, Taylor, Carrie, Olivia, Riley, Rose, Sarah or Skylar.  From the TV series “Stranger Things” we are starting to see children in school named Hopper, Joyce, Holly, Murray, Yuri, Billy, Jane.  Someone actually named their daughter Eleven Netflix!


We are also seeing names that are somewhat unusual such as Mackensie, Scout, Birch, Wolf, Lazer, Kacey, Cordelia, Jaelynn, Majesty, Sergeant, King, Boots, Cecelia, Giant, Caspian, or Quentin. Star Wars and Star Trek gave us children named Tiberius, Spock, Soran, Khan, Geordi, Worf, Rey, Obi, Anakin, Han, Padme, and Jinn. 


Many names travel throughout the world from immigrations.  Immigrates often name their children based on popular names from a home country.  We see Giorgos, Konstantine, Eleni, Katerina, Dimitri, Mia, Antonio, Camille, Gabriel, Alexsei, Dmitri, Wang, Li, Zhang, Chen, Zhao, Aldo, Ambrosio, Fuyoko, Shuto, Riko, Seojoon, Naeun, Ayaan, Abeba, Dakoka, Cheyenne, Kaya, Winona, Nina, and thousands more.
Sometimes a name is given in error.  Perhaps the mother or nurse didn’t know how to spell, or didn’t know the correct pronunciation.  Two real examples occur in my own family.  My wife gave birth to our daughter who was supposed to be named Rebekah.  The nurse spelled it Rebecca and that is now her legal name. The second example happened in a hospital in Virginia where my niece was the doctor.  A teenager gave birth to a girl but had not picked out a name.  She saw a poster on the hospital wall advertising a treatment for a disease.  The teenage mother said “That is pretty name, I am going to name her Chlamydia!  My niece told her that naming a child after a social disease was not a good idea and gave her some alternatives.
In my previous article on surnames, I discussed patronymics where the given name of a male is linked to the given name of  his father by a linking word.  In Russian, “Illych”, In Hebrew “ben”, In Welsh “ab or ap”.  The father’s given name often became a surname by adding a suffix to the name.  Peter became Peters or Peterson.  John became Johns or Johnson.  The welsh took the b or p from the patronymic link and Richard became Prichard, Owen became Bowen, etc. 


This leads me into a discussion of my own surname Penry which came from ap Henry.  My ancestor was Owen ap Henry from Wales.
Most of the names in Wales were from the Bible or were old Celtic names.  Henry was neither.  It origin was Germanic Saxon and meant “Ruler of the House”.  The name Henry arrived in the British Isles around the year 450 from the German North Sea coast. 
After the Norman invasion of 1066, the Saxons and Normans eventually co-mingled and intermarried.  The Saxons were never able to invade Wales.  The Welsh were warlike.  However, the Normans were able to occupy eastern Wales in an area called the Marches (pronounced ‘Mar-Shay’) which is a Norman French word.   The Norman families of Baskerville, Herbert and Bohun settled there.  The first name of Henry was part of the group – not a Celtic Name. 
I am also descended from the Norman Bohun family.  My family, not being Celtic, held positions in the English government.  My ancestor was Historiographer Royal to Charles II. 
Even though Kings Henry I through Henry VIII were Welsh, they were not popular in Wales.  When my ancestor took the surname Penry from ap Henry, the name was not popular. 
Henry the VIII was despised in Wales.  His daughter Elizabeth I wasn’t liked by the Welsh either.  This meant that not many children were named Henry in Wales and so the surname Penry is uncommon.  For the genealogist, this is great.  It means that almost all Penry’s in America are related!
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