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Wonder why English-language girls' names include the nouns for "virtues" (e.g. "Prudence"), but boys' names don't

(27 Posts)
PrincessFiorimonde Mon 13-Mar-17 19:51:13

Just musing. In English we have several girl names that are the same as nouns for what might be called "virtues" - e.g.

Nothing wrong with any of these names - I think they are lovely!

But I'm just wondering why these girl names refer to the noun, whereas if there are similar boy names they refer to the adjective, e.g.


Any reason for this, you think?

And is it different in other languages?

e.g. I think in Dutch there is the boy name 'Justus', meaning 'Justice'. But I think in England it would be unusual to name a boy 'Justice'?

Apologies if this would all be different in Wales and Scotland.

Like I say, I'm just musing.

PrincessFiorimonde Mon 13-Mar-17 21:34:52

No one else ever mused over this?

PattyPenguin Mon 13-Mar-17 21:43:58

Interesting question.

Virtue names were mainly a Puritan thing. Perhaps the virtues Puritans thought suitable for girls were also considered appropriate for females in later periods, so the names retained their popularity, whereas the same wasn't true of those they favoured for boys. Humiliation and Experience probably weren't considered masculine enough.

Praise-God, Fear-God and Love-God didn't last long (although a landed family in North Wales used just Love from the second generation after Love-God, born 1654).

Having said that, when I was a child I knew a Clement, known as Clem, who was my grandfather's generation, and there was Clement Attlee. The assocation with Clement Freud and the revelations about him might be a bit off-putting.

ChippieBeanAndHorro Mon 13-Mar-17 21:53:54

We've actually been looking for virtue names DD1 has a virtue name (not as her first) and so will our 2nd child.

There are virtue names for boys. they were fairly popular but have just fallen out of use, I guess.

ChippieBeanAndHorro Mon 13-Mar-17 21:57:23

prosper, sage, valor, merit, ransom, bravery... There are a few that are still rarely used, I think?

PattyPenguin Mon 13-Mar-17 22:10:41

Prosper/Prospero was and is used in Western European countries because it's the name of a saint (June 25th is his day).

In English, as a virtue name, it had some popularity in the late 19th century, but is vanishingly rare now. As are the others in Chippie's list, apart from Sage, which has attained some popularity in the US as both a girl's and a boy's name, either as a virtue name or as a reference to the herb, or more likely to the quintessentially Western sagebrush shrub.

ChippieBeanAndHorro Mon 13-Mar-17 22:13:15

Yup, I suspect Sage's popularity is being boosted by the whole nature name trend.

I myself actually quite like Ransom.

sassolino Mon 13-Mar-17 22:24:24

What about Capability and Endeavour for boys?

FlaviaAlbia Mon 13-Mar-17 22:34:30

That is strange about the noun / adjective difference. I've never noticed that before.

I would hazard a guess it's because women were expected to be passive and men active.

Pub quiz trivia: Ruth used to be a virtue but the word dropped out of use leaving only the opposite - ruthless - and the name in use.

slightlyglitterbrained Mon 13-Mar-17 22:40:09

Some nice virtue names for boys in this old thread:

I like:

And then there's Endeavour for fans of a particular TV series smile

And Christian - ironically the Christian I know isn't!

I see your point though about male virtue names being generally more adjectives rather than nouns. Interesting.

terrylene Mon 13-Mar-17 22:42:38

Ruth is a book in the bible, is it not?

ChippieBeanAndHorro Mon 13-Mar-17 22:42:51

Isn't Vincent also a virtue name?
That one is still fairly popular, I believe.

I never realised that most modern masculine virtue names were adjectives. So interesting.

FlaviaAlbia Mon 13-Mar-17 22:47:12

Terylene - yes, after the Ruth of Ruth and Naomi

emwithme Mon 13-Mar-17 22:56:33

The Carter parents were a quiet and respectable Lancre family who got into a bit of a mix-up when it came to naming their children. First, they had four daughters, who were christened Hope, Chastity, Prudence, and Charity, because naming girls after virtues is an ancient and unremarkable tradition. Then their first son was born and out of some misplaced idea about how this naming business was done he was called Anger Carter, followed later by Jealousy Carter, Bestiality Carter and Covetousness Carter. Life being what it is, Hope turned out to be a depressive, Chastity was enjoying life as a lady of negotiable affection in Ankh-Morpork, Prudence had thirteen children, and Charity expected to get a dollar’s change out of seventy-five pence–whereas the boys had grown into amiable, well-tempered men, and Bestiality Carter was, for example, very kind to animals.

