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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Tyler

Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby and other curious names

When I was a child I had Charles Kingsley's 'Water Babies' read to me. I clearly never understood the satirical support given in the book to Darwin's 'Origin of Species', nor the social campaigning against child labour, in this case the use of little boys to climb chimneys. As for the casual racism of Kingsley against Irish, Jewish, American, Catholic, and Black people that entirely passed a seven year old by in the early 1950s.

The book thankfully is no longer read to children; nor should it be. However, to an historian it is a window into the mind of Mid- Victorian Britain. It is, as they say, a book of its time, which was 1862/63. Yet it still surprises me that a Victorian clergyman like Kingsley, who was also Professor of Modern History at Cambridge, a tutor to the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), a social reformer, as well as a novelist and poet could be so prejudiced. Perhaps his prejudice is best caught, or worst caught, in a letter home to his wife whilst he was travelling in Ireland, 'I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that one hundred miles of horrible country .... to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours'.

The one character from 'Water Babies' that sticks in my mind, after all these years, is Mrs Doasyouwouldbedoneby. I suppose I remember it because at the time it struck me as just funny. There is another such character of whom I had forgotten entirely, Mrs Bedonebyasyoudid.

I rather suspect that historian Charles Kingsley thought of these names by reference to the extraordinary first names given by English Puritans to their children from the late 16th century through to the restoration of Charles II in 1660. Puritans wanted to name their children with suitably moral first names so as to distinguish them from the rest of society, whom they might have referred to as 'the ungodly'.

The most famous person to carry such a name was Praise-God Barebones. He became an MP and gave his name to The Parliament of 1653, The Barebones Parliament, for no other reason than that the Parliament was so poor in quality, barebones. He baptised his poor son with an even longer name, If-Christ-had-not-died-for-thee-thou-hadst-been damned Barebones. Later in life, not surprisingly perhaps, the son changed his name to Nicolas Barbon. Barbon, despite his Puritan credentials, turned out to be an unscrupulous businessman. Originally an economist and a doctor, he made his name and fortune as a building developer in London. Red Lion Square was one of his. He died rich in 1698 in the house that he had purchased on the outskirts of London, Osterley House.

One of my favourites is 'Fly Fornication'. Imagine having to answer to that when the school register was being called, William Tyler, present Miss, Fly Fornication Wood, present Miss ...!

Some names were just odd - Dust, Ashes, Freegift, whilst others were more fun, Jolly, Happy, and some have even survived to be used today, Felicity, Hope, Prudence.

Some people, however, had a double whammy when their surname was also 'distinctive' -

Kill-Sin Pimple, or my favourite of all, the poor girl called Constant Sex. Not surprisingly she never married.

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