Did parents with common surnames choose unusual forenames for their children?

by Donald Hatch

1) Introduction

This note makes use of a large database of Victorian marriage registrations to check whether parents with common surnames chose unusual forenames for their children, and conversely whether common forenames were more frequently chosen by parents with unusual surnames.

2) Sample

The database was generated for an analysis of the frequency distribution of forenames, available as separate articles for males and females on this site. A summary of that research was published in an article in Family History Monthly, December 2002. It also forms the basis for an analysis of the frequency of occurrence of surnames, which has yet to be published.

All the marriages between 1867 and 1886 of brides and grooms whose surname began with the letters Ha were extracted from the FreeBMD database as at November 2001. At that time the coverage was about 73%. (5,7 million persons marrying, compared to the ONS total of 7,7 in this period). Surnames beginning with Ha were about 3,4% of all surnames at this time. Ha does not include any of the most common surnames such as Smith or Brown, but has a good scatter of names in the top 200. Table 1 summarises the distribution of the sample within the population:

Table 1 - Sample characteristics

Name* Percentage
with main
spelling*
Frequency
in 1867-86
sample
1867-86
sample
All names
in 1853
Percentage
of 1867-86
sample
           Rankings 
Hall 100 17387 1 19 9,00%
Harris 91 15862 2 21 8,21%
Harrison 99 13360 3 34 6,92%
Harvey 99 6171 4 87 3,19%
Hart 99 4691 5 134 2,43%
Hawkins 100 4532 6 135 2,35%
Harding 99 4292 7 150 2,22%
Hayes 100 4108 8 136 2,13%
Hartley 99 4010 9 243 2,08%
Hardy 96 3776 10 188 1,95%
Haynes 63 3731 11 >300 1,93%
Hammond 99 3529 12 194 1,83%
Harper 100 3210 13 185 1,66%
Hayward 100 3014 14 252 1,56%
Hancock 100 2968 15 257 1,54%
Haigh 66 2919 16 >300 1,51%
Hargreaves 93 2797 17 >300 1,45%
Hanson 92 2303 18 >300 1,19%
Hale 100 1980 19 >300 1,02%
Hamer 68 1843 20 >300 0,95%
All others
(2166 names)
86696 55,12%
Total sample 93 193179 100,00%
*including homonyms such as Haynes/Haines, Haigh/Hague, etc. NB: IN 1853 the most common surname, Smith, was 1,36% of all names or slightly more than 4 times as frequent as Hall

Because of the large samples involved, the analysis here excluded the most frequently occurring surnames; only Hart, Harding, Hartley, Haigh, Hale and Hamer were included from the list above. A one third sub-sample of Hall, the most common name, was added to test for any bias - none was found, and the same was the case with Smith. In total the sample used for this analysis comprised (after correction for incomplete entries) 93732 surnames (excluding the 6693 sub-sample for Hall), almost equally split between men and women.

This sample of 93732 names covered a large variety of forenames, many of which only occurred once or twice. However, 13 of the male forenames and 21 of the female ones accounted for 80% of all persons. 53 male names and 63 female names accounted for 95% of the sample. In total 507 male and 429 female names were identified. 90 male and 57 female names occurred only once or twice in the sample.

3) Diminutives and homonyms

To arrive at these totals of 507 and 429 separate names it was necessary to decide which diminutives (e.g. Daniel and Dan) and homonyms (names that sound the same but are spelled differently, e.g. Sydney and Sidney) should be considered as one name or as separate names. To a certain extent this is an arbitrary process. The Appendix summarises the classification used. In total only about 1200 persons, (a little more than 1%), including both males and females, had (registered) names that were classified as diminutives or homonyms.

