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.