Colonial Baby Names by Kelly White

  • April 13, 2020
  • Posted By: Pennsbury Manor

As days grow longer and flowers open, spring is a time for joy and new life! So our thoughts today turn to welcoming a new life into the 17th-century home.  Parents had many important decisions to make, including what to name the infant.

Family-oriented Quakers often named their children after relatives, as was the case with Governor William Penn who was named to honor his father, Sir Admiral William Penn. Friends favored common English names like Phoebe or Catherine, and often looked to the Bible for inspiration. Popular monikers of the time included John, Thomas, Mary, and Ester.  Along similar lines, “virtue names,” like Grace and Lettice were given to girls. Yes, Lettice! While the name may remind some people of salad, Lettice comes from the Latin word for joy. William Penn’s oldest surviving daughter was named Letitia, a variation of Lettice. 

William Penn’s first wife was named Gulielma Maria Posthuma Springett.  Gulielma (pronounced Goo-lee-al-ma) is the feminine of the French “William.”  She was named after her father, William Springett.  Posthuma means “after death” and sadly memorializes her father’s death, just two weeks before Gulielma’s birth.

If some of these Quaker names are unusual, then Puritan baby names are downright wacky! Traditionally  more austere than their Quaker counterparts, some God-fearing Puritans chose to name their children after sin and suffering. After a difficult delivery, Puritan parents may decide to name their baby Joy-in-sorrow.  English economist Nicholas Barbon was reportedly christened If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been-damned. No wonder he went by Nicholas!

Keep checking out our blog to learn more historic fun facts!


Fisher, David Hackett. Albion’s Seed: Four British Folk Ways in America (version Erenow). Oxford University Press, 1989. https://erenow.net/.

“Home.” Name Meaning, Popularity, and Similar Names. Accessed March 17, 2020. https://nameberry.com/babyname/Lettice.

Norwood, Joseph. “A Boy Named ‘Humiliation’: Some Wacky, Cruel, and Bizarre Puritan Names.” Slate Magazine. Slate, September 13, 2013. https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/09/puritan-names-lists-of-bizarre-religious-nomenclature-used-by-puritans.html.

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