Friday, 2 March 2012

1,399 Chartist children named

Chartists would often name their children after their radical heroes. For many family historians, the sudden arrival in the clan of a Feargus or even a John Frost born some time after 1837 may provide the first inkling of their ancestors’ political leanings.
The Chartist Ancestors website now lists no fewer than 1,399 children whose names appear to be borrowed from a leader of the Chartist movement. The list includes 111 Feargus O’Connors (with a further 68 having these as middle names), 230 John Frosts and 673 Henry Vincents.
Less commonly, there are 26 William Lovetts, while the popularity of Ernest Jones stretches on until the eve of the first world war, by which time he had acquired a total of 263 namesakes, the bulk of them born around the time of his death in 1869.
The extensive list published on Chartist Ancestors today and taken from birth registrations is new, but Chartist Ancestors first attempted this exercise in April 2003. At that point it was possible to find far fewer names. This is a substantial update.
The phenomenon of radical naming has been studied by historians. In his book Chartism and the Chartists in Manchester and Salford, Paul A Pickering includes the following passage:
"Many chartist historians have taken the opportunity of making a light-hearted reference to the onerous burden placed on youngsters who were given names such as Feargus O'Connor Frost O'Brien McDouall Hunt Taylor and John Frost Feargus Bronterre Paine Smith, without going on to afford the practice much detailed attention. The Chartists themselves undoubtedly saw the humorous side of radical naming. The Brown Street Chartists, for example, wrote to Queen Victoria recommending that she name her new-born child after Feargus O'Connor, and when she did not reply two branch members named their child Regina Feargus Smith."
Nor is Chartist Ancestors alone in having tried to quantify the phenomenon. Malcolm Chase, in Chartism: A New History, identified “myriad children given ‘Feargus’ as a first name”, of whom there were 316 in the 1851 census, 46 further having ‘O’Connor as a middle name.
Putting the figures in context, he points out that there are just seven English-born men in the 1851 census whose birth dates pre-date 1837 and the Charter.