Terry Pratchett, Lords and Ladies

Waterfeature Mon 13-Mar-17 23:40:40

I've heard of Champion as a boys' name -- almost a virtue?!

Justice is also a boys' name.

Wayfarersonbaby Mon 13-Mar-17 23:51:46

Because patriarchy grin

Women have always been expected to embody virtue: men simply acquire it by buying marrying the woman grin

Men in Western society have never really been expected to be the embodiment of virtue via their names. The exception might be early American Puritans, who did go for male virtue names a bit more; and there are fashions in some African Christian countries for virtue names for men. They tend to be a lot less widespread than for women, though.

slightlyglitterbrained Mon 13-Mar-17 23:52:09

Champion makes me think of the bit in Pulp Fiction where the taxi driver asks Butch what his name means and he says it doesn't mean anything grin

PrincessFiorimonde Tue 14-Mar-17 07:32:30

But Clement is also an adjective - the noun is Clemence/Clemency: more girl's names.

Prosper is an odd one, as it's a verb.

Capability - 'Capability' Brown was a nickname, wasn't it? And Endeavour! grin But they both sound as if they could have been boy names.

I'd forgotten about Christian! Probably the most obvious one of all!

DrAbbyYates Tue 14-Mar-17 09:21:21

Admittedly Morse is a fictional character - but Endeavour was his given name, not a nickname. He was named for HMS Endeavour (nerd alert).

AuntieStella Tue 14-Mar-17 09:25:15

'be good sweet maid, and let who will be clever'

Virtue was prized in girls and so the names stuck. Some - like Grace - have became so assimilated as names that the virtue origin isn't really noted.

Now, there were some eye-popping names in the Victorian times, which did include virtue names for boys, but they didn't stick - and my guess is because expectations on boys were different.

KittiesInsane Tue 14-Mar-17 09:28:58

You're not alone, Princess - I'd wondered exactly the same thing!

I would add Felix (adj), Felicity (noun)

Victor/Victoria is an odd one though. Both nouns, but one is a person and the other an event.

Knifegrinder Tue 14-Mar-17 09:39:39

What Wayfarer said. Patriarchal society is far more comfortable with women blankly embodying some abstract quality -- hence so many statues of Victory or Charity or Love or Peace represented as naked women, whereas public sculpture of men is nearly always of an individual man. I think naming isn't dissimilar. Male 'virtue' names are adjectival, suggesting the individual man is constant, prosperous, victorious, or whatever, rather than an abstract/passive representative of that quality.

PattyPenguin Tue 14-Mar-17 16:38:05

In the novels, and in the TV series for that matter, Morse got his name from the ship as his father admired Captain Cook, but also because his mother was a member of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) who have a tradition of "virtue names".

So Endeavour is an example of a male virtue name that is a noun, if only a fictional one.

Natsku Tue 14-Mar-17 16:46:58

Never thought about that before, it is interesting, and, like others have said, because of the patriarchy - girls were expected to be virtuous and so having a virtue name made sense whereas boys were expected (still are by some) to not let things like virtue get in the way so much of getting on in life.

Incidentally I like the name Justus, knew a little boy called it (pronounced with a soft J like a Y) and might steal it for a future potential boy child.

PrincessFiorimonde Tue 14-Mar-17 16:56:15

I was on my Kindle when I posted this morning - typing on it is a chore, so I gave it up.

Thanks for the link to the old thread, and also for the Terry Pratchett bit!

Yes, the Puritans have a lot to answer for. It's not quite the same, but there was a 16th century preacher called Praise-God Barebone ("said to have been christened Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barebone", according to Wiki).

Champion makes me think of "Champion the Wonder Horse" (showing my age!). I guess it belongs with Victor as a heroic name. (Though Hero, funnily enough, is originally a girl's name.)

Endeavour - yes, sorry, I know it's Morse's actual name (not nickname). I was just wondering if any RL boys had been called that, but my Kindle ate what I wrote. Didn't know Morse was named after a ship, though.

I like the suggestions re: patriarchy and the connotations of naming that entails.

Chippie: best of luck in finding the perfect name for DC2!

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