I sometimes think about which baby names would be meaningful from our family history.  So this post is primarily addressed to younger family members as well as any future family who are thinking about names for their babies.  This was prompted by a question earlier this year from my niece Erin about genealogically significant baby names.

In all our genealogical discussions, we often start with the male line first, so let’s go the other direction and start with the female names.  Here, then, are 9 suggested girl’s names:

  1. Dorothy
  2. Sara
  3. Madeline
  4. Beverly
  5. Helen
  6. Genevieve
  7. Virginia
  8. Rose
  9. Bertha

DOROTHY – This is a great choice.  It’s mainly a nod to our Norwegian heritage.  Although the name has never been top-ten in Norway, it is very common in our ancestry.  It first honors my grandaunt, Dorothy Bonn Axness (1906-1997), whom we all knew and loved.  But it also honors her two grandmothers.  In a rather odd coincidence, both of my Norwegian 2nd great-grandmothers were named Dorothy despite being from different parts of the country.  From Eidsvoll – where the Bonns originated – we have Dorothea Olsdatter Dalum (1819-1893) and from Sogndal – where the Aaberges originated – we have Dorthe Eriksdatter Alme (1838-1938).

Dorothy Bonn Axness (1906-1997), Montevideo, Minnesota, 1957 (Source: Author’s collection)

Dorthe Eriksdatter Alme/Vassli/Aabyrge (1838-1938), Sogndal, Norway, circa 1866 (Source: Author’s collection)

The second lady, Dorthe Eriksdatter Alme/Vassli/Aabyrge, lived longer than any other ancestor in our tree: 100 years and 2 months.  She was named for one of her grandmothers, Dorothea Endresdatter Lad (1766-1834), my 4GG, who in turn was named for one of her grandmothers, Dourdei Johannesdatter Sjkelstad (1702-1753), my 6GG.[1]Norwegians historically named their children, first, after the child’s grandparents, then the parents, and then the great-grandparents.  Given names, therefore, tended to repeat themselves … Continue reading  That’s five Norwegian women named Dorothy in our tree.  Four of the five were born in Hafslo parish, ten miles north of Sogndal.  (See my blog post here about our Hafslo heritage.  These are the folks who seem to have a longevity gene.)

On my father’s side, the name honors my step-grandmother, Dorothy “Dottie” Emily Jones (1903-1994).

Dorothy was a top-10 name in the United States in the first half of the 20th century, but went into a 65-year decline.  It has been making a decent comeback in the past 15 years and is now #563 in the United States.[2]Different baby name websites seem to come up with different ranking numbers.  I’m using the Social Security website.  See https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/.

When my son Christopher Lloyd was born, we were prepared to employ the name Dorothy Ann Jones if it had been a girl and would have called her Anne or Annie Jonnes.

SARA – My mother got such a kick out of the fact that the first names of her children became so popular among the husbands and wives of her children, grandchildren, and nieces.  It has become quite confusing actually.  There are at least 4 Steves and 6 Chrises in the family.  We even have a second Heidi.  The only one of her children to not see her name repeated is Sara – despite its popularity.  It’s #163 (and Sarah is #81).  Peter joked that he’ll know he’s found the right girl to marry when he finds one named Sara!  So this name honors my sister, first and foremost.

Sara is also the most popular girl’s name in our tree.  I had long noticed that Sara or Sarah was common among direct female ancestors in the 17th and 18th century, but when I counted them up, I was quite surprised to find out we have 30!  I’m not talking collateral ancestors; we actually have 30 direct ancestors named Sara or Sarah.  None is recent; the two closest are 4GGs Sara Johnson (1760-1815), a Quaker minister, and SaraSallySmith (1758- 1814), Anson Smith’s mother.  Fifteen Saras are on Dad’s side and 15 on Mom’s, a nice balance.

Part of the explanation for the prevalence of Sara/Sarah is due to its popularity in specific families.  Our Matthews line has 11 of the 30, Vermilyea 8, and Whitney 7.  I have listed all 30 in the footnote.[3]Dad’s side includes 4GGs Sara Johnson, Sally Smith, 6GGs Sarah Beakes, Sarah Bouton, Mrs. Sarah Matthews, 7GG Sarah Platt, 8GGs Sarah Sanford, Sarah Tuttle, Sarah Ann Bourne, Sarah Borden, … Continue reading

MADELINE – This name belongs to my Mother’s side.  Primarily it honors my grandaunt Madeline Bonn (1894-1966).  Madeline was a fixture in my early life and died when I was a teenager.  She suffered from a congenital hunch in her back and never married.  She had a pride and a willfulness and a quiet generosity of spirit that I also saw in my Mother.  Of all the people in my Mother’s family, my Father most liked and admired Aunt Madeline.

Madeline Bonn, guessing 1911 (Source: Author’s collection)

Madeline Bonn, 1957 (Source: Author’s collection)

Madeline also honors Alsatian 6GG Madeleine Frey (1718-1779), whom I discovered earlier this year.[4]See the blog post here.  She is a mitochondrial ancestor – that is, she is in my Mother’s purely female line.  If one of Sara’s daughters were to name a daughter after her, the child would be Madeline Frey’s 10th-generation maternal descendant.  Girl power!  (Grandniece Ingrid was given the middle name Madeline, so she fits that scenario.)

