The fascinating phenomenon of “battle babies”

Happy Veterans’ Day! Thank you to all those who have served our country, including both my grandfathers, several uncles, a cousin, and friends! ❤️🗽🇺🇸

We’ve talked a lot on here about different ways of honoring people (Jesus and Mary, the saints, and family/other loved ones) and the faith in general (through nods to prayers, words, and objects) in our babies’ names, and there have been some pretty out-there ideas (which you know I love!). I really love what I think of as “possibility thinking” — there are certainly rules that need to be followed, but there are a whole lot of rules that people *think* need to be followed, that don’t, and as a result they box themselves into these really limiting mindsets, and one of my favorite things is helping parents to see that there’s so much more freedom than they realize!

Anyway, I’m totally taken with this article that one of you readers sent me today: ‘I was named after a World War One battle.’ It’s a fascinating article!! I know we have a lot of history buffs here, so maybe some of you already knew about the practice of honoring relatives who fought in various battles by giving babies the names (or variations of the names) of those battles, but this was all new to me.

Jessamy Carlson, a historian and archivist at the National Archives, says the naming of children after battles was a way of honouring the dead and for families to keep a “personal, tangible connection” with a lost husband, father or relative.

She says it also shows the “extent to which war became part of everyday life”.

“You have an experience that is all pervasive. You have women whose husbands are away, dying far from home – and naming their children in this commemorative way is a way of holding them close,” says Ms Carlson.”

It’s such a great (albeit sobering) example of possibility thinking! Real-life examples offered in the article included:

Passchendaele (which was mentioned the most in the article — I had to look it up because I had no idea how to pronounce it! It’s like POSS-en-doll-la)
Somme
Arras
Cambrai
Verdun (“… after the battle in France. Verdun became the single-most used battle names” and was the name of actor Richard Burton’s brother)
Dardanelles
Ypres
Jutland
Vimy Ridge
Zeppelina
Belgium
Frances (after France)
Calais
Arras
Mons
Somme
Delville Wood

Interestingly, the “names tended to be given to girls rather than boys and the battle names were feminised, such as Sommeria, Arrasina, Verdunia, Monsalene and Dardanella.” And I love that as “the war ended, there was another flurry of names such as Peace, Poppy, Armistice and Victory.”

With these names given in honor of relatives who fought and died in these battles, it occurs to me that it wasn’t merely an interesting/unusual/offbeat way of naming a baby after someone, but it was a way of honoring this *particular part* of the person — his courage and ultimate sacrifice. It wasn’t just naming a baby after Grandpa Joe, but naming a baby after the courage and selflessness Grandpa Joe demonstrated in this specific instance. A Catholic example of this way of thinking is how many of us have devotions to specific titles of Mary, and name our babies in honor of those titles, even though they all refer to the same person. Or even how we’re drawn to particular saints, and want to name our babies after them.

I’d love to hear any insights or reactions you have to this article, as well as any other parallels you can draw between battle naming and Catholic naming! Also, do you know anyone who has any of these battle names? I’d love to hear their stories!


My book, Catholic Baby Names for Girls and Boys: Over 250 Ways to Honor Our Lady (Marian Press, 2018), is available to order from ShopMercy.org and Amazon — perfect for expectant parents, name enthusiasts, and lovers of Our Lady!

9 thoughts on “The fascinating phenomenon of “battle babies”

  1. This has been interesting to research further. Here is another WWI themed article I found which is similar but has more personal examples. http://www.thedistrictpost.co.uk/news/2016/04/babies-named-battles/

    And then I also found this in a Nameberry post: “The Boer War throws up several ‘battle baby names’ from 1880-1902 including Bloemfontein, Colenso, Johannesburg, Ladysmith, Mafeking, Pretoria and Talana. My personal favourite was a baby born in 1900 called Magersfontein Paardeberg after two such battles.”

    Reflecting on it, the feminization of the names makes sense though it doesn’t state it as such. It would seem that a natural way to honor a lost soldier would be by his name and I bet more boys were actually given the soldiers name (John , Edward, etc) while one would not name a girl by the man’s name (though those could obviously be feminized too)… and more exotic names have always been more commonly given to girls that boys, right?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Also – wondering about this as a more European (specifically UK) tradition. Not seeing examples so much for US at all. It was interesting to look at the SSA name data though for the years around the end of WWI – in the US there is an uptick in names Victory and Victor.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting. I know that naming a son after dad’s commanding officer was a regular occurrence during the Civil War, but I have never heard sbout battlefield names.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’m surprised you say you find this ‘phenomena’ in the naming of girls because from my experience (reading my local paper as well as the national -U.K.- papers) it is an almost exclusively male preserve, also the honourific tends to be in the middle name spot not the first. I think it is a trait that is exclusively British thanks to the amounts of wars we had to fight during the last days of empire, as from 1870 every child between the ages of 5-13 years old had to go to school and the age for military service was 14. So any young private from say 1878 onward would have been able to write ‘decent enough’ letters from wherever they were posted

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an interesting article. This isn’t limited to the UK. Here in Australia, there are examples of children named after battles. This article from the National Library https://www.nla.gov.au/blogs/behind-the-scenes/2015/04/14/an-anzac-in-the-family has some examples such as Dardanelles, Gallipolli, Anzac and others. Given that we have places named Ypres, Somme, Tobruk, Messines and Fromelles I’m sure these would have been used as well (though I assume as middle names). Victor, Victoria and Armistice were also used after 1918.

    I assumed these names were given to girls because they sounded French and exotic to our ears. Could be wrong about that. I know boys were named after soldiers and political figures – we had a prime minister who was named after Winston Churchill. The article above lists boys as well. I believe the name ANZAC is now protected from use and can’t be used for children any longer (nor for-profit business).

    Rightly or wrongly (probably wrongly) we Aussies say ‘Passion – dale’ 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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