Werrington: no money but a naming puzzle

Werrington is a border parish to the north of Launceston. Like most of the surrounding parishes, in the mid-1800s it was a predominantly farming parish, with three quarters of its resident families dependent on the farms for their livelihood. Seven children in our database were living in the parish in 1861, five in farming households, although two of these were farm servants with labouring parents.

Yeolm bridge, built in the mid-1300s and described by Cornish antiquarian Charles Henderson as the ‘oldest and most beautuiful’ in Cornwall

The remaining two children were Elizabeth Messenger and William Lane. Elizabeth was the daughter of a curate and ended up in Herefordshire married to a bank clerk. William Lane, the son of a slate quarry sawyer, became a blacksmith and was still living in the village of his birth –  Yeolmbridge – in 1911. The others all remained in Cornwall as well, with one exception.

Philip Pethick’s father – also called Philip – was in 1861 running a 70-acre farm and a grocery store at Bridgetown in Werrington next to the river Tamar. During the 1860s he moved to a much larger farm at Warbstow. The younger Philip worked on his father’s farm before marrying his wife Ann in 1872 and taking on a farm of his own, a 150-acre holding back in Werrington at Bullapit.

Philip was not a success as a farmer. By 1891 he’d given up the farm and was returned in the census as a farm labourer living on the edge of Devonport in a three-roomed cottage with his wife and their four children. And there they stayed into the Edwardian years. Philip may not have achieved financial security as a farmer but difficult times did not stop him adopting and expanding on a rather unusual family tradition through which it expressed its individuality.

His parents had named two younger sons Permen and Prochorus. When Philip and Ann began to have children in the 1870s they followed suit, choosing obscure Greek, Hebrew and Latin names for their children, sometimes coupled with more familiar names, sometimes not. Pathros Olga, Pitta Philip and Phoras Beatrice were followed in turn by Phalli, Phalitus Percival and Rebe. Obscure is not really the word as most of these don’t even figure in the 389 pages of Oxford University Press’s normally comprehensive A Dictionary of First Names. Where ever did they find these names and why?

The mansion at Werrington Park. This was an 18th century rebuilding of an original 16th century house. From 1775 to 1864 it was owned by the Dukes of Northumberland, the patrons of Launceston’s two parliamentary seats in this period.

3 thoughts on “Werrington: no money but a naming puzzle

  1. In my family tree research the ancestors in the 1800s tended to be called Mary and Thomas to excess (making it really challenging to locate folks!) but it suddenly changed in the late 1800s for a few. My great grandmother born around 1890 was called Euphemia. The tale (have I mentioned it here) was that she had to go to hospital at some point and was asked her name. “Euphemia” she responded. “Not your complaint!” said the nurse, “I was asking your name”!

    Those names you cite are particularly wild and it is very interesting to ask “why”. This name shift was massive going into the 1900s – my grandmother was called Edna which now inevitably is associated with elderly folks but then was totally new and stepped outside the tradition of naming children after parents etc (so often reflected in your notes). The world of naming changed completely around the end of the 1800s and made our current huge diversity possible (acknowledged, names go through clear popularity trends). Perhaps this reflected a rise in individualism, a more clear distinction between children and adults (especially at a time when there was an enormous literacy gap between younger and older people as the education acts came into force), as the right to vote was extended slowly across the popn.

    I guess the specific question as to why these wacky names you mention were even known about let alone selected remains unanswered! Would be interesting to locate a source book.


  2. The unusual names sometimes came from Puritan ancestry. There was also an interest in archeology at that time. Classic history may have brought the Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Roman, Egyptian derivations.


    1. Very interesting!

      But can you explain the association of unusual names with Puritan ancestry?

      I do know that on my side that the families were generally Primitive Methodists.


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