When did middle names start in your family?
The oldest one of mine is Robert Porten Beachcroft who was born in 1744. I thought 1744 was pretty early, because the majority of middle names in my tree start in the early 19th century, becoming more frequent as that century goes on. I would like to find out more about when it first became fashionable to give children a middle name, and when common-place. The entry in Wikipedia is not very helpful, saying:
It is debatable how long middle names have existed in English speaking countries, but it is certain that among royalty and aristocracy the practice existed by the late 17th century (and possibly much earlier), as exemplified in the name of the Stuart pretender James Francis Edward Stuart (1688–1766).
I consulted Alison Weir’s Britain’s Royal Families and discovered that the first Stuart with two Christian names was born in 1594; Henry Frederick, eldest son of James VI of Scotland and I of England, and his wife Anne. Anne was the daughter of the King of Denmark and Norway and she seems to have brought the practice of middle names into the Scottish Stuarts. When the House of Hanover took over the English throne in 1714 they too added a Continental preference for second and third Christian names. George I was baptized George Louis, and his father was Ernest Augustus, (born in 1629). Perhaps it was George II and his family who made the practice of two names fashionable in London from the 1720s onwards. George III’s descendants had three or even four Christian names and from then on, many of the Royal children have had four names.
But the English had, and sometimes still have, a liking for giving a middle name to a child that comes from the surname of a grandparent or great-grandparent (or perhaps a godparent?), whereas the evidence is that our Royal family gave their children grand middle names such as Augustus (meaning ‘great’), not surnames from connected families. Thus Robert Porten Beachcroft is the first in my tree, not only to have a middle name but also one that provides an extra clue to his ancestors, Porten being his mother’s maiden name. His younger brother Joseph Mathews Beachcroft takes the Mathews not from a slip in any spelling of Mathew, but from his paternal grandmother’s maiden name of Mathews.
The Beachcrofts were a family ‘made good’ in Georgian London and they were probably only too conscious of status and the fact that they had no real gentry connections, so they were aping the aristocracy, where it was more common to take a female name into the male line when a wife was an heiress in her own right. I would be very interested to know more about when this practice started in families who were not landed gentry and without aristocratic connections, and whether it is confined to London or occurs country-wide. I wonder too whether such names were a way of expressing trading relationships in the City of London. My research has shown that City men married into those families they did business with. Good connections were vital in a world where personal recommendation was key, so a middle name that reminded your associates of connections to well-known business families would be important to help you advance.
The first female in my tree to have two Christian names, is Ann Juliana Taunton born in Devon in about 1748. Why did her parents give her such a European sounding middle name? I am glad they did, because with plain Ann as a name, I might not have found her family. The difference between Ann Taunton and the Beachcroft boys, is that her name does not come from a parental snobbery (or business good sense?) that wishes to emphasize valuable connections, but it is nevertheless a fancy sounding name. Perhaps it signifies a different kind of ‘otherness’; one that wishes to distinguish a female child from the run of the mill. Interestingly either Ann or her name was thought to be important enough for the name combination of Ann(a) and Juliana to pass down three generations in her tree. There is certainly room for some more investigation there. Was it fashion or something else entirely?
What are the earliest middle names in your tree? Can you beat 1744? Are they female surnames or normal Christian first names and when did your female ancestors start being given middle names?