Why the Puritans Have Funny Names

In Friday’s post on how Puritanism devolved into Unitarianism over a short span of time, I focused on the lives of four generations of the same prominent family, noting:

One of the Puritans to cross over to the New World in the Great Migration was the famous Puritan minister Richard Mather, the father of Increase, grandfather of Cotton (because the Mathers briefly forgot what “names” were once they made it to the New World), and great-grandfather of Samuel.

After writing this, I discovered the name Increase was given “because of the never-to-be-forgotten Increase, of every sort, wherewith God favoured the Country, about the time of his Nativity.” That actually provides more support for the general thesis of Friday’s post: at the time Increase was born, his very name signaled the hopefulness of the Puritans, as they foresaw their rise. By the time he died, Puritanism was already dying as well. That’s a rather short lived religious movement – it doesn’t exactly pass Gamaliel’s challenge.

By what appears to be sheer coincidence, amusing Puritan names were also the subject of a Saturday blog post Jay Nordlinger of National Review.  There were some pretty good examples, like Peregrine White.and Zebediah Ace Brady, but nothing even comes close to the economist Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-for-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon..  Other than maybe his dad’s name: Praise-God Barebone.  Wikipedia notes that Praise-God’s reputed middle name was similar to his son’s, and his full name was believed to be Praise-God Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone.  I think that name wins. As an aside, Praise-God was a Fifth Monarchist, and a Member of Parliament:

That Parliament which convened in July 1653 and sat to December 1653 (when Cromwell grew sick of it and dismissed it) is commonly known by historians as the Parliament of Saints or the Barebone’s Parliament (after one of its members Praisegod Barebone). The Fifth Monarchists were a London and Wales based group of men who interpreted those actions as being eschatalogically mandated in the bible- most beleived that the end of the world was due in 1656 (later 1666 was chosen as a date) and that it could only be advanced when King Jesus not King Charles or King Cromwell ruled England.

It’s the British equivalent of “Senator Harold Camping.” Oh, and did I mention that the Fifth Monarchists declared that the Mosaic Law should be the national law of England?

For his part, Barebone’s son Nicholas, also a millennialist, traded simply under the name “Nicholas Barbon,” which is how he’s known to history.  I have to imagine that this is because the name “Nicholas If-Jesus-Christ-Had-Not-Died-for-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon” wouldn’t fit on a check or a ledger.

If you couldn’t guess, the Puritans frequently gave their children short sermons as names, in the hopes that the children could never forget these Scriptural truths. And in doing so, they recognized something beautiful and true.  As Cardinal George noted in his talk last week, “Christianity isn’t primarily a set of rules or doctrines, but is primarily about a Man.”  Our faith needs to go past our brains into the very fiber of our beings, and a good Christian name reflects this.

Scripture presents our name as one of the most intimate things about us (Rev. 2:17), and name changes in Scripture (Genesis 17:5, Gen. 32:28, John 1:42, Matthew 16:17-20) are incredibly significant. It’s why popes change their names upon assuming the office – they can no longer be the men they were before.  The practice started with Pope John II, who was given the name Mercurius by his pagan parents, in honor of Mercury. He recognized that the pope shouldn’t have a pagan name, and rightly took the name John instead. Likewise, Catholic priests traditionally required that a baby presented for Baptism be given the name of a Saint, if they didn’t have one already — that’s why first names are often called “Christian names.”  Pope Benedict has even encouraged parents to return to this practice, instead of giving their children the ridiculous names (like “Apple”) which are popping up.  So kudos to the Puritans for at least understanding the importance of a good name, even if their execution was a little ridiculous.  And it’s safe to say that “Praise-God Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned” beats “Apple” any day.


  1. Touche` Jose!!! Only correction I think is that Cromwell never made himself KING but Lord Protector.

    The Puritan era, per se`, was not lasting in view of time, but it’s merging of Word and practice [plus so much more] lives on in the writings and preaching of modern day Calvinists.

    To ask where are the Puritans today [last post, I believe] makes me think we should all dress like 17th century folks, or name our kids like they did [and you are so apropos on children’ names: Frank Zappa named his Moon and something equally weird].