4) Analysis

The relative frequency or infrequency with which a particular forename was combined with a particular surname was revealed by drawing up a table in which the actual frequency of an individual name, or of groups of names, could be compared with the expected level. The top forenames and surnames were compared individually, followed by groupings into "common", "unusual" and "rare" in the following way:

Table 2 Classification of forenames and surnames

Individuals Common Unusual Rare Total
Forenames Top 50% 50-80% 80-95% Last 5% 100%
Nr of individual names
(m/f)
05-Jun Aug-15 40 / 42 454 / 366 507 / 429
Surnames Top 20% 20-70% 70-95% Last 5% 100%
Nr of individual names 7 94 434 1651 2186

 

Tables 3 and 4 give an extract / condensation of this analysis.

Table 3 Male names

  male
sample
% Cu % Wm
%
John
%
Thos
%
Jas
%
Geo
%
Common
fore-
names%
Unusual
fore-
names%
Rare
fore-
names%
 
Smith* 3206*     15,7 12,9 7,9 7,1 8,6 26,8 15,3 5,7 100
Hall* 3309*     16,1 13,6 9,3 7,8 7,7 26,1 14,3 5,1 100
Hart 2244 4,8 4,8 15,3 12,7 7,4 7,5 7,3 26,5 18,0 5,3 100
Harding 2123 4,5 9,3 16,2 12,1 8,2 7,2 8,4 26,5 16,5 4,9 100
Hartley 1908 4,1 13,4 14,5 16,6 7,9 9,3 6,1 24,7 15,5 5,5 100
Hale 968 2,1 15,5 14,6 11,0 9,8 7,4 7,3 26,7 17,9 5,4 100
Haigh 869 1,9 17,4 12,4 15,0 6,1 8,1 7,8 21,3 23,6 5,8 100
Hamilton 842 1,8 19,2 13,1 15,1 6,7 13,4 8,1 25,7 13,4 4,6 100
Common
surnames
23394 50,1 69,3 14,6 14,4 9,0 8,4 7,7 25,9 15,6 4,5 100
Unusual
surnames
11917 25,5 94,8 14,3 13,4 7,8 7,3 8,0 27,1 16,4 5,8 100
Rare
surnames
2441 5,2 100 13,5 14,5 8,5 8,1 8,4 26,1 15,5 5,4 100
All
surnames
excl Hall
46706 100   14,5 14,0 8,4 8,1 7,8 26,1 16,1 5,0 100
Total
excl Hall
      6773 6531 3934 3786 3633 12199 7524 2326 46706

Table 4 Female names

  female
sample
% Cu % Mary
%
Eliz'th
%
Sarah
%
Ann
%
Jane
%
Emma
%
Common
fore-
names%
Unusual
fore-
names%
Rare
fore-
names%
 
Smith* 3231*     14,8 8,7 8,9 5,0 3,9 4,1 31,6 17,0 6,0 100
Hall* 3384*     16,0 10,0 9,5 5,0 5,2 3,9 30,1 15,2 5,1 100
Hart 2375 5,1 5,1 15,6 9,3 8,6 4,1 3,5 3,5 33,1 17,1 5,2 100
Harding 2016 4,3 9,3 16,5 9,2 7,3 4,7 4,4 3,9 32,1 17,1 4,8 100
Hartley 1939 4,1 13,5 16,9 10,6 11,3 5,0 4,7 3,3 30,7 12,9 4,6 100
Hale 1029 2,2 15,6 12,4 12,1 10,7 4,7 3,2 3,8 32,1 15,9 5,2 100
Haigh 942 2,0 17,7 15,8 7,2 12,4 4,6 3,6 5,9 30,9 16,0 3,5 100
Hamilton 852 1,8 19,5 13,7 10,1 5,4 4,1 4,7 1,9 33,3 19,8 6,9 100
Common
surnames
23547 50,1 69,5 16,2 10,1 8,9 4,7 4,3 3,9 32,5 15,1 4,3 100
Unusual
surnames
11824 25,1 94,7 16,0 9,1 8,5 4,4 4,3 3,5 31,4 16,5 6,4 100
Rare
surnames
2502 5,3 100 16,7 9,2 8,5 3,8 4,1 3,2 33,0 16,1 5,3 100
All
surnames
excl Hall
47026 100   16,1 9,7 8,8 4,5 4,3 3,7 32,2 15,7 5,0 100
Total
excl Hall
      7552 4572 4154 2134 1999 1750 15124 7398 2343 47026

