Growing up in a coastal town in southern England, I lived opposite two elderly ladies with delightfully Beatrix Potter-esque names: Mrs. Woodcock and Mrs. Titmouse.
When it comes to unusual names, we Brits have quite a colorful history. Many have heard of our odd names for places (Buttocks Point, Horsey Windpump obviously have great futures as tourist destinations) and strange cuisine (Spotted Dick, anyone?) but some of the names in census records are equally colorful and a lot more embarrassing. Need an example? I was delivered by a Dr. Slasher, as was my cousin, Dick Pain. You can move house, but you’re stuck with your name, at least until you’re old enough to change it legally.
My best friend at school was named Single and, since I was named Young, we fielded the inevitable question about Free. However, that pales in comparison to my classmates with the last names Alcock and Rijsdijk. I’m sure I don’t need to go into detail about the various bastardizations the poor girls faced during their teen years. If those seem difficult to live with, spare a thought for poor baby Chlamydia. When asked why she had chosen the name, the infant’s mother replied that she had no idea what it meant but had seen it on a hospital leaflet and thought it sounded pretty.
A look at the British census records for the past few centuries reveal that silly names are by no means a recent development. Author Russell Ash has published several collections of quirky nomenclatures, gathered from archives and church documents. Among my favorites: Anice Bottom (baptized in 1837), Kitty Litter (born in 1839), Gusty Sandbag (born 1853), and Fanny Warmer (born 1862). Compared to these, Sensitive Redhead and Batty Treasure seem quite tame, as does Ray of Sunshine O’Leary, the delightfully cheerful name of a girl at my first workplace.
Then there are the names that are notable, simply for being an exercise in tongue dynamics: Fartamalus clearly never caught on as a popular name, neither did One Too Many, as in One Too Many Gouldstone. Others perhaps illustrated their parents’ thoughts at the time of birth; one imagines that Not Wanted Colvill may have grown up with a few issues. Some names are wonderfully quaint (Amorous Swan and Mary Xmas) while others are perfectly innocent until paired with an equally innocent surname. Sue is not that uncommon, but Sue Age may well have faced classroom taunts. Ellie is still en vogue but did Ms Fant’s parents consider the snickers her name might induce?
Sadly, some names have proved too embarrassing over time. The Smellies and Handcocks of the nation are dying out, some from natural causes (daughters changing their names upon marriage) and others through more active means (Mr. Willy may have chosen to become the more sedate Mr. Wilson). As a result, many of these names are now lost in the branches of a family tree. However, when a friend recently called to gush about her new boyfriend, she expressed some concern that people might laugh at his name. I told her the young Harry Ramsbottom had nothing to fear from me. Ah – as long as the Ramsbottoms and Chlamydias of the world are around, there is still hope!