Fly-fornication Richardson and his Puritan Friends


When we were naming our second child we settled on Isla, partly because it sounds nice (eye-la, not iz-la), partly because I have some Celtic roots (the ginger beard is a clue), and partly because my wife promised me a bottle of Islay on each of Isla’s birthdays.* We were not in any way drawn to the meaning, ‘island’, as the reason for choosing the name. And we only subsequently heard that it means ‘devoted to God’ in Spanish (and only then after the pronunciation has been altered).

In contrast, John Bunyan came up with some pretty cracking names heavy-laden with meaning in Pilgrim’s Progress. Among the more ordinary are Christian and Prudence, but we also have Mr Ready-to-Halt, Valiant-for-Truth, and Mr Feeble-Mind.

Apparently, these kinds of names were common in Puritan England at the time John Bunyan was growing up, and reflect the spread of puritanism among the artisan class. John Adair tells us:

A Sussex jury list, for example, includes Be-courteous Cole, Safety-on-High Snat, Search-the-Scriptures Moreton, Increase Weeks, Kill-sin Pemple, Fly-debate Smart, Fly-fornication Richardson, Seek-wisdom Wood, Much-mercy Cryer, Fight-the-good-fight-of-faith White, and The-peace-of-God Knight. Hertfordshire could field Lamentation Candle, Mephibosheth Lamprey and Humiliation Scratcher.

So while we roll our eyes at the current celebrity fashion for outdoing one another with weird baby names, perhaps we ought to revisit and resurrect some of these beauties?

*The name Isla is derived from Islay, the home of some pretty darn good whiskies.

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