The name Madeline boomed in the 1980s after a 60-year decline.  It has been a top-100 name since 1994 and is #97 today.

BEVERLY – This honors my mother, Beverly Jean Bonn (1932-2019), of course.   You couldn’t pick a greater person to honor.  She is the only Beverly in our tree.  ‘Nuff said.

Beverly was quite popular in the 1920s and 1930s and even got as high as #14 in 1937.  It has been in a long decline since mid-century and is rare today.

Beverly Bonn at 5 months in mother Helen’s lap, 1932 (Source: Author’s collection)

Beverly Bonn Jonnes, in the Ethiopia highlands, circa 1952 (Source: Author’s collection)

HELEN – This primarily honors my maternal grandmother Helen King Vermilyea (1909-1994), a generous, fun-loving woman who loved to talk family history more than anything else.  After marriage, she became Mrs. Helen Vermilyea Bonn.  In old age, her great-grandchildren starting calling her Great Bonn, which she loved.

Grandma was particularly close to her maternal grandparents, Fred & Lena King, of Grand Rapids, Minnesota.   When I was researching Fred A. King five years ago, I discovered that Fred had a sister named Mary Helen King (1847-1907).  Mary Helen in turn was named for two of her aunts.  Her father, Stephen W. King (1824-1865), had two younger sisters, Mary Eliza King (1832-1920) and Helen Louise King (1836-1903).  Although I don’t have any proof, I believe Grandma was named for these two Helens: her grandaunt Mrs. Mary Helen (King) Resseguie and her great-grandaaunt Mrs. Helen Louise (King) Terry.  The latter died six years and the former only two years before Grandma was born, so the timing makes sense.  So the name honors these two ladies as well.

Helen was the second most popular girl’s name in America from 1900-1920 and was still a top-20 name up until 1940.  It has been in gradual decline ever since and is now #429.

Helen Vermilyea Bonn (1909-1994), 1957 (Source: Author’s collection)

Mary Helen (King) Resseguie (1847-1907), year unknown (Source: Louis Perrot)

 

GENEVIEVE – This is a Nests & Eggs play.  It honors Genevieve Estelle Jones (1847-1879), my great-grandaunt.  Admittedly she is not a direct ancestor, but she looms so large in family history that I think she deserves the honor.  It is also a beautiful name.  Genevieve has been making a comeback since the 1990s and is now #168 in popularity.  It was a top-25 name in the early 1900s but dropped dramatically during the middle part of the last century.

Genevieve Estelle Jones’ Dream (Self-Portrait Homage), 2015, by Gabriela Gonzalez Dellosso (Source: fineartconnoisseur.com)

The poignant story of Genevieve’s short and tragic life has been told many times.  Family historian Joy M. Kiser published a book in 2012,  America’s Other Audubon, about Genevieve’s incredible art project.[5]Joy M. Kiser, America’s Other Audubon (New York, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012).   In her grief from a broken romance and after seeing Audubon’s bird paintings at the Centennial Exhibition in Philadelphia in 1876, Genevieve conceived the idea of creating an art book focused on the nests and eggs of birds.  Collecting birds nests was a long-standing family hobby.

Dr. Nelson E. Jones family portrait: Howard, Nelson, Genevieve, Virginia, circa 1859 (Source: Author’s collection)

Joy M. Kiser book, America’s Other Audubon (Princeton Architectural Press, 2012)

Unfortunately, Genevieve died of typhoid fever only a few weeks into the project.  As a memorial tribute, the family continued her effort.

The Smithsonian Natural History Library owns two original copies of the Nests & Eggs of the Birds of Ohio and has a very nice website (here) about Genevieve’s achievement.

Genevieve was named for one of her paternal aunts, Genevieve Estelle Smith (1832-1861), who married Dr. William Henry Beaumont, both of Cleveland, Ohio.

VIRGINIA – This name belongs to my Father’s side.  It honors 3 women.  First and foremost, it honors Virginia Smith (1827-1906), the mother of the above-mentioned Genevieve Estelle Jones.  She is my 2GG.  After her daughter’s untimely and shocking death, it was Virginia who spearheaded the effort to finish the Nests & Eggs.  She learned to draw with the help of Genevieve’s friend, Eliza Schulze, and ended up producing most of the lithographic illustrations in the book.  Her obituary describes her “as a woman of unusual force of character.”[6]“Mrs. N.E. Jones Dead,” obituary, unknown Circleville newspaper, prob. 27 May 1906; digital image, Findagrave, database (https://www.findagrave.com : 9 December 2020), memorial ID … Continue reading

Virginia Smith age 6 as painted by her brother Hamilton Lanphere Smith, abt 1833 (Source: Original in author’s possession)

Virginia (Smith) Jones (1827-1906), 1870s perhaps (Source: Author’s collection)

 

It also honors her granddaughter Virginia Hanford Jones (1901-1978), whom we called Big Ginny, and Big Ginny’s daughter Virginia Smith Kitzmiller (1928-1996), whom we called Little Ginny.

Virginia Hanford Jones, aka Big Ginny, age 18 (Source: Author’s collection)

Virginia Smith Kitzmiller, aka Little Ginny, with first cousin Nelson Jonnes, 1952 (Source: Author’s collection)

Virginia is much less common than it used to be.  It’s #976 today.  Alternatively, Jinny or Ginny could be used.

ROSE – This honors two women in my Mother’s tree.  Primarily, it honors our Alsatian-American ancestor, Rosalie Rist (1801-1890).  I’ve posted several articles about her and her husband Lorentz Wührlin (1796-1870), a baker.  They immigrated in 1827 as a young couple, and lived for many years in Princeton, New Jersey.   They eventually Americanized their names to Lawrence & Rose Whaley.  Lawrence & Rose made the mistake of moving to North Carolina in the late 1850s and suffered badly during the Civil War.  They subsequently joined family in Saginaw, Michigan.  Rose lived to 88 years old and was much loved.  We have no photograph, unfortunately.

Secondly, this honors my 3GG Rose Ann Green (1827-1869).  I discovered her five years ago while trying to find the parents of Fred A. King (1857-1920).  Rose was born in upstate New York but moved as an infant to Redford, Michigan, where she grew up.  She married Stephen W. King (1824-1865), who became a lumber merchant in Saginaw.  Fred was one of their three children.  Stephen & Rose both died in middle age and never lived long enough to see any of their grandchildren.  Again, no photo.

Rose is #115 in popularity today and has been making a comeback since 2010.  A nice alternative would be Rosalie, which has come out of nowhere in the last decade, climbing to #218.

BERTHA – This is a pure Norwegian play.  Bertha Bonn (1865-1936), my great-grandmother, was a very impressive individual.  Smart, strong, and hard-working.  My respect and interest in her has grown tremendously since becoming a genealogist.  In a day when few women owned businesses, she became the proprietress of a millinery shop in Montevideo, Minnesota and owned commercial properties in town.  Because of her lifelong emphasis on the importance of education, her oldest son, Jack Bonn, created a scholarship in her name at Montevideo High School.  The Bertha Bonn Scholarship is the highest denomination scholarship given out annually.[7]Blog posts about Bertha may be viewed here and here.

Bertha, in turn, was named for her paternal grandmother, Berte Mikkelsdatter Vikheim (1812-1883), also from Sogndal, Norway.  Berte is the ancestor known for writing her funeral poem.  See the translation here.

Bertha Aaberge Bonn, circa 1892 (Source; Author’s collection)

Berte Mikkelsdtr Vikheim/Lereim/Hermanson, circa 1872 (Source: an Albertson cousin, edited by author)

Bertha has been in decline for 120 years and is extremely rare today.  It’s the least popular name on the list.  I think in English it just doesn’t sound as good as in Norwegian, so one option would be to alter the spelling (and pronunciation) and make it Berte – truly Norwegian.

Other Names –  Additional female names from our family tree in the past two centuries include Barbara, Rachel, Amy, Isabella, Maria, Grace, Anne, Phoebe, Ruth, Lydia, Mabel, Caroline, Alice, Margaret, Elizabeth, and Charity.

References

1 Norwegians historically named their children, first, after the child’s grandparents, then the parents, and then the great-grandparents.  Given names, therefore, tended to repeat themselves within families.  The name Dorothy, by the way, is spelled various ways in Norwegian: Dorte, Dorthe, Dorthea, Dorotea, Dorothea, Dourdei, and Durdei.
2 Different baby name websites seem to come up with different ranking numbers.  I’m using the Social Security website.  See https://www.ssa.gov/oact/babynames/.
3 Dad’s side includes 4GGs Sara Johnson, Sally Smith, 6GGs Sarah Beakes, Sarah Bouton, Mrs. Sarah Matthews, 7GG Sarah Platt, 8GGs Sarah Sanford, Sarah Tuttle, Sarah Ann Bourne, Sarah Borden, Sarah Kellogg, 9GGs Sarah Heath, Sarah Saint John, Mrs. Sarah Clark, Sarah Wood; Mom’s side includes 6GG Sarah Hamblin, 7GGs Sarah Odell, Sarah Sears, Sarah Stout, Sarah Root, 8GGs Sarah Crosby, Sarah Perkins, Sarah Knight, Sarah Stebbins, 9GGs Sarah Fitch, Sarah Vowles, Sarah Graves, Sarah Bearding, 11GGs Sarah Whiting, and Sarah Learned.
4 See the blog post here.
5 Joy M. Kiser, America’s Other Audubon (New York, New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2012).
6 “Mrs. N.E. Jones Dead,” obituary, unknown Circleville newspaper, prob. 27 May 1906; digital image, Findagrave, database (https://www.findagrave.com : 9 December 2020), memorial ID 99408844 for Virginia Smith Jones, Forest Cemetery, Circleville, Pickaway, Ohio [obit posted by dcterri].
7 Blog posts about Bertha may be viewed here and here.