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Written by Jim Woolley   
Thursday, 07 May 2015 15:53

”A Boy Named Sue”

Many years ago the media headlined the story about a man who named his new-born son after all of the players in his favourite football team, giving him eleven Christian names. There was much speculation at the time about why a father would do such a thing and much sympathy for the poor child saddled with such a burden. Did the father think that association with the successful team would in some way endow his son with their success and bring him good fortune. Or was the father thinking more of himself and of all the attention and notoriety that his action would bring, his “five minutes of fame”. The Cult of the Celebrity is nothing new, it has been with us since the time we first started using personal names.

Perhaps all new parents should be forced to listen to the great Johnny Cash classic before they are allowed to have children, it just might make them think twice about the effect their choice of names will have on their innocent child in later life !

What’s In A Name

For Genealogists, names are their bread and butter, their stock in trade. We spend our time tracking the Johns, the Williams, the Marys and the Anns, unravelling the family strands, to discover who went where and when. With large families and the limited mobility of times past, the custom of naming sons and daughters after their forebears can often lead to numerous cousins being given the same names, at the same time, in the various branches of the family. Deciding who belonged to whom can often be a nightmare. At such times we yearn for the more unusual names, those that will distinguish one child from another.

However, unusual names don’t always help and can make our task even more difficult. Invariable people end up by being called what they want to be called, with the more outlandish names being quietly dropped and “pet names” or shortened forms being used instead. Thus the very unusual names only appear very infrequently and then only on the more important “official” forms.

Some Local Examples

The most extreme case I came across recently was that of :

Harry Alfred William Thomas George Hawes Preston.

Harry was killed in action at the age of 47 years whilst serving with the Lancashire Fusiliers in France on the 14th October 1918. He is listed in the official publication “Soldiers Died in the Great War” as having been born in Ottery St Mary and the Commonwealth War Graves list his next of kin as Amy Preston of Toronto, Canada.

I have been unable to discover any record of a Harry Preston born in Ottery St Mary around 1871 and would suggest that the entry in Soldiers Died is in error and that, if he was born in Devon, it should read “St Mary Church” nr Torquay. His marriage to Amy Bateman only took place in the Summer of 1918, in Bristol, and there does not appear to have been any off-spring.

So Harry, despite his extremely long name, remains a mystery, no parents, no place of birth, no record of the first 45 years of his life, as far as I can discover ! If you know who Harry Preston was I would love to hear from you.

Clarence Donald Disraeli Bastin

Donald was born in Feniton in 1890, the son of William Bastin , a Farm Labourer, and his wife Louisa Jane Palfrey. Why they chose to name their son Disraeli after a distinguished former Prime Minister and favourite of Queen Victoria is a mystery, although the family might be able to provide some clarity. Although Disraeli does go rather well with Clarence Donald, in themselves also relatively scarce names for the period.

The next examples are more easily understood. General Sir Redvers Buller was a major player in the early years of the Boer War and a local Devon man. As is so often the case, Britain seriously underestimated the Boers and was ill-prepared for the conflict. In the first few weeks of the war, the Boers besieged the towns of Kimberley, Ladysmith and Mafeking and it was Sir Redvers who successfully raised the siege of Ladysmith. Britain erupted with joy as each of the towns was relieved, to the extent that a new word was introduced into our language, “maffick – to exult riotously”.

Thus we have :

George Buller Cann

Baptised 16th June 1900, son Walter and Fanny Cann, of New Street, Ottery St Mary.

There was also another George Buller Cann baptised in Exeter two months later !

Redvers Charles Lovering

Baptised 26th December 1900, son of James and Louisa Lovering, of Cadhay

George Redvers Buller Welsman

Baptised 19th May 1900, son of John and Sarah Ellen Welsman, of Yonder Street, Ottery St Mary.

If you would like to help us with our project or have further details of any of those mentioned above, please give me a call on 01404 812176.

Jim Woolley