What’s in a Name?
April 7, 2014
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This blog post was inspired by my recent reading of the Schaghticoke portion of “Spafford’s Gazetteer of New York of 1824”. I was familiar with the same gentleman’s Gazetteer of 1813, but the 1824 edition was new to me. In the course of finding it online, I discovered that the author’s full name was Horatio Gates Spafford. He was born in Vermont in 1778, just after the American victory at the Battle of Saratoga, where Horatio Gates was the commanding American General. Spafford’s parents were undoubtedly inspired by that event to name their child. In fact, Horatio also named his son, born in 1828, Horatio Gates Spafford.
In the course of my research into town history, I have found many instances of men named for famous people. Peter and Hannah Grant, the parents of local industrialist Isaac Travis Grant, named one of their many sons for their neighbor and U.S. Congressman, Herman Knickerbacker. Isaac and another brother John, named sons for another neighbor and local U.S. Congressman, Job Pierson. Isaac’s partner, Daniel Viall, named a son for Isaac. Many, many local Civil War veterans, men who were born between about 1830 and 1845, were named for Andrew Jackson, George Washington, James Knox Polk, the Marquis de Lafayette, and other prominent statesmen. The attraction of Washington’s name is obvious. Jackson, President from 1829-1837, died in 1845; Polk, President from 1845-1849, died in 1849, and Lafayette, the French aristocrat who helped in the American Revolution, did a “farewell tour” of America in 1824-1825 and died in 1834.
In the course of my twenty years as a high school teacher, I cannot remember a child named for a famous statesman or woman. One of my daughters does have friends who named their daughter Reagan, for the President. How about you? Many children are named for relatives, dead or living. I am named for my great-grandmother, whom I knew as a child. Three of my four daughters have middle names commemorating relatives or friends.
But what about naming for the famous? Does our culture do it anymore? If so, do we name for sports figures? Politicians? Hollywood stars? For our close friends? Whom would we choose and why? Google says that many people don’t name their children for famous people but rather for their children, for example, naming a daughter “Harper” because soccer star David Beckham named his daughter that. And here I would have assumed that “Harper” was for author Harper Lee!
Certainly when we named our children, we knew that their names would forever remind us of their namesakes. Do we have people in our culture that we would wish to remember through our children? Will there be an uptick in babies named “Nelson” after Mandela? That name is #560 on the list of names used in the U.S. last year. Whom would you choose…if anyone? Do we have statesmen and women worthy of emulation? It’s fun to think about.