This article by Auguste Messervy, widow of the Rev J A Messervy, was first published in the 1922 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise. It has been translated from the original French by Mike Bisson.
It seems that a short study on this subject would not be without interest. It will cover the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, for which we have sufficiently accurate information.
Variety of names
First we speak of baptismal names in general. When one reads Jersey manuscripts, particularly contracts, older than about 1600, one is struck by the variety, originality and above all strangeness of the names given to the newly-born, such as (for boys) Abbey (Abé), an abbreviation of Bernabé or a corruption of Abel, Ambroise, Aubin, Blaise, Boniface, Cardin, Cherubin, Clair, Cosmes, Drouet, Fremin for Firmin, Gires, Gratien, Gregoire, Guyon or Gyon, Fleury, Janequin, Jehannet, Lubin, Philbert, Phinées, Perrin, Perrotin, Pontus, Romain, Toussaint, Sylvestre, etc; for girls, Blaisotte, Bonne, Cardine, Collette, Cherie for Pulcherie, Douce, Gillette or Girette, Genette, Honorée, Inde, Lucasse, Michelle, Perrine, Perrotine, Rode, Sainte, Toutesainte, Tiphagne or Tiphaine, Unité, etc.
For example, in a document of about 1585, we have found mention of Pontus Beaugy, grandson of Cherubin Beaugy.
Alternation of names
In the 16th and 17th centuries is often found the remarkably regular alternation of two forenames over several generations. For example, Philippe Falle, the historian, was the elder son of Thomas Falle, son of Philippe, son of Thomas, son of Philippe, son of Thomas, son of Philippe. That's alternation over seven generations.
The paternal grandfather was usually godfather of his eldest grandson and gave him his name, or 'called him' according to the expression which one encounters in the old parish registers. In the same era habit can be noted: that is that the same baptismal name was often given to two brothers or two sisters. Jean Herault snr and Jean Herault jnr, brothers, sons of Thomas) were living in 1615. One became Bailiff of Jersey, the other was Denonciateur from 1618 to 1632.
There were Jean Cabot snr and Jean Cabot jnr, brothers, and Jean Clement, snr and Jean Clement jnr, brothers. It would be easy to quote many other examples. It also happened, but more rarely, that three brothers or three sisters had the same forename; which presents the genealogist attemting to trace direct masculine lines with some difficulties.
Three sisters Jeanne
In 1631 three sisters by the name of Jeanne Vibert shared the estate of their father, who lived in St Martin in the Fief de Rozel.
In two contracts of partage in 1633 and 1635 between the children of Richard Dolbel, we have found three sisters named Elizabeth Dolbel, two named Marie and another named Isabel, which was the equivalent of Elizabeth. Richard Dolbel had seven daughters and did not take much trouble to vary their names. In another contract there were three sisters called Marguerite.
So one sees from these examples that the tradition of three brothers called Jean, with nicknames according to the place they occupied in the same bed, is not impossible nor contrived.
What could have been the reasons behind this strange habit? Probably the desire to perpetuate certain names in these families, and because there was a substantial infant mortality rate in these days, one gave the second or third son the same name as the eldest. One hoped thus to avoid the loss of the forename through the death of one of the children.
When this did not happen, the brothers and sisters of the same name were distinguished in public documents by the addition of senior and junior. How their father and mother distinguished between them I leave to the reader to conjecture.
Everyone called Jean
From 1600 the name Jean had become particularly common, so much so that by 1630 all the Constable's Officers in a parish were called Jean.
Even more curious, perhaps, we have noticed in families with several married daughters that all their husbands were called Jean, and their father and eldest brother were also called Jean.
On the subject of the girl's name Douce, it was believed to come from the family DOwse, allied as it is known to the de Carteret family. We do not share this opinion, because we have e3ncountered the name of Douce in the registers or documents before the marriage of Philippe de Carteret to Anne Dowse.
In the 16th and 17th centuries a forename was sometimes given which was identical to the name of the family, which was itself a baptismal name. Some curious combinations resulted, such as Noel Noel (or Noe Noe), Jean Jean, Antoine Anthoine, Hugh Hue, or Hiou Hue, Philippe Philippe, Simon Simon, as well as others which could be uoted.
On the other hand, several family names began, as is so prevalent today, to be given as forenames: Carteret La Cloche (Jurat), Sebirel Simon (1680), Brun Benest, Corbet d'Auvergne, etc.
Some parishes seem to have had a special predilection for the name of the patron saint of the prish. In St Brelade, for example, Brelade flourished (Brelade Alexandre, Brelade Becquet, Brelade Martel, Brelade Orange); in St Martin one finds many Martins; in St Clement every family had its Clement; Heliers abounded in St Helier, and also the other parishes.
Biblical names, always in favour, became more frequent after the Reformation, and it was not always the the nicest, the most harmonious which were given preference. So we find Amos, Abdenago, ABdias, Gamaliel, Abigail, Esaïe, Urie etc.
Believe me, almost pagan names were sometimes introduced into families, such as that of Maligne, with which someone had the cruelty to burden a little girl. We speak of Maligne Guihomatte, who became the wife of Pierre Viell.
On the other hand, one is pleased to see the virtuous names given to children: Foy (frequently found in St Mary in the 17th century), Esperance, Charité, Mercy, Grace.
Other girls' names, also very gracious, have almost entirely disappeared: Mauricette, Georgette, Perronnelle, Perrotine, Perrine, Rauline, Guillemine, etc were forenames once very frequently encountered.
There was another, also feminine, and once very common, which one regrets to see has virtually disappared in Jersey, even though, strangely, it has started to become very fashionable in France in recent years; it is that of Collette, so gracious, so harmonious, which one found in the 16th and 17th centuries as much in aristocratic families as others. Collette, remember, is the feminine of Collas (abbreviation of Nicolas). In Guernsey Colliche is found more often.
From the 18th century certain forenames such as Jean, Thomas and Philippe seemed to take root in one family or another. They were given, for example, to the eldest son from generation to generation, and in families which had several side branches it can easily be seen that the task of the genealogist did not become any easier.
Jean, fs Jean, fs Jean, fs Jean ...
Several examples will make it clearer. It is a question of distinguishing Jean Arthur, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Nicolas, from his namesake and contemporary, Jean Arthur, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Jean, descended from two brothers, Nicolas and Jean Arthur. Or also, Nicolas Le Bas, son of Nicolas, son of Nicolas, son of Nicolas, from a namesake whose father and grandfather had the same name, but whose great-grandfather was Jean Le Bas.
Jean Dumaresq, son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Jean, had four contemporaries with the same forename as him: one was son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Abraham; another son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Elie; yet another son of Jean, son of Jean, son of Daniel.
Also, in the Acts of Court when these gentlemen were sworn in for some public duty, it was essential so as to avoid confusion to go back to the name of the great-grandfather, who was called Daniel, Elie, Abraham or Jean.
This profusion of the same forename was often in evidence in the list of members of an inquest, where one could find ten jurors named Jean, and only two called Philippe, or some other combination of this sort.
We have only touched the surface of this subject of forenames, but believe that we have said enough to attract the attention of the reader. Perhaps others will pursue this matter and discover new interesting facts to record.