* Excluded from the main analysis and added later as a ( +-) 8 % sub sample of Smith and a one-third sub sample of Hall to check for bias by analysing a very common and a common name

The tables do not suggest that there was any great tendency for parents with common surnames to choose forenames that were unusual or vice versa. For example, on average 14,5% of all parents named a male child William. The six most common surnames in the sample (Hart to Hamilton) with 19% of all persons, chose between 12 and 16% for William. The parents with the rarest surnames, the group of 5% of all persons (2441 persons with about 1000 individual surnames) chose nevertheless just as frequently,13,5%, for William.

Figures 1 and 2 illustrate these distribution patterns.

 

Figure 1 Forenames by rarity of surnames, Males


For example, the name John is relatively common as John Hartley, but relatively uncommon as John Hale. James, a Scottish name, is relatively common with Hamilton, also Scottish. The rarest forenames show no particular tendency to be used more or less for any particular type of surname. Even the stereotype name John Smith does not occur significantly less often than would be expected, 13% compared with 14% for all Ha names. With a population in 1875 of about 24.4 million persons in England and Wales, this suggests there were about 2200 John Smiths (24.4 x 1,36% (share of Smith name) x 0.5 (males) x 12,9% (share of males with forename John)). Even more common were William Smith with 2600 persons and Mary Smith with 2400. On the same basis there would have been 150 Emma Hamiltons; the 1881 census gives only 108 entries}

 

Figure 2 Forenames by rarity of surnames, Females


Table 5. Forename / surname combinations with marked divergence from average

Males*

 

Females*

Forename Surname Relative
frequency**
Forename Surname Relative
frequency**
Relatively frequently occurring names Relatively frequently occurring names
Samuel Hayman 3,4 Margaret Harries 3,7
Richard Hambly 4,2 Margaret Hannah 3,3
Richard Hawker 3,7 Margaret Hayhurst 5,5
David Harries 10,0 Alice Hayworth 3,3
Benjamin Haigh 3,1 Catherine Harry 3,9
Benjamin Hainsworth 6,9 Catherine Hanley 7,0
Daniel Hambleton 7,0 Catherine Hanlon 4,2
Peter Hamer 4,1 Isabelle Harling 5,7
Peter Halsall 11,0 Agnes Hayton 5,7
Michael Hanley 10,8 Rebecca Hartwell 5,9
Michael Hanlon 17,3 Rachel Hallas 7,2
Patrick Hanley 18,3 Ada Hallas 11,2
Patrick Hanlon 33,3 Bridget Haley 6,6
Alexander Hamilton 7,4 Bridget Hanley 15,1
Alexander Hay 14,5 Bridget Hanlon 9,4
Alexander Hannah 9,5 Betty Haworth 14,5
Matthew Hawksworth 11,3 Jemima Hartshorn 11,3
Andrew Hannah 11,2 Rhoda Hann 15,3
Joshua Hainsworth 20,1 Nancy Haworth 11,1
Relatively infrequently occurring names Relatively infrequently occurring names
Thomas Hansford 0,2 Sarah Hawke 0,3
Thomas Hann 0,2 Ann Hammett 0,2
George Hamer 0,3 Ann Harden 0,2
George Harries 0,3 Emma Haworth 0,3
George Hanlon 0,0 Emma Harries 0,3
Henry Harry 0,3 Eliza Haworth 0,3
Harry Harry 0,0 Emily Hamer 0,0

*in order of forename frequency
** e.g. the name Richard Hambly occurs 4,2 times more frequently than its expected frequency, (actually 10 times out of 107 Hambly's or 9,3%, instead of the expected 2,2% since Richard occurs 1029 times in the sample of 46706. 9,3% / 2,2% = 4,2).

