American tradition has held that the very first Thanksgiving meal was celebrated in November 1621 among the New Plymouth colonizers from the Mayflower ship and the local Pokanoket Indians who were considered their friends and allies. In fact, it was these Native Americans who taught the Mayflower voyagers how to cultivate corn, and a celebration was held in honor of their first harvest a year following their landing on Plymouth Rock.
Those original 102 brave souls packed onto the small 100-foot Mayflower ship spent two long, miserable months crossing the rough seas of the Atlantic Ocean only to lose about half their company during the grueling northeastern winter that would follow in present-day Massachusetts. So what exactly was their motivation in exchange for all this suffering? The 102 original Mayflower passengers had separated from the Church of England and sought to practice their religion freely in the New World. They were religious “Pilgrims” as we have come to call them. Saints and Strangers, these Christian dissenters rejected the corruptions of the Roman Catholic and Protestant Churches and wanted only to pursue their austerely rigid religious life; one which they believed brought them closer to God.
One of the coolest things we discovered in doing our research was the name of the Captain of the Mayflower. Christopher Jones. How perfect is that? A ship carrying two congregations of Christians was being piloted by a dude named Christopher. A name that means “Christ bearer”. We couldn’t have picked a more appropriate name if we tried.
Of the 102 passengers, 74 were men and 28 were women. We know at least 14 of those men were named John and six of the women were named Mary. In other words, 20% (one in five) of the Mayflower’s passengers were called either John or Mary. [Yawn] Right? The next most common names were typically English: for the men it was William (7) followed by Edward (6) and Richard (5). There were three women named Elizabeth and two each of Dorothy and Alice.
What interested us more, however, were the less common names – yet ones so illustrative of naming styles associated with these Christian separatists (Puritans). For instance, we see a smattering of Old Testament names such as Sarah (wife of Abraham), Judith (an ancient Jewish heroine) and Susanna (a Jewish woman who refused to sin even if it meant certain death); for the men we find Moses (leader of the Exodus), Elias (the prophet swooped up to heaven by a chariot of fire), Isaac (Abraham’s son who was almost sacrificed), Myles (a Norman-French nickname for Michael), Samuel (an important prophet) and Solomon (the third King of a Israel, son of David). These names were once reserved for Jewish people until the Puritans resurrected them as their own. It was all about getting back to God, and what better way than through the Biblical figures who were God’s original Chosen Ones?
They also looked to the New Testament for lesser-known Biblical figures as a way of demonstrating their modesty before God. Names that show up on the list of Mayflower passengers include Bartholomew (one of Christ’s disciples), Jasper (one of the three Magi), Damaris (a Greek woman who converted to Christianity after hearing one of St. Paul’s rousing speeches in Athens) and Priscilla (one of the named Seventy Disciples of Christ and a traveling companion of St. Paul’s).
Hands down, though, our favorite names appearing on the ship’s manifest are some oddball examples of the so-called Christian Virtue names. Constance (firm faith), Humility (humble before God), Remember (be mindful of God) and Fear (fear of God’s wrath) for the girls; and Desire (desired child), Love (God’s love, charity), Resolved (be resolved in one’s faith) and Wrestling for the boys. Wrestling is a bit of a head-scratcher but we’re pretty sure it’s in reference to Genesis 32 wherein Jacob wrestles either with an angel of God or God Himself (the Bible isn’t exactly clear on this point). After this wrestling match, God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (which is a Hebrew word for “struggle with God”). Naming one’s son “Wrestling” is like the ultimate statement of modesty before God. Or is it? You be the judge.
One final point on the Mayflower names. If you really want to show off your knowledge this Thanksgiving, we have a couple of interesting little factoids about two more Mayflower passengers: Oceanus and Peregrine. HUH? That’s what we said. Here’s the backstory. Oceanus was born during the voyage across the Atlantic Ocean enroute to the New World. The baby boy born on the ocean was named after Oceanus, an ancient Greek Titan god who personified the endless river that surrounded the earth (which is how ancient Greeks viewed the ocean back then). Peregrine was the name chosen for the very first baby boy born in the New World (he was born on the Mayflower ship at port in Cape Cod). Apropos, Peregrine is the English form of the Late Latin “Peregrinus” meaning “traveler, pilgrim, one from abroad”, The very first American baby boy born is essentially named “pilgrim” – seriously, how perfect is that?
Let us not forget that Thanksgiving was not just a celebration with the Pilgrims, but with the Native American Indians, as well. We took a peek at male/female names on America’s Top 1000 list to see which have either come directly from a Native-American language or were at least inspired in some way by Native-Americans. For boys we found Dakota, Logan and Geronimo. For girls we found Aiyana, Amara, Cheyenne, Dakota, Kaya, Nayeli, Raven, Savannah, Shania, Winona, Yareli and Yaritza. Look up these names at OhBabyNames.com to find their connection to Native American Indians.
From the “Christ-bearer” who sailed the Mayflower to the first “pilgrim” born among Puritans – I mean, honestly, this stuff is surreal. And it’s all a part of American history. Let us give thanks.
Gobble. Gobble. Happy Thanksgiving!
Written by Julie Hackett, Owner/Author of OhBabyNames.com