May 20, 2012

What's in a Name?

As I stated in my last post, every person begins with a birth.  Following that birth is a name.  There are a few ways that I could approach this.

Some re-enacting groups choose period-appropriate names for their personas.  It seems that most of the RevWar re-enactors that I’ve interacted with, though, use their own legal names.  There’s nothing wrong with either approach, however, I have sort of an unusual name, at least for modern times.  If I’m going to use my legal name, it would be neat to research it to see if it would have been a name that would have been in use in New England in 1776.

My last name is easy to document.  The History of Rindge, New Hampshire lists one of my ancestors, Randall Davis, as one of the signers of the Association Test of June 1, 1776 [1].  Several others with the Davis surname also signed the document.  So, the surname Davis did exist in New England in 1776.

What about my first name, Elroy?  That one is tougher.  It’s a rare name in modern times, and I can’t recall seeing it in any documentation from the time-period that I’m looking for.

Time for some research.

A quick Google search of “Elroy” turns up all sorts of interesting things.  A couple of towns named Elroy, a clothing line, a baseball player (actually a distant cousin), an actor, plus a few pages that are actually about me and things I’ve done.  Not much on the name itself though.  Refining the search to “Elroy name” turns up a lot of sites to give expectant parents ideas for baby names.  The name is of French origin, meaning “the king”.  The name seems to have peaked in popularity in the 1920s, though the data starts in 1880, which isn’t very helpful for my purposes.

A Google Books search turns up at least one promising hit.  A search for “Elroy” in books published between 1 Jan 1735 and 31 Dec 1776 found a reference to the name in an English-language periodical.  Unfortunately there was only a snippet view, so it was difficult tell the usage.  It was the middle name of a playwright, it appears, but I couldn’t tell the location.  Further Google searching on the name of the playwright finds that he actually lived in the 19th century, so the date of the book appears to have been misidentified in my original search results.

An search turns up little regarding my name in 18th century New England.  A search of databases on the New England Historic Genealogical Society is similar.  The name does appear in the 1800s in New England, but I’m not having much luck finding anything from the 1700s.

It’s time to take a different approach to my persona’s name.

[1] Ezra S. Stearns, History of The Town of Rindge, New Hampshire, From The Date of The Rowley Canada or Massachusetts Charter, to The Present Time, 1736 - 1874, With a Genealogical Register of The Rindge Families, (Boston: George H. Elllis, 1875) (accessed June 9, 2012), 121. The Association Test was a document which allowed citizens of the American colonies to “show determination in joining our American Brethren in defending the lives, liberties and property of the inhabitants of the United Colonies,” and to “with Arms oppose the Hostile proceedings of the British Fleets and Armies against the United American Colonies”.  The declaration was originally sent out by the New Hampshire Committee of Safety to the selectmen of Rindge on April 12, 1776.  According to the transcript starting on page 121 of The History of Rindge, all eligible men of the town signed the document, with none opposed, on June 1, 1776.

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