Baby Naming

Barbe and Suzanne always stood apart in the Pinel family. They were children of another man, the one Anne had married before she married Gilles in 1657.

Barbe and Suzanne’s names have always been a bit of a mystery to me. From researching church records, I gained a sense that their names didn’t carry the same New France flavor as their half siblings’. And it turns out that my impression wasn’t unfounded. This site  (in French) offers a list of the most popular names in seventeenth century Canada.

Barbe and Suzanne’s names are not on the list but almost all of their Pinel siblings’ names do appear: Catherine (6th), Francoise (8th), Marie Madeleine (3rd), Francois Xavier (Francois was 4th), Anne (5th), Nicolas (9th), and Jean (2nd). Only two Pinel children, Elisabeth Ursale and Guillaume, were given names that were not among the top ten names in popularity for their time and location.

But data on name popularity doesn’t end there. The PRDH offers a page explaining naming conventions in New France. Their data covers both the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and therefore is not as precise. However, in addition to providing a list of the top 25 names for both sexes, they offer a widget in the section on frequent first names that will tell you the popularity of any name in old Quebec prior to 1800. Through the PRDH we can learn the rank of the less popular names Anne Ledet gave to her children: Elisabeth (30th), Guillaume (59th), Suzanne (66th), and Barbe (136th.) The Nepveu children lose again….

So why were Barbe and Suzanne given such rare names when their half-siblings got more ordinary ones.

Were Barbe and Suzanne French names that lost favor among parents the longer they stayed in the new world — like the Jennifers and Michelles of the 1980s we rarely see in the 2010s. Were Barbe and Suzanne evidence of a divide between Anne’s dreamy and reckless youth, when a girl could pack up and move to a new country and reinvent herself, and her matron years, cowed to convention after the conviction of her first husband for bigamy. Or does the switch simply indicate different choices made by one woman in compromise with the varied taste of two different men.

Definitive answers are going to be impossible to discover.  So, to make this easier for any descendent that might come along 10 generations from now who is curious about my naming preferences, my husband and I chose names that were purposely neither among the most popular nor the most obscure, had familial meaning, and a nice ring to them.

What naming strategies did you use for your children – and are your naming strategies common in your family tree?

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