Documenting Female Names in America, 1640-1820

After attending a play in which I noticed the characters’ names didn’t sound too 18th century-ish, I went home and Googled common 18th century names. I was a little surprised when I didn’t find anything.

So I decided to do some research myself. I began to document the birth year, location of birth, name, and class of women born in America from 1640 to 1820, just to see what names it would turn up.

The current result is a database of 1,676 women, mostly from Virginia or Delaware, from 1750-1820. The information was mainly collected from cemetery records and runaway advertisements. I listed women from all walks of life. If I could not find a specific year of birth, I estimated to a decade based on other information (children, average life span for that class and time). Given that, there’s a chance that a little of this data is about 10 years off the mark. I tried to collect enough names to average these discrepancies out.

The eventual goal of this research is to create a database for each colony/state, showing the most popular names for the area, and for each decade. Because most of my data is from Virginia, however, it currently drowns out whatever the other areas produced. Hopefully in the future I will be able to collect data from other colonies/states and even things out.

So for a few posts I’ll share some facts I discovered from my data.

This project has documented some names that I didn’t really expect to be so old, such as Emmeline, Cecily, Ellen, Edith, Deborah, Daphne, Cynthia, Courtney, Candace, Ariana, Amey, Laura, Mayble, Natalie, and Rhoda.

Here are the thirteen most common names for the 180 years I studied. I grouped similar names together for this, but once I get more data, I may separate them and see which versions were popular for what years.

1)  Mary – 181 counts, most popular between 1810 – 1819.

2)  Elizabeth/Elisabeth – 133, most popular between 1810 – 1819.

3)  Sarah/Sara – 122, most popular between 1810 – 1819.

4) Anne/Ann/Annie/Anna – 120, most popular in the 1770s.

5) Hannah/Hanna – 59, most popular between 1750 – 1759.

6) Margaret/Margareta/Margaretta – 58, most popular between 1810 – 1819.

7) Jane – 44, most popular between 1800 – 1809.

8) Betsey/Betsy – 37, most popular in the 1750s.

9) Rebecca/Rebeckah and Martha are tied at 35 each, the former most popular between 1800 – 1809, the latter in the 1770s.

10) Lucy and Catherine/Catharine are both tied at 28 counts, the former most popular in the 1750s, the latter between 1800 – 1809.

11) Nancy – 22, most popular between 1760 – 1779.

My apologies, that’s a whole bunch of very dry statistics! The funny thing is, some names that seem iconic for the 18th century don’t seem so common. For instance, I counted only four Abigails, no Georgiannas, and only nine Charlottes out of almost 1,700 women. Names that sound very 17th century (Margaret, Margareta and Margaretta) seem to have been popular in the early 19th century, and that seems to be a trend: names that were popular around 1680-1720 were used again between 1780 and 1820.

I’ll have some more breakdowns of this research in future posts – I’m still trying to wrangle these numbers into Excel to make some charts! Enjoy!

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About Amanda Goebel

I'm an Anthropology / Fashion History and Material Culture graduate from The University of Delaware, currently working on a Master's in Museum Studies. I'm a living historian interested in costume and culture from years before. I love researching the mundane and the everyday that has changed or disappeared since. I re-enact the 18th century, and I recreate clothing from that time. This blog is where I'll write about my research and projects. View all posts by Amanda Goebel

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