Amongst the most significant high frequency names are David Harris, with 46 occurrences instead of the expected 4,6 (453 Davids out of 46706 names (1%) times 472 Harris) and Alice Haworth with 64 occurrences instead of the expected 19,4 (1194 Alices out of 47206 names (2,5%) times 766 Haworths). Names that were avoided were Harry Harry with no occurrences against the expected 1, but this is scarcely significant. The absence of any Emily Hamers when 15 would have been expected is however notable. A number of graphs have been provided to show the degree to which the frequency of occurrence of a particular name varies across all the names considered; e.g. for the name Hall, which forenames differ from the expected levels for this surname? These graphs cover the most frequently occurring surnames and forenames for both men and women. In some cases the unusual combinations can be found on two graphs, e.g. James Hamilton under both " James" and "Hamilton"}

Appendix - Names treated as homonyms or diminutives

Preferred %   First variant %   2nd variant %
main spelling
Albert 99%   Bertie 1%   Bert 0%
Ann 86% Anne 14%    
Benjamin 96% Ben 4%    
Bessie 94% Bessy 6%    
Betsy 80% Betsey 20%    
Bryan 80% Brian 20%    
Catherine 86% Catharine 9% Katherine 4%
Cecily 63% Cicely 38%    
Charles 100% Charlie 0% Charley 0%
Daniel 96% Dan 4%    
Dennis 76% Denis 24%    
Elizabeth 100% Elisabeth 0%    
Ellen 99% Ellie 1%    
Emeline 67% Emmelina 17% Emelina 17%
Emily 100% Emely 0%    
Emmanuel 64% Emanuel 36%    
Evelyn 78% Eveline 22%    
Frank 99% Franc 1%    
Frederick 88% Fred 8% Frederic 4%
Georgina 64% Georgiana 36%    
Harriet 74% Harriett 26%    
James 100% Jim 0%    
Jeffrey 83% Geoffrey 17%    
Jemima 99% Jem 1%    
Jessie 97% Jess 3%    
Joanne 96% Joan 4%    
Johanna 57% Joanna 43%    
Joseph 98% Joe 2%    
Kate 99% Katie 1%    
Lawrence 88% Laurence 12%    
Lilian 65% Lillian 35%    
Lily* 34% Lilly 34% Lillie 21%
Madeline 67% Madeleine 33%    
Maggie 62% Margery 31% Marjory 8%
Margaret 100% Margret 0%    
Mark 99% Marc 1%    
Maurice 61% Morris 39%    
Neil 50% Niel 50%    
Norah 70% Nora 30%    
Philippa 50% Phillipa 17% Phillippa 33%
Phillis 96% Phyllis 4%    
Phoebe 88% Phebe 11% Pheobe 1%
Samuel 97% Sam 3%    
Silvester 69% Sylvester 31%    
Stewart 83% Stuart 17%    
Susan 46% Susannah 44% Susanna 10%
Sybil 75% Sibyl 25%    
Sydney 73% Sidney 27%    
Teresa 57% Theresa 43%    
Thomas 96% Tom 4%    
Timothy 97% Tim 3%    

* also Lilley 10%

Names treated as separate names

Main variant Less common variants
Alice Alicia    
Allen Allan Alan  
Ann Annie Anna Annette
Betsy Betty    
Christina Christine    
Clara Clare    
Dorothy Dorothea    
Eleanor Eleanora    
Eva Eve    
Isabella Isabel    
Jean Jeanie Jeanette  
Jenny Jennifer    
Julia Julie Juliet  
Katherine Kathleen    
Elizabeth Lizzie    
Louisa Louise    
Marian Marion Marianne  
Mary Marie    
Max Maximilian    
Nathaniel Nathan    
Percy Percival    
Rose Rosa    
Simeon Simon    
Sophia Sophie    

Supporting graphs for individual names (PDF file 266 kB)

Copyright © Donald Hatch, Bilthoven, Netherlands, 12 August 2003