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THE NAMING OF BABIES Kate’s Journal


Newly pregnant parents spend a lot of time searching through lists of baby names to bestow on the newest little one. My parents had no choice in the matter as my Grandmother named me for her long dead mother. This seemed logical since she had given my mother the same name.

Kate Kendall was taken from her family at the age of twenty-five, leaving a grieving young husband and three motherless children under the age of six. The stories which filled my childhood of my Great-Grandmother were of necessity filtered through the uncertain memory of a six year old. Who was Kate Kendall really? Her passing left her children to create the person they thought she was.

My Great-Grandfather, George Kendall, remarried soon after Kate’s death to an even younger woman who became a stern step-mother. Though George was an avid photographer, all photos of Kate were destroyed save one un-named mourning photo which may or may not have been Kate. It shows the value of putting names on our old photos.

Grandma remembered her as a happy playful companion who loved to dance and sing. Bits and pieces of an all too short childhood were often related to me if Grandmas saw in me a likeness to her mother. Grandma said her mother had been a teacher, but when I got her death certificate it showed that her job had been a mill girl. A not uncommon occupation in the cotton mills in New England. She probably had been a Sunday School teacher in one of the Congregational churches. Grandma said Kate had died because of catching a cold dancing in a draft, but she really died from consumption, probably from dust from the cotton mill.

Searching through the faded red velvet autograph/journal which is signed “Miss Katie Hadley, White River Junction, Vermont”, I don’t think anyone traveled too far from home in those days, but according to her diary, she spent a few months in Kansas City where a number of people signed her book in the flowing cursive writing of those days. Among the signers was George Kendall, who seemed interested in pursuing a relationship when he wrote: “Although our acquaintance has been short, And the time has swiftly flown, Permit me to call you a friend like those I have longer known.” It is dated August 13, 1886.

No knowledge of how they met, whether at a dance as Grandma thought, or from a work association, because her father and George’s father were cabinetmakers? George himself was a contractor, having at that time built many of the public buildings in Bristol, New Hampshire as well as many private homes.

Grandma said they never knew their Mother’s family, the Hadleys, though they apparently lived nearby. Why was that? Yet soon after Kate’s death, they came hoping to take the middle child, Aunt Georgia, home with them. They did not want my Grandmother because she was too “strong-willed” nor did they want the two year old baby because he was a boy and boys are too boisterous. It didn’t set well with their father, and they never saw them again.

Many years later, as I was entering the names of some of our children in the big Kendall Family Bible, I stumbled on the entry for Kate and George Kendall’s wedding date, April 22, 1886. Grandma Nellie’s birth date was October 13, 1887. Looking closer, I saw that the final digit in the marriage date was smudged and changed to 1886. Why would George write his ”hopeful friend’ poem in Kate’s diary four months after they were married? It seems clear to me that Kate was pregnant with Nellie on her wedding date, which would not lift an eyebrow today. Did the smudged digit show that Kate had rubbed out the original with a spit dampened finger, to make it all ‘come right’ with future generations? Did the Hadley grandparents disown Kate upon learning of her pregnancy? We will never know, and it doesn’t really matter, but it may have answered some questions at the time.

Why do we choose the names we do for our children to carry throughout their lives? They seem to come in great variety today, though family names still carry down through the ages. We often name babies for people we love or admire which is a nice tradition too. It is flattering to have someone named after you. It shows that someone cares enough about you to want their child to bear your name. Our granddaughter is the latest ‘Kate’ in our family. Grandma would be happy to know Kate Kendall’s name lives on.

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13 comments on “THE NAMING OF BABIES Kate’s Journal

  1. Sometimes names change when the recipients, while growing up, decide they don’t like their birth name. Fifty years ago Barry and Shirley were very popular. Many now prefer Bazza or Sheryl.
    Our Daughter, Natasha prefers the shorter ‘Tash.’
    My birth name on my certificate has the rather pompous ‘Gerardus Antonius,’ unbelievable! It reads as if a Roman Gladiator could have invented those. This was then changed to an even worse ‘Gertie.’
    I am lucky to have survived.

    I have found peace with Gerard.

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    • Yes, You are not a Gerardus Antonius, nor do I see you as a Dutch gladiator! A couple years ago a Los Angeles Laker basketball player legally changed his name to World Peace. I don’t think it’s working.

      Nicknames change with time too. I began life as Katie Lou which I disliked, so introduced myself by a self-chosen name at each school I went to until the age of 14 when I simply changed the spelling a bit to be different from my mother’s Katie.

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  2. Both my first and middle name come from relatives: a great aunt and my grandmother. I love that. It’s like a part of them lives on every time my name is spoken. 😊

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    • I feel the same. My middle name is from a relative too. I named my second daughter for an aunt who was named for her aunt. It feels as if we are connected.
      My other thought in this post was wondering if our children really know who we are. I’m sure they each have differing opinions.

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  3. How sad that Kate died so young, leaving children behind. The step mother does sound frightful! My own mother lost her mother to the ‘flu of 1918. She was only 18 months, her brothers were 4 and 6 I think. The course of their lives was forever altered, with their father marrying a younger woman, who resented my grandmother, even in death. Who can account for the complicated feelings of step mothers!

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    • How sad that your mother never knew her mother. I think there were many motherless children because of that flu epidemic. I suppose jealousy is a natural feeling for a second wife to the detriment of the poor children. My grandmother and her sister didn’t have a lot of good things to say about their stepmother, but they did admit that she was an expert seamstress. I hope I will leave a better legacy other than the fact that I could sew!

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  4. “Catching a cold from dancing in a draft.” How romantic. Lovely post, Kayti.

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  5. Interesting story, Kate. Names can have a real impact on our lives, so I guess it is best that they be chosen carefully. There was this family in the foothills with the last name of Pyle. Them named their son Rock. Not good. –Curt

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  6. And then, of course, there’s the daughter of Texas governor James Hogg, who was named — Ima. The suggestion that she had a sister named Ura is pure myth.

    My parents chose “Linda” for me because they didn’t know of anyone who bore the name, and they wanted something unusual. Well, time and fashion took care of that. There are Lindas galore. I never had a nickname. Occasionally, if my mother wanted to get my attention, she’d call me by my first and middle names, and I knew to pay attention: now!

    Those autograph books are real treasures. The handwriting, the verses, and the carefully coded messages are wonderful — and of course, they also recall all of the people living in memory behind those signatures.

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    • My mother had wanted to name me Shirley Nadine; just because. Grandma and my Dad overruled her. I thought “Prudie” would be a wonderful name for our oldest daughter; short for Prudence. This taken from a series of children’s books called the “Little Prudie stories” of my mother’s which I had loved. Luckily for us all, Dr. A disagreed, and at the near moment of birth I jumped in with Janice. Like your mother, it was unusual and different. That is, until a few other parents thought of it too. Throughout my childhood no one was called Katie, Kate or Kathryn, but that too went by the wayside later. I have liked having many nicknames, but when I hear “Kathryn” on the phone I know it is the Doctor’s office. It reminds me of the nursery rhyme “Elizabeth, Elsie, Betsy and Beth”.

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  7. Another lovely tale from your world Kayti, I was transported right back. Thanks x

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