Jessamy Carlson, First World War programme manager at The National Archives (TNA), has carried out some fascinating research into the extent to which children were named after First World War battles, key military figures and the outcome of the war.
The battles of the First World War were popular choices for names, with 1,229 (75%) of the babies named after battles. The most popular was Verdun, one of the conflict’s longest and bloodiest battles (21 February – 18 December 1916).
With 901 newborn babies named Verdun during this period, the battle accounts for 73% of all the babies named after First World War battles. Looking at the geography of where births were registered, the highest concentration of babies named Verdun was in seven towns within close proximity of each other in South Wales.
Jessamy Carlson, Archivist and First World War Programme Manager, said:
‘The data is fascinating and gives new insight into the battles that resonated with mothers on the Home Front. It was a surprise to learn that the battles rather than the heroes or names relating to the end of the war were the most popular. It was even more of a surprise to learn that Verdun was the most popular battle name given that it was a French/German battle with no British Troops directly involved.’
Louvain is another example, appearing after reported German atrocities there during the invasion of Belgium in 1914. The city is now better known by its Flemish name Leuven. The deliberate destruction of the university library by German troops caused international outcry. The library was rebuilt after the war, but sadly its replacement was destroyed during the Second World War.There do not seem to be any records of it being used as a personal name in England and Wales until 1914, but it then became quite popular, outweighting all the battle babies (except Verdun) with over 300 instances of Louvain or Louvaine up to the end of 1919. It seems to retain some currency until the early 70s. South Wales again seems to be a stronghold of the name.
The following battles appear as the names of children born 1914-1919:
Argonne; Arras; Cambrai; Cavell; Neuve Chappelle; Dardanelles; Delville & Delville Wood; Flanders; Heligoland; Helles; Isonzo; Jutland; Krithia; Liege; Loos; Marne; Messines; Mons; Paschendaele; Soissons; Somme; Thierry; Verdun; Vimy Ridge; Ypres.
It is not always clear whether these children are male or female from the GRO indexes, as gender is not specified, but feminine versions of several of the ‘battle names’ do occur. These include Sommeria, Arrasina, Verdunia, Monsalene and Dardanella. Several of these names do not appear either before 1914 or long after the end of the war in 1919, though some such as Jutland and Somme make a brief reappearance during the Second World War. For example, there are no births registered for ‘Ypres’ before 1914. Only one child was named Paschendale, born in July 1918. A further three girls and two boys have Passchendale (or variant spellings) as their middle names, and were all born between 1917 and 1920. Four children named Vimy Ridge were born between 1916-1918 (two boys, two girls) and a further four (two boys, two girls) had the name in full as a middle name between 1916-1920. One child was named Delvillewood, whilst another two were named Delville Wood. Perhaps their parents felt Delville was more passable as a day to day moniker…
Hero and peace babies
Names inspired by First World War leaders and heroes accounted for 202 (12%) of the 1,634 babies. Records of births from the General Register Office show that:
- 166 were named Kitchener
- 25 were named Cavell
- 11 were named Haig
A further 203 babies (12%) were born with names relating to the end of the war:
83 babies named Peace
120 babies named Victory (with 107 of them born at the end of the period)
There were only 44 girls named Poppy during the First World War, but from 1920 the name grew in popularity. It peaked every year during autumn and winter in the 1920s.
Almost all children with Armistice as a first or middle name were born on 11 November or within a few weeks of this date, from 1918 onwards.
Registration districts across England and Wales feature in this data set, but it is notable that popularity of names is more marked in some areas than others. South Wales features prominently, as does Yorkshire, London and the North East. It isn’t always clear why this is – in some instances it is likely that a regiment engaged in a particular battle had a strong connection to that area, but in others and especially with the Battle of Verdun where the name is especially popular, the connection is not obvious.
This report appeared in the local paper in June 1915
DEAD DENBIGH SOLDIER’S LITTLE CHILD. A pathetic incident is set forth by a notice in our birth’s column today. The wife of Private Robert Thomas Jones, 96, Henllan street, has within the last few days given birth to a daughter, which has been named France May, because the dear little one will never know her father, he having laid down his life in France in May. He was one of the brave Denbigh men who in the desperate battles of last month was killed. Much sympathy goes out to his wife, who in her hour of trial has also to bear the calamity of widowhood. The deceased soldier was the son of the late Samuel Jones, who at one time was workman and then foreman of the Corporation workmen of Denbigh, prior to the late Meyrick Evans. The mother still survives, and is much sympathised with. 12 June 1915.
Information supplied by UK National Archives – Read Jessamy Carlson’s blog here
Images © Crown copyright – Courtesy of The National Archives
Source: National Archives