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Names from the American Revolution

What's in a Name

The surnames of many Civil War generals have been used as first names.

What's in a Name

The majority of American presidents, as could be expected, had highly traditional names. It wasn't until the twentieth century that a man with a given pet name—Harry—was elected to the White House.

An interesting result of most major wars is the strong influence they have on name pools. Many parents assign to their offspring the first names of the people who took part in these events.

In America, the Revolutionary War was the first significant event to have a broad influence on naming patterns among the colonists, adding such names to the pool as:

  • Anthony: This Roman clan name is said to mean “beyond price” or “invaluable.” Anthony Wayne, an American general, reclaimed a strategic location from the British—Stony Point, New York—and took an estimated 700 prisoners.
  • Charles: Another royal name, it means “man.” Charles Lee was a British-born soldier who attained the rank of general in the patriot army.
  • Daniel: Hebrew for “God is my judge.” American general Daniel Morgan was noted for winning the Battle of Cowpens in South Carolina.

  • Ethan: Hebrew for “steadfastness” or “firmness.” Ethan Allen led the attack on and captured the British arsenal at Fort Ticonderoga, New York.
  • Francis: “Frenchman” or “free man.” Perhaps the best-known Francis before Frank Sinatra was Francis Marion, the military leader who waged a successful war against the British in the Carolinas. His nickname was “Swamp Fox.”
  • What's in a Name

    Even during the earliest times in America, people changed their names to escape any negative images and to help them fit in a little better. A famous case in point: Paul Revere, who, while born in America, was the son of French Protestants who had been driven from France. The famous night rider's original given name was Apollos Rivoire.

  • Henry: Old English for “estate ruler,” and appropriately enough, much used among British royalty. American general Henry Lee drove the British from Paulus Hook, New Jersey. Henry Knox was a Boston bookseller who served as general-in-charge of George Washington's artillery and the commander-in-chief's trusted aide.

  • Israel: This Old Testament name is thought to mean “wrestling with the Lord.” Israel Putnam was a colonel in the Connecticut militia who warned his troops to “not fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”
  • Molly: This is a diminutive of the Hebrew word Mary, which means “bitter.” During an exhausting summer battle, Mary McCauley Hays, the wife of a Revolutionary War private, carried water for her husband and his crew, earning her the nickname “Molly Pitcher.” After her husband was wounded, she stepped in to help his crew keep fighting.
  • Nathaniel: Hebrew for “given by God.” Nathanael Greene, an American commander during the Revolutionary War, was a Quaker without any military experience, but with a keen tactical mind that elevated him to the rank of general. Nathan Hale, a true American hero, was captured by the British and hanged without trial as a spy. His final words were, “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”

  • Patrick: Latin for “noble” or “patrician,” this name is closely associated with Ireland thanks to the fifth-century missionary St. Patrick. Patrick Henry was a major figure in the Revolutionary War and a powerful orator, best known for his “give me liberty or give me death” speech.
  • Paul: This Latin-based name means “small.” Maker of false teeth (bet you didn't know that!) and silversmith, Paul Revere was the brave midnight rider who warned Boston residents that the British were on their way to attack them.

More on: Choosing a Name

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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