    My thought is, find another way of conducting your beat down on Puritans for understanding their elimination of iconoclastic images of all forms.

    Catholicism had their chance in 1588 until the Armada went to the bottom of the English Channel. Providence or luck? Let us never forget to interpret any history by its times — not ours. When we project our “Monday morning quarterback” vision, it all looks stupid. Someday, our future generations will look at Vatican II, or present day America, or Woodstock ’69, and wonder “wuz up with dat?”

    And Joe, you are a good blogger — as fair and even as I’ve seen. Thanks.

  2. Thanks, Lagniappe!

    Great example with Frank Zappa. He named his children Moon Unit, Dweezil, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and my personal favorite, Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen.

    And yeah, I’ve addressed Calvinist iconoclasm before. You can’t affirm the first seven Ecumenical Councils without acknowledging the merit of using images in prayer. The Second Council of Nicea (Council number seven) made this clear, with anathemas attached for those who called it idolatry. More recently, I explored whether Calvinists can affirm the First Council of Nicea, the one which gave us the Nicene Creed. I don’t see how they can, but I’m open to correction.

    I know that some Protestants, particularly Anglicans, put great stock in the sinking of the Spanish Armada, but I think they’re reading a whole lot into that event which isn’t supported. First, that particular reading falsely equates “Spanish” with “Catholic,” and “British” with “Anglican” or “Protestant.” The war was about both religious and commercial interests, nationalism, piracy, colonization of the New World, and so forth. I think an honest Christian can admit that it wasn’t always a simple black and white, good v. evil conflict.

    Second, this view focuses on a single battle instead of the whole war, or the overall direction of history. After all, even the Israelites lost some spectacular battles, but losing those battles didn’t mean they weren’t chosen by God (often it meant that a little oppression was the best thing for them). Don’t forget that Spain largely won the war. After the Armada sank, they built twelve huge ships called “The Twelve Apostles” which devastated the British forces. By going even beyond the war, look at the course of history: as many trials and setbacks as Catholicism has faced, She’s still in great shape compared to Anglicanism. Remember that God never promised that His Church wouldn’t lose some battles, or even wars (look at Christianity in north Africa today, for example); but He did promise that the Church would survive and flourish.

    Third, it supposes that the military victor is the one God chooses. Again, as with the Israelite example, sometimes God permits His people to be oppressed. And after all, if the sinking of the Armada means that God favors Anglicanism, why don’t the failed Crusades mean that God favors Islam, and so on? I think a near-perfect parallel to the sinking of the Armada comes from Japanese history. Genghis Khan’s forces started in Mongolia, and made it all the way to central Europe, yet they never conquered nearby Japan. They tried and failed twice – and in the first instance, it was because a surprise storm sank most of their fleet, something the Japanese called the “Divine Wind,” or “Kamikaze.” But we need not conclude that God was endorsing Shintoism as a result. So while I do believe that a religious system that entirely disappears isn’t the true Church (since the true Church will never totally disappear), and I do think God’s will is sometimes observable through the outcome of battles and wars, I think there’s also a risk of reading too much into things.

    Finally, Anglicanism isn’t Evangelicalism. While I get why Anglicans enjoy this event, why Evangelicals? Evangelicals denounce Anglicanism’s views on a sacramental priesthood, a three-tiered episcopal-headed polity, the Book of Common Prayer, and so on. I mean, Elizabethan England tortured and killed the Nonconformists, the religious group most similar to modern Evangelicalism.

    And thanks for the “fair and even” comment – I appreciate it, and am glad you’re around. Your brother in Christ,


  3. Howard,

    Cotton’s at least a family name – it was his mother’s maiden name. I can’t knock that (my middle name is my mother’s maiden name, so I’m biased).


    That’s a fascinating name. I tried to find more about it, and discovered a history of his great-great grandson, who had the same name, and lived from 1845-1916 in Minnesota: http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/2/v02i01p007-011.pdf
    I don’t know if you’ve seen it before, but it looks like he lead an interesting life, fighting for the Union Army in his youth (the elder Return fought for Independence from Britain, ironically).

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