Forenames and identity

St Peran didn’t just leave his name in the landscape. On occasion, the name Piran or Perran is bestowed on male babies. However, this isn’t some age-old tradition, surviving from the days of the saints.

On the other hand, it’s not entirely novel either. The forename Perran was being used in Perranzabuloe in the 1600s – the first example I can find being Perran Michell – baptised in the parish in 1625. Yet no Perrans were recorded there in the tax lists of the early 1500s, which suggests the practice arose at some point between then and the early seventeenth century. Nonetheless, the name grew in popularity and by the 1700s there were examples of it scattered over a quite a wide swathe of mid and west Cornwall, always spelt Perran or very occasionally Peran but never Piran.

By the time of the 1861 Census there were just three men called Perran still living in Cornwall, two in Marazion and one in neighbouring (and appropriately named) Perranuthnoe. By the 1891 Census even these had disappeared and the name looked to be on its way to extinction. It was saved by mid-twentieth century Cornish revivalism, which not only introduced the new spelling Piran but also triggered a revival of the more traditional Perran, this probably beginning in the 1960s.

The number of babies annually named Perran/Piran is not huge. The Office for National Statistics reports an average of around 17 or 18 a year in the UK. If all those were born in Cornwall, which is extremely unlikely, that would be around 1.3% of all Cornish male births.

Numbers have risen since the turn of the millennium. Although falling back noticeably in the five-year period 2010-14 they have been fairly constant since 2005. The proportion spelt Perran as opposed to the revivalist Piran has also remained surprisingly consistent at around 30% of the total.

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