I’ve just returned from a short vacation in Williamsburg, Virginia. While there, I went name-hunting at the Episcopal church! Bruton Parish Church was built in 1715, replacing an even earlier church (only visible at the foundations) that existed just feet away. The cemetery has been around since the late 1600s, making it perfect for anyone looking for historical (or unusual) names!
Unfortunately, the graves aren’t all still legible. Weather, age, and other factors have worn down or broken many of the oldest stones. The church understandably prioritizes preservation and has cordoned off large sections of the graveyard; you need to ask a guide for permission to enter those parts. In more public areas close to the church doors (it’s still an active congregation; they hold services daily!), they’ve juxtaposed wooden benches around fragile upright stones to keep them from falling over. Occasionally they also bring the most ancient markers (think 1690s) inside for even better protection.
Despite these challenges, I still managed to record a lot of names! Some I found walking through more open areas, others through a book called A Guide to the Memorials of Bruton Parish Church. Unfortunately it’s out of print, but the lovely ladies in the parish shop (thank you!) let me use their store copy to record the strangest names I could find! One day, I hope to acquire my own copy so I can conduct a more thorough analysis.
The names that seemed to appear the most (i.e., the most popular, if you will) were Henry, John, Frances, etc. I saw surprisingly few Mary‘s, but that might be because those graves have faded or broken…that, and I was short on time.
One last note before I continue on to the names – I don’t think everyone mentioned in the cemetery or church is actually buried there; sometimes the markers serve as memorials or genealogical references. Regardless, name-spotting is name-spotting. If I see it, and it’s interesting, I list it!
- Reuben – Early 19th century.
- St. George – Yes, that’s really his name. I wonder if how it was pronounced, since the name St. John is said like “Sinjin.” “Sin-George,” maybe?
- Nathaniel Beverley – Beverley is his middle name.
- Lauretta Anne – married to a Thomas Lyttleton
- Thomas Lyttleton (2x; father and son) – Lyttleton is their middle name.
- Letitia (2x; daughter and mother) – Bonus points: Letitia–the-Younger was the daughter of U.S. President John Tyler! As of 2016/7, the name Letitia no longer appears in extended SSA birth data. However, 148 girls were named Leticia last year.
- Archer – I think he was born in the 1600s. Definitely one of the earlier mentions
- Sydney (male)
- Delia Adalaide* (early-to-mid 1800s)
- Josiah Nelson* (born and died 1836)
- Richard Maning*
- Horatio Nelson* (born 1840s, died 1850s) – Josiah Nelson and Richard Maning were his older brothers; Delia Adalaide was their mother. All three boys died as children.
- Altazera – Goodrich’s daughter. Google turns up just a few other people with the name, and sometimes it’s rendered Alta Zera. Another version, Altazerah, appears once in the Social Security Death Index; SSDI also turns up quite a few women named Alta Z. or Zera A, along with an Aldesira (is that even related?) Finally, I found mention of an English Rhoda Altazera born in 1864, via the amazing British Baby Names!
- Coleman Charles
- Truxtun or Truxton – born in the 1850s, died in the 1930s. I think I saw both spellings for the same person. This name occasionally pops up today – 6 boys were named Truxton last year, and apparently there were a few in the 1910s (possibly) due to a book. Just accounting for first names, SSDI also counts 5 Truxtuns and over 80 Truxtons, mostly born in the early 20th century (but some older). Others bore Truxtun/Truxton as a middle.
- Mordecai Talbot
- Singleton Peabody
- Dabney – 6 girls in 2016. This Dabney was probably male, though.
- Horace John
- Anne Contesse – sister of President John Tyler. I’ve heard of women named Contessa, but never Contesse. Hmm…
- Christo – 7 boys in 2016
- Susan Comfort – Can’t tell if Comfort is her maiden or middle name
- Norborne – as in, Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt (18th century)
- Orlando – the grandfather of Martha Washington
- Beverley Dandridge – Might be the son of the Nathaniel Beverley listed above. Remember: Beverly used to be a boys’ name! To be fair, I think Beverley was a family surname.
- Lion Tyler – fought in WWII. Considering that John Tyler had both a son *and* grandson named Lyon Gardiner Tyler, I’m inclined to believe this Lion Tyler is somehow related. Otherwise, I can see how Lion might be a nickname for Lionel.
- Byam Kerby
- Ebenezer – Byam’s grandfather
- Cotesworth (late 19th century?)
- Jacquelin – What makes this interesting is that unless the church had a female rector before 1900 (unlikely), this Jacquelin was a man!
Thoughts? Do you like these names? Do you ever ponder about the names in cemeteries, or names from earlier centuries? Personally, I can’t wait to embark on my next name safari!
P.S. Does anyone else know anything about the name Altazera?
Godson, Susan H., ed. A Guide to the Memorials of Bruton Parish Church. Williamsburg: Bruton Parish Church, 2006.