Baby Names From
Mount Holyoke College
If you had to guess, what era would you say the girl's name 'Freelove' comes from? Most people would probably guess the 1960s, the decade of the hippie movement, the time of slogans like 'make love, not war,' and Haight-Ashbury's 1967 'Summer of Love'.
How about the name 'Destine'? Think it might be one of those unique, made-up baby names that everyone seems to be obsessed with these days? A variation of the name 'Destiny'?
And the girl's name 'Happy' -- does that suggest a particular place or time? Or does it simply reflect the first emotion of weary parents, who are relieved that their daughter has arrived safely?
If you guessed that all three names are from mid-19th century America, you know your baby names.
These names, and nearly 350 more, are found in a remarkable list of baby names created by the Archives and Special Collections Department of Mount Holyoke College. Founded in 1837 as a womens' seminary, Mount Holyoke today is a leading womens' college, located some 50 miles west of Boston. What is most fascinating about this list of Mount Holyoke names is that they all belonged to early Mount Holyoke students, born between 1820 and 1850. Given the dates involved, it is likely that this list includes many of those girls who were the earliest students at the college.
More than just a dusty roster of students, the early Mount Holyoke names have relevance to the debate about modern baby names. Think of one of the most common gripes about today's baby names: that they are often weird, or trying to be different, or are 'made-up' names. Now look at the following names plucked from the early Mount Holyoke register: Estimate, Lemonyne, Love, Mandana, Meta, Pocahontas, Silence, Watie, Wealthy. Not your average girls' names, by any stretch of the imagination! And probably not what you'd think of if you were envisioning Victorian, or 19th Century girls' names. The Mount Holyoke list is full of strange, unfamiliar, and yes, even weird names!
Another complaint often made about modern baby names is that they include too many creative spelling variations -- implying that 'in the old days' there were far fewer variants! Well, that may be true if you just look at the 20th Century, but if you look at this list of 19th Century baby names, the theory is a bit shaky. The name Harriet, for example, turns up in five different variations, including Harriet, Harriett, Harrietta, Harriette, and Harriot. Variants on the name Jeanette include Jeannette, Jennet, Jennett, and Jennette. Then there are Louisa and Louesa; Lucia and Lucie; Mabel and Mabell, and Evalyn, Eveline, and Evelyn. Even the aforementioned Wealthy had her variant, spelled 'Welthy'! Apparently, creative spelling of names may not be the modern trend we think it is.
The number of strange names on the list is remarkable. Here are a few that will probably not be familiar to many people today: Adelzina; Amorette, Asenath; Atossa; Bethiah; Cleaveland; Emorette; Experiance; Florilla; Lewey; Lodema; Lurintha; Matenah; Melicent; Myrtilla; Pamelia; Silence; Tamson, and Zoa. Not your everyday 'traditional' names!
Oh, and about that name, 'Freelove.' Turns out the hippies weren't the first people to use the phrase. 'Free Love' was a significant 19th Century movement. The Free Love movement was a civil libertarian doctrine, that rejected the notion of state-sanctioned marriage. In addition to its base of radical supporters, it was embraced by feminists, who opposed the 'ownership' of women that underpinned marriage law at that time. Free Love advocates rejected any control of women by legislation such as divorce, adultery, marriage, and similar laws. While it may be a bit of stretch, it's not hard to imagine that a daughter of a Free Love couple, born in the mid-19th Century, grew up to attend Mount Holyoke college -- one of the first womens' colleges in the United States.
If you are interested in 19th-Century names, you may also be interested in our lists of Victorian Baby Names and Traditional Baby Names.