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Naming but not shaming: the war names phenomenon, 1914-1920

Connelly, Mark L., Carlson, Jessamy (2020) Naming but not shaming: the war names phenomenon, 1914-1920. Critical Military Studies, 7 (4). pp. 384-396. ISSN 2333-7486. E-ISSN 2333-7494. (doi:10.1080/23337486.2020.1821534) (The full text of this publication is not currently available from this repository. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:69891)

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Between 1914 and 1920, over 1600 children were given first names of key battles, geographical locations throughout the fronts of the FWW and key military personnel. Hundreds more were given war-related first and second middle names in the same time period. This article explores the geographical and social patterns of this naming trend. Whilst a number of the children covered by this research had a close connection to an individual (usually a man) in service, the piece also explores the anomaly of the use of Verdun as a name, which proved particularly popular in South Wales. It also explores public discourse about the war names trend through an examination of newspaper commentary asking what this reveals about popular attitudes to the conflict and its impact on family life.

Despite the breadth and depth of research into the home front in the First World War utilizing political, economic, social and cultural history approaches, the subject of war names, as it was known during the conflict, has never been broached. It is the contention of this piece that the subject of children given names related to the war enriches our understanding of the relationship between the British home and fighting fronts. The phenomenon is particularly important for highlighting the tone of private and public discourses about the conflict across its length. Because it so often relates to parents who straddled the war’s experiences i.e. one who remained on the home front and one who was on some form of active service, the names can be seen as a solvent linking the two zones. At the same time, the instances of war names reveals engagement with the war turned into a definite statement, and thus reveals that for much of the conflict self-mobilization occurred, as people actively co-opted themselves into the nation’s war effort. Further, it was a statement that joined the personal and public worlds: the most intimate expression of a couple’s connection with their child was turned into a very firm public announcement. As Thomas Laqueur has noted: ‘Naming marks the entry not into biological but into human life’, and thus into human culture and society (Laqueur Citation2015, 367).

This paper explores the types of war name and their geographical distribution is also considered through the use of registrars’ records at the National Archive, which digitization has opened up for more extensive comparative investigation. Determining precisely why a certain name proved popular in a particular region has been almost impossible due to lack of hard evidence, but some possible explanations have been suggested for certain cases. It will then examine the public discourse on war names through the use of newspapers, which were an essential form of information and diversion throughout the conflict (for a study of newspapers in the conflict see McEwen Citation1982, 459–486). Regional newspapers have been used extensively for revealing the depth of local interest in the war names phenomenon and how it was often expressed in the form of sardonic and quizzical comment.

Item Type: Article
DOI/Identification number: 10.1080/23337486.2020.1821534
Uncontrolled keywords: War; children; culture; society; UK; United Kingdom
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Funders: University of Kent (
Depositing User: Mark Connelly
Date Deposited: 15 May 2023 14:09 UTC
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2023 12:25 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

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