Unusual names…

I have a fascination for unusual names as anyone who has read my novels can tell you. Unusual names do crop up  all the time, you only have to look in the birth announcement column of a newspaper to see what different names parents call their children.

I’ve just glanced at the Telegraph birth announcements and recently there has been Indigo, Edith, Orla, Hugh, Erin, Florence, Orlando, Albert, Zachary and Constance. As for unusual surnames, my surname and my married name are both quite rare too.

I came across the name Baikie recently and it seemed so unusual I couldn’t resist trying to find out its origin. I guessed it might be Eastern European or Jewish and looked back to the 1841 census to see if there were any families with that name then.

There was a family living in Milbourn Place, Tynemouth, Northumberland, thirty-two year old Susan Baikie and her children, Ann, 17,  Susanna, 13, James, 9, and William, 6, and little John, 4. There was no husband mentioned, maybe he was a sailor away at sea, maybe Susan was a widow. She, as Susanna Welch, probably married Peter Baikie in Wallsend, Northumberland in 1822, but I can find no trace of him later, or his death. However, in 1841 and from then on, Susanna was alone.

In Whitby, which is on the same coast was an elderly couple sixty year old Isaac and Hannah; he had been born in Scotland, she in Yorkshire and they married in 1810 when she was a Miss Potts. Could they have been Susan’s parents-in-law? Maybe. The last two Baikies on the census were James and Susannah living on Francis Street, Sculcoates; he was aged fifty-five and born in Scotland, she was another Yorkshire woman aged fifty. Because of the coincidence of the names, Susan has children with the same names as the Sculcoates Baikies I think they are better candidates as her parents-in-law. Maybe James and Isaac were brothers? There is one last Baikie in the 1941 census, old James born in 1766 and living in Ware, Hertfordshire probably as a labourer on Mardocks Farm.

In the 1851 census the eleven Baikies mentioned ten years previously have shrunk to seven individuals. Old James is still there  now living in Kensington, London with the same family as he had lived with on Mardocks Farm. Other servants are there with him, the same names s were at Ware; James is described as a purser R.N. (Royal Navy) so maybe he wasn’t a labourer on the farm after all, maybe he was a sort of major-domo?.

The Orkneys (wiki)

Also on the 1851 census Isaac and Hannah still live in Whitby and now it is mentioned that he was born in the Orkney Islands. Susan, now with her full name of Susannah still lives without a husband and with her son John still at home with her; she earns their keep as a green grocer. As for her other children I’m not sure; there is a James Baikie in a private army in Chatham Kent, but he was born in Caithness (famous now for its beautiful crystal) he is twenty-one, slightly older than Susanna’s son would have been… but on the other hand, people were not so sure of their dates of birth in those days, and maybe he had pretended to be older in order to sign up. Also serving his country is William B Baikie in Alverstoke, Hampshire, an assistants surgeon in the Navy. He was born in Scotland and qualified in Edinburgh.

Susan/Susanna is still head of her  household in 1861; she lives with her son John who is now a ropemaker, and his little daughter, Susanna aged ten. Also in Northumberland in the little village of Belford is another Baikie family from Scotland, Donald and Margaret; he is a gas manufacturer (how times are changing in the mid-nineteenth century) and they live with their children, Jane, Willamina and James McKay. There is no sign of James Baikie from Caithness, but someone who may be his brother is John, a Leading Seaman in the Royal Navy. The last two Baikies in this census are Robert and William, two young lads working as ships’ carpenters and boarding with Mrs Christie in Sunderland.

Who knows where all the Baikies went in 1871; none of the previous people appear and only four new names crop up. Elizabeth Baikie, born in Cornwall is visiting London with her newborn baby William. She may have married William Robertson Baikie the year before in Swansea; if so her maiden name was beer… as a Cornish lass, she would have known the little town of Beer in that county…. is that where her name derives from?  In Sunderland, Eleanor Baikie is living on her own at the time of the census with her three-year old daughter Isabella… could Isabella’s daddy have been either of the ships carpenters, Robert or William?

1881 – there is an explosion of Baikies! Thirty-four of them, sixteen from Scotland – several from the Orkneys, seven from Northumberland… and the rest from various other places the length and breadth of these islands. Of those we have met before in previous censuses we can see old Donald and Margaret still going strong; he’s still a gas man and they live with their daughter-in-law Barbara and her four sons, the eldest of whom is a slater. Elizabeth Baikie is again visiting, this time in Wales and this time with her husband W.R. who is a master mariner born in Stromness on the Orkneys. Eleanor is still living on her own with her daughter Isabella, but now the girl has a sister, Mary Ann, and we know their daddy was another  master mariner.

Stromness Harbour on Orkney (wiki)

In 1891 the clan Baikie is growing; there are fifty of them. There is still the strong Scottish  presence, 21 of them were born in Scotland, many in the Orkneys. There are eight Baikies born in Sunderland still mentioned. Cornish Elizabeth and her husband William are now living in Cardiff.

in 1901 there are thirty-nine Baikies… maybe some have moved back to Scotland, maybe some of the older ones,  have died. Elizabeth and William still live in Wales, he is no longer a master mariner but a carpenter, which is why I think he may be one of the boys from Sunderland who boarded with Mrs Christie. Fifteen of these twentieth century Baikies were born in Scotland, but only five in the North-East.

My story ends with the 1911 census; the Scottish connection is fading only ten of the fifty odd were born in Scotland, the Orkneys or Shetland, sixteen from the North-East – although we know that most of them had Scottish ancestors. William and Elizabeth are still living in Wales,now living off William’s mariners’ pension.

I love this historical detective work; I have found a picture of a couple of men, probably from the Orkney Islands, moving to Yorkshire and marrying young women there. More people from the Scottish Islands and Highlands move south to Northumberland and Yorkshire, families and single men. They mostly cling to the coast, working in professions to do with the sea, mariners, persers, naval surgeons, ships’ carpenters, rope-makers. The families move to the south of England and some go to the south coast, many remain in the London area. Doris Baikie even ended up in Godstone, Surrey,  where my husband has connections.

The family themselves would have many stories to tell that I can only imagine, for I don’t know any of them… although the grandmother of a much-loved and inspirational history teacher of mine was a Baikie.

Oh, and William B. Baikie, the naval surgeon? His picture is at the top of this post, but look at what he achieved in his life:–



William Baikie’s books are available on Amazon


  1. Alice

    If I am stuck for unusual names, I just look to the family tree. Bina, Herschel, Ivor, Gould, all rich in ancestry and they don’t have that contrived feel. Can you see my Scottish legacy in those names?


      1. Alice

        I think that is more German–some say Danish or Norwegian–there is some debate–probably once Long-acre translated from elsewhere. Elsden sounds like you might have elfin roots.


  2. Murray Foote

    The most unusual name I have encountered was a friend of mine from Auckland University many years ago whose name was David Puddephatt. I looked it up at the time and he had an ancestor who’d tended a pudding vat – this sounds large-scale so presumably royal or the army.


    1. Lois

      I have come across the name before but I think spelled in a different way. It certainly is most unusual and very strange. One of the strangest names I ever found was when I was working at Manchester Airport and had to put out an announcement for a Mr Thigpen and I got a terrible case of the giggles!


  3. Barbro Donithan

    Well, Barbro is strange. Found out in the census, unbeknown to my Mother, that my great-great’s name was Barbro. How strange is that? My last name is Donithan and my husband always said that when going through Ellis Island his forefathers had a lisp and it should have been Donovan. Well, then, what about my husbands first name, Gorman? Oh well, I could go on. Interesting subject and would be fun to investigate, wouldn’t it.


    1. Lois

      How interesting Barbro, and how wonderful to have a family name which is so unusual.
      I wondered if Donithan was an Irish name too… I’ll ask some Irish friends. Gorman… well, I’ve never heard of that as a first name. What an unusual pair you are!


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