This week the Guardian datablog looked at trends in the names of babies born in the last 15 years, specifically around the names of celebrities. This is not a recent trend, though, as we will see in this blog about a newly fashionable name from the end of the Victorian era – one that was borne by around a hundred soldiers of the Great War: Redvers.
Redvers was not a popular name in the 1870s and 1880s; only a handful of boys were given the name. There was, however, one Redvers whose star was rising: Redvers Buller. The son of an MP, Buller became an army officer in 1860 and was a feted hero of the 1879 Anglo-Zulu War, where he won the Victoria Cross. In the early 1890s he nearly became commander-in-chief of the army but instead he rose to national fame when he was sent out as commander of the British forces fighting the Boers in South Africa in late 1899. He returned to the UK after a year in the field, when he was basically forced out by another VC-winning hero general, Lord Roberts.
Sir Redvers Buller is a classic example of a national celebrity who had an impact on the names of a new generation of children. In his case his impact is all the more obvious because his name was so unusual. Having only been the name of a handful of men and boys in 1898, there were over 3,000 people called Redvers by 1911. A total of 1,348 of these had Redvers as their first name, the remainder as their middle name (including a few girls). Among them were boys who were named after multiple famous generals with wonderful names like Redvers Kitchener Williams and Arthur Redvers Baden Powell.
This graph shows just how quickly the name rose in prominence in 1900:
With this timing, it was almost inevitable that some of these Redverses would end up in the First World War:
- The National Archives’ records of medals awarded for overseas service lists 98 men named Redvers (there may be more listed by their initials).
- Soldiers Died in the Great War lists 31 of the fallen as being Redverses (this includes at least one of the pre-1899 Redvers population).
One of the Redverses among the war dead was a Londoner named Redvers Henry Thomas Card, one of three children of Henry G. Card and Isobel Card appearing in the 1911 census. The Cards lived in Woolwich and Henry enlisted in the army there (presumably as a conscript as he was born in 1900). He served in the 6th Battalion, Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment and was killed in action on 29 August 1918 aged 18. He died during the final push that won the war for the Allies, probably fighting on the Somme. (His division’s history in the Long Long Trail site gives details of the battles they fought that summer.)
Redvers Card has no known grave but is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. By the end of the war Isobel Card was a widow living at 6 Grenadier St, North