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|MT. Why Jane was called Jane.
Written by Anielka
(2/10/2003 7:35 p.m.)
Naming children in the 18th century was a serious business. There were some set rules of etiquette and expectation. On the whole, girls were named out of their maternal family and boys were named out of their paternal family. So the boy's name “Francis Austen” turns up at least 8 times in JA’s paternal family whereas the name “Cassandra” turns up with a huge variety of surnames (Willoughby, Ridgeway, Turner, Leigh, Hoskyns, Perrot, Austen) in JA’s maternal family.
Often the first daughter would be named after their maternal grandmother or mother (JA’s eldest sister, Cassandra) and the first son would be named after their paternal grandfather or father. The other children were then named after other close relatives, preferably rich and childless relatives from whom they could inherit. People rarely if ever named a child after an unrelated friend or someone famous but unrelated. Nor did they just “pick a name they liked” and never “made something up”. They would frequently use the names that associated their family with the most noble and well-known branches of a family. So for example, several of the Dukes of Ancaster and Earls of Lindsey were Albemarle Bertie or Peregrine Bertie but many of the cousins in the “lesser” branches were keen to use these distinctive names to associate themselves with the main branch of the family. If you had a particularly illustrious maternal line the maternal surname might be used to re-enforce the connection where a simple “George” would not. (A perfect example being Fitzwilliam Darcy.)
Jane Austen’s family show some very particular and unusual naming strategies that reveal their ambitions for their children and their expectations of inheritance. The most obvious example of their deviation from the usual principles was that JA’s parents, George and Cassandra (nee Leigh) Austen named their first son from the maternal line.
James was named after his maternal and childless uncle James Leigh-Perrot in the hope that he would inherit. James Leigh Perrot had added the Perrot in 1751 in order to inherit from his maternal great-uncle, Thomas Perrot. In the end the Leigh-Perrots lived a long time (James Leigh-Perrot died just before his niece, JA) and their generosity rather underwhelmed the Austen family. James assumed the name Austen-Leigh on his uncle’s death.
Their second child, George, was given the paternal name. Sadly George had some unknown special need and spent his (long) life being bordered-out. George was originally a Hampson name. JA’s great grandfather on her paternal side was Sir George Hampson, 4th Bt. The fact that JA had noble paternal ancestors is often eclipsed by her illustrious maternal relations.
Then came their third child, Edward. He was again given another maternal-line name and was named after Edward Cooper who was not a blood relation but married JA’s maternal aunt Jane. If the Austen’s had any hope of a big inheritance here then they were sadly disappointed. As it happened, Edward was lucky in the inheritance stakes and was informally adopted (there was no formal adoption) by his third cousin once removed Thomas Knight and his wife Catherine (nee Knatchbull). Thomas Knight was born Thomas May and then changed to Thomas Brodnax before finally becoming Thomas Knight; on both occasions the name changes were governed by inheritance. On his inheritance, Edward Austen changed his name completely from Austen to Knight. It is worth noting that a relationship as tenuous as a third cousin often had a significant impact on inheritance patterns.
Henry was probably named after his father’s cousin with whom George Austen had attended Tonbridge school. He was given his maternal grandfather’s name (Thomas) as a middle name that distinguished him from Henry Austen senior. It’s curious that his mother didn’t want to use this as a first name for an earlier boy bearing in mind her pride in her family. Others have noted that she was married just after her father died so perhaps this was a release in some way. Also there was no money to be made from naming the boy Thomas. (Actually, Cassandra’s cousin Thomas Leigh inherited Stoneleigh and died childless – could have made a buck there if they had ever thought of it. He inherited from his 5th cousin twice removed -so perhaps the Austens never worked out that the name “Thomas’, especially Thomas Leigh would be an advantageous name in the inheritance stakes) Cassandra’s own brother Thomas had some sort of special need similar to her son George.
Cassandra Elizabeth, the eldest girl, was given her mother’s name. Cassandra was an especially distinctive maternal name in JA’s maternal line and originated from Cassandra Ridgeway who married JA’s 7th cousin 3xR, Francis Willoughby. Their descendants married several times into JA’s family and the name Cassandra proliferated in JA’s maternal family. JA’s mother had an aunt and at least three close cousins all called Cassandra.
Baby number six, Francis was named after his father’s rich patron and cousin. His middle name was William after his paternal grandfather The eighth and last baby was called Charles John, presumably after his maternal uncle Charles and his paternal great-grandfather John Austen.
Jane was the seventh child. There were several good reasons to call her Jane. Rich uncle Francis Austen had a second wife Jane (nee Lennard) who was Jane’s godmother. Jane Musgrave (nee Huggins) was another godmother to JA; she was married to JA’s 1st cousin 2xR, James Musgrave. Jane’s maternal grandmother was Jane Walker and her maternal aunt was Jane Cooper (nee Leigh). . (JA had a great, great aunt, a first cousin once removed and a second cousin all called Jane Austen. Two of JA’s nieces and three of her grandnieces were also to be called Jane Austen) As if that wasn’t enough, rich uncle James Leigh-Perrot’s wife was also a Jane (nee Cholmeley). This is the aunt acquitted of stealing lace in later life – her mother was a Willoughby!
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