First names inspired by the First World War

Elizabeth, 2nd floor manager at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library has shared this fascinating piece of research with us:

First names inspired by the First World War.

I once researched a family tree that included three sons by the unusual names of Foch, Joffre and Petain. Some of you will know at once that these were Marshals of France either during or immediately after the First World War.

Last night I got to thinking which other names might have been relatively common during and after the Great War specifically because of the War, so I’ve just spent a little time on FreeBMD to get some figures.

I’ve generally used the time period 1914-1920 in all districts in England and Wales, and first names only as birth indexes during the Great War do not list middle names. Figures are correct at the time of writing but as sites are constantly being updated they may be wrong tomorrow! I should also say that I have only searched for correctly transcribed names (the Foch above is wrongly listed as ‘Fock’ for instance so is not part of the count below) and have not checked every single entry to make sure it has not been double keyed – this is an interest post, not a scientific experiment.

Meet the Fochs – and other well-known people

Going back to the original trio, searching all transcribed records, there are three Fochs, all registered in June Quarter, 1919. Five Petains were registered between June Quarter 1916 and December Quarter 1938, three of them in 1916. Finally, Joffre proved particularly popular with 295 registrations, especially in 1915 and 1916 which saw 234 of those registrations. Numbers tailed off quickly from 1917. All three of these names were unknown in the registers prior to the Great War. [Since Game of Thrones, the similarly spelt name ‘Joffrey’ may represent too much of a baddie to have a similar impact!]

Other well-known individuals and their impact on later birth registers is sometimes more difficult to monitor as they may well have had names that were already popular. The number of Ediths registered in Norfolk actually fell from 144 registrations in 1914 to 114 in 1916 and was still lower – at 126 – in 1920. However, across the Country, 27 ‘Cavells’ were registered, the highest number in a quarter being six in December 1915 – the same quarter in which she died. I was surprised to find none of these were registered in Norfolk though.

So how about battles and famous places associated with the First World War?

As expected, ‘Somme’ appears in 1916 with 14 registered births between 1914-20.

An early ‘Arras’ was registered in 1842, but the name appears relatively frequently from 1915, with 43 registrations during the war years. Interestingly there are also a couple of registrations which may be female variations – an Arrasina and an Arrasy both registered in 1918.

Only four ‘Flanders’ were registered during the war years, and other entries appear now and again both before and after the war – perhaps family surnames recycled as first names.

No one was registered with the first name Gallipoli but four ‘Dardanelles’ were registered in 1915 only.

There are no Marnes or Passchendaeles at all, but a staggering 923 Verduns between 1914 and 1920 alone. Two in 1914, three in 1915, 668 in 1916, 145 in 1917, 51 in 1918, 31 in 1919 and 22 in 1920. Unlike the other names there were then a few Verduns registered most years until the 1960s.

As for Jutland, there are four in currently transcribed indexes on the site, three of them during the war years.

Ending with Ypres, there were 75 indexed in total, 65 of them during the war years. The name first appears in December Quarter 1914, and was most popular in March Quarter 1915.

I suspect most of these children were boys, but the registers do not distinguish – do you have any female Arras’ or Sommes in your family tree?

I’m sure these figures are dwarfed by the number of children with middle names related to battles and places. Perhaps these children were ‘battleborn’ or perhaps their fathers were involved or died there. Did the name itself have an impact? Perhaps ‘Verdun’ was similar enough to ‘Vernon’ that it was easier to use day-to-day than ‘Passchendaele’? I’m sure there are family stories out there, but I’m sure the outcome of the battle and where it appeared on a scale of Allied success/failure also had an impact.


And what of the symbol of the poppy? Is the graph below coincidence, with the name rising in popularity from the end of 1921, the same year that Anna Guerin’s idea was adopted by Field Marshal Douglas Haig, one of the founders of the Royal British Legion? Consistently, December Quarter seems to have a higher number of registrations, perhaps children born on, or close to, Armistice Day, the phenomenon appearing from 1921 onwards.


Your turn!

I’m sure this is just a start – there must be lots of other First World War names out there, whether connected to people, places or battles. I’ll leave that searching up to you…


This post first appeared on Elizabeth’s own website where you will also find many more fascinating genealogy posts, although not all are WW1 related.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.