Baptismal names popular in Jersey

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Jersey families down the generations have used a very limited range of baptismal names for their children. In one respect this helps family historians to place an ancestor in a particular family, which has used the individual’s forename; in other respects it makes life exceedingly difficult, because trying to tell one Jean Bisson from another, when generations of boys in the one family were given the same name, is often far from easy.

Succession tradition

It was a tradition by no means unique to Jersey, but seemingly followed more rigidly there than elsewhere, for the first-born son to be given the father’s baptismal name, and the first-born daughter to bear the mother’s name. In a branch of a family tree which ascends for generations through the first-born son, it is quite common to encounter the same name for many successive generations.

And younger sons would often have a second or later child baptised with their father’s name. In addition, the limited range of baptismal names in vogue at any one time meant that particular names were bound to keep cropping up in related families. Many families had no choice, because parish rectors would restrict the choice of names to their own very limited list, and refuse to baptise any child with an unacceptable name. The Church was in charge of family life for many centuries.

Named after dead sibling

Making life even more difficult for family historians is the quaint and rather sad custom of using the same baptismal name again for the next son or daughter after the death of an earlier child. It is by no means uncommon for three or four successive sons of the same couple all to bear the same name, infant mortality having once been much higher than it is today. Some desisted after a couple of babies with the same name died in infancy, others persevered stubbornly, sometimes for four or five.

And if a family particularly liked a name, it was not unknown for more than one living child to be given that name. If a wife died and the husband remarried, children of the second marriage would quite often bear the same names as elder children of the first wife. When trying to identify if a particular Pierre Nicolle was the son of father Pierre’s first or second wife, the answer might well be both!

In the early days of island records we find baptism names which have long since gone out of fashion – Augustin, Bernabey, Cardin, Drouet and Renaud, for boys, for example; and Appoline, Peronelle and Douce for girls.

French names

Note that all the names mentioned so far are French. And so were the vast majority of names given to children until well into the 19th Century. Jersey was a French-speaking island and children had French names. And they generally had only one forename. The use of two and then three Christian names was a late introduction, only becoming common in the second half of the 19th century, having been introduced from both England and France. And by this time Peter had replaced Pierre, Marguerites were Margarets and Sara had an ‘h’ added to the end.

But the island’s closer ties to England than France meant that names commonly used from the 17th century onwards tended to be the French equivalent of a name popular in England – Edouard, Francois, Guillaume, Philippe, Pierre and Thomas (pronounced the French way) were always popular, Louis and Gaston were not, and for some strange reason neither Henri nor Henry has ever been a popular name in Jersey.

Many names had slight variations to suit boys or girls – Jean and Jeanne, Thomas and Thomasse, Richard and Richarde.

It is important to recognise the difference between several of the French names which were in common use until the 18th and 19th centuries. Published family trees and even official records are not always as reliable as they should be. Anne is the early French version of Ann, Elisabeth was the early version, eventually supplanted by Elizabeth; the 's' also changed to 'z' in Susanne/Suzanne - Susan was never found in early years. The 'h' in Sarah is very English and eventually supplanted Sara and Sarra, although Sara has recently again become popular. Marthe eventually became Martha, Louise became Louisa, Jeanne became Jane, and Marie became Mary.

Joshua, although of biblical origin, was not found in Jersey until the 18th century, Josué being the French version in use in the island. Edouard was eventually replaced by Edward, Philippe by Philip, Guillaume by William and Pierre by Peter. Georges, the French form, was never particularly popular in Jersey.

Kings and queens

What is evident from the earliest church records from the end of the 16th century onwards, when the island's language was still overwhelmingly French, is that Jersey families, or at least the Rectors who transcribed the baptismal names, were strongly influenced by English spelling when it came to the names used by English kings and queens. So, Elisabeth is rarely encountered, Elizabeth, after Good Queen Bess, being much preferred; Henry supplanted Henri, James began to appear alongside Jacques, and William and George became popular after William III and George I assumed the throne.

Georges is almost never encountered. Henry VIII's daughter Mary was never much admired in the island, so Marie continued until at least the reign of William and Mary, and it was some time before Marie Anne was supplanted by Mary Ann when multiple baptismal names were introduced.

The lack of a King John in England after the 13th century meant that Jean continued to be popular well into the 19th century. So, too, almost inevitably, did Jeanne, because although Jane was an acceptable anglicisation, Jean could not be while it remained a boy's name.

When multiple names became fashionable, after England and long after France, Jersey avoided some of the complications found in the latter country, where names with the same spelling doubled as boys' and girls' names. Usually the French added a second baptismal name to clarify matters, but unless you are aware that Marie Paul is invariably a girl and Paul Marie a boy, life can get very complicated for the family historian.

Abbreviations

Many official documents, particularly church records, contain a multitude of abbreviations: Ch, Ph, Eliz, Geo, Pe, Tho, Edo, Marg, Frcs, Frcse are among those most frequently encountered.

Old names reappear

Some names which were popular in the 15th century (Robin and Damian in the Bisson family) almost disappeared from use, only to reappear in lists of the 20th century’s more popular Christian names.

Not surprisingly, different families had different preferences. Jean, Jeanne, Philippe, Guillaume, Marie, Marguerite, Anne and Catherine were ubiqutous, but Matthieu and Edmond were favourites of the Le Gallais, Etienne and Timothee of the Mourants, Thomas with the Le Hardys, and Nicolas with the Le Quesnes. In later years some unusual boys names such as Hedley, Winter, Winston, Snowdon and Garnet became extremely popular in certain farming families, lasting well into the 20th Century before dying out again.

From the Bible

Biblical names were quite popular in the past, including Aaron, Abraham, Benjamin, Gideon, Isaac, Joseph, Mathieu and Samuel. What is surprising in such a small island is that, even allowing for preferences within families, some names were only used on the west side of the island and others exclusively in the east.

So, in the 18th century Aaron was popular in St Martin but not St Peter, while for Amice the reverse was true; Clement was found frequently in eastern parishes but rarely on the opposite side of the island, where Pierre was much more popular. This can easily be explained by the names’ association with parishes, but why should George have grown steadily in popularity in St Martin during the 18th century but rarely be used in St Ouen until the start of the 19th? Why should Anne and Jeanne have declined in popularity in the east at the same time that they were becoming more and more common in the west?

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