Vol. 71 No. 3 (2023): NAMES: A Journal of Onomastics

Name Transmission Relationships in England (1838-2014)

Stephen J. Bush
University of Oxford

Published 2023-08-22


  • anthroponym,
  • patronym,
  • matronym,
  • first name,
  • given name,
  • England
  • ...More


Baby names are often used to model the mechanisms of cultural evolution, as they are not given arbitrarily but on the basis of their perceived associations. Datasets showing birth registrations over time track changes in these perceptions, and thereby in tastes and ideas. Using birth registration data, numerous transmission biases have been identified that predispose someone to favour one cultural variant (i.e., a name) over another. While this research is facilitated by the annual release of many countries’ birth registration data, these datasets are typically limited to yearly counts of forenames. To gain insight into name transmission biases not detectable from birth registration data alone, this study parses the birth, marriage, and death registers of England to generate a dataset of 690,603 name transmission relationships, given between 1838 and 2014, and linking the names of both parents and child. The data reveal long-term trends in matro- and patronymic naming, once common practices affecting approximately 15% of male and 8% of female records per year throughout the 19th century. These practices declined precipitously throughout the 20th century, in the aftermath of the First World War. These results highlight the importance of contextualising birth registration data when identifying naming trends.


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