T/F: Historically, Children Were Named At One Year

Internet Archive Book Images via Wikimedia Commons

Internet Archive Book Images via Wikimedia Commons

Some people don’t settle on a name for their child until they see that wrinkly, smooshed little face. Some name their children in the womb. Yet others have names picked for their children before they are even old enough to have children.

My blog focuses on the lengthening of the human lifespan so what does a discussion about how and when people name children have to do with anything? I bring it up because I thought, somewhere in my research, I’d heard that Victorian children were not given names until they were a year old.

Apparently, so many children died during their first year that people didn’t bother to name a child until then. Such a thing seems incomprehensible to most of us today because the life expectancy in many places in the world is 80 years (aided greatly by the reigning in of childhood disease). Is it possible someone would not name a child for an entire year?

I made an internet search to see if I could find any support for my (mis?)remembered information. I found so many interesting websites about how people around the world choose and give names, none of them seemed to imply names are, or were ever, withheld until long after birth.

Below is an excerpt from a lesson plan from teacher Jameka Sayles. It comes from a fifth grade history unit called Child Life in the New England Colonies.

Within days of a child’s birth, the infant was named and baptized in the meetinghouse. Summer babies were more fortunate than those born in winter. The ice that formed in the christening bowl had to be broken in order to baptize the child.

It corroborates the difficulties of being a newborn in the old days, but names were so important that they were given immediately. genealogy

In an article on ancestry.com, genealogist Donna Przecha writes,

Up until this century, parents could usually count on one third of their children not surviving. If a child died, the name was often used again. If a baby died, the next child of the same sex would often be given the same name. When checking birth records, you should never stop when you find the name you are looking for. You should continue for a few more years, because the first child could have died and your ancestor could have been the second child in the family with that name. If an older child died, a younger one would often be named for him or her. If you see George in the 1850 census as a six year old and then in the 1860 census as an eight year old, it may mean the first one died shortly after the 1850 census was taken.

That seems to kill the no names for the first year myth, but did I miss something? I’ll keep looking for the source, but it seems my reluctance to believe someone would not name a child, just in case the child died, has merit. Maybe people, regardless of time and place aren’t so different after all.

Sources:
The Importance of Names and Naming Patterns-Donna Przecha
http://www.genealogy.com/articles/research/35_donna.html

Child Life in the New England Colonies Lesson plan by Jameka Sayles

http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/2003/2/03.02.06.x.html#b

And this is just kind of cool:

How old Norse names were derived-

http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/ONNames.shtml

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