|One of the first things that surprised me when I started researching my family history was the large number of unusual names that I encountered. I guess I'd comfortably assumed that everybody "back then" was named Mary, Frances, or John! But in the little valleys of the North Carolina mountains, I found names that were fanciful, exotic, and even downright odd. Women named Plutina, Wady, Gilly, and Docey. Men named Greenberry, Quillar, Pleasant, and Shade. |
This got me started on a project to determine the origins of all the names I had come across in my genealogical research. I started with female names because I had to start somewhere (sorry guys).
In my effort, I have relied mostly on "A Dictionary of First Names" (Oxford University Press, 1990) (available on-line at Xrefer) and a King James Bible, supplemented by materials from various sources on the Internet. I am not an expert in linguistics, and I don't claim to be, but I have tried hard to rely on sources with some scholarly credentials, such as the excellent materials compiled by Joshua Mittleman on The Medieval Names Archive. I have also made extensive use of the Genuki U.K. genealogy site, Bible names dictionaries on Crosswalk.com, Jeff Weaver's New River Notes, and the Rootsweb World Connect Project. To determine where and when particular names existed, I have performed many searches on my favorite search engine, Google. Although Google searches of genealogical research cannot conclusively prove that a name did NOT exist before a certain time, it CAN prove that a particular name DID exist at a certain time, which is also useful information. I have NOT relied on "Baby Name" lists or other popular sites that do not cite historical research. Finally, I have used my own experience in genealogy to identify common nicknames and spelling variations.
Of course, not everyone had an unusual name. Based on the 1850 census of Ashe County, NC (click here to see the results of my study), Mary and Polly were far and away the most common female names, followed by Elizabeth, Nancy, Sarah, Martha, and Jane. Along with these traditional names, however, are the many exotic names so characteristic of this region.
I hope that you will find the results of my research helpful and interesting in your own genealogical endeavors. If you have any comments or corrections, please feel free to contact me.