Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager
Jessamy Carlson recently published a post on the National Archives’ blog about the First World War phenomenon of giving babies war-related names.
Jessamy found 1,634 babies with such names, with 1,229 babies named after battles. The most popular battle to name children after was Verdun, with 901 babies given this name in 1914-1919. Verdun was one of the longest battles in human history, fought over 303 days from February to December 1916. Recent estimates put casualty figures at 976,000.
By coincidence we recently came across an Essex baby born in 1916 named Nancy Verdun, christened in Goodmayes in 1917. She was the daughter of bus driver Harry Miles and his wife Anna Louise Miles, who lived at 17 Percy Road.
This got me wondering how many other babies were born in Essex with the sort of war-related names that Jessamy had found, so I took to FreeBMD to find out. (The search results for Essex included the registration districts of Edmonton, Royston, Risbridge and Sudbury, which are mostly in Hertfordshire or Suffolk but include some Essex parishes.)
Verdun was by far the most popular battle baby name, with a peak in the second quarter of 1916 as the battle raged.
Jessamy also identified two other categories of war-related baby names – ‘hero babies’ and ‘end of war babies’. Hero babies are those named after significant First World War figures, such as Edith Cavell, Field Marshall Haig, and Lord Kitchener. End of war babies were those with names such as Peace and Victory.
Nationally, 25 babies were named Cavell in 1914-1919, and 3 of them were in Essex. Of 11 babies nationally named Haig, 2 were born in Essex, strangely enough both in the Romford district.
I can find only two babies named Peace (both registered in Edmonton so potentially actually in Hertfordshire), but 11 babies named Victory – including Victory D Tipple, born in Romford in the third quarter of 1919.
One wartime name which as far as I know is unique to Essex is Zeppelina. Zeppelina Clarke was born in the early hours of the morning of 24 September 1916, the night that two Zeppelins crash-landed in Essex. Zeppelin L32 crashed in Great Burstead, with no survivors, and L33 crashed in Little Wigborough, narrowly missing some farm cottages. The crew of L33 walked away largely unharmed. In nearby Great Wigborough, Mr and Mrs Clarke welcomed a baby girl, and their doctor suggested naming her Zeppelina, to mark the extraordinary circumstances of the night of her birth.
It is hard to understand today why people might have named their children after such terrible events as wartime battles, perhaps battles in which close relatives may have been lost. It would be fascinating to know how the babies given these names felt about them as they grew up – if anyone has any insights do leave a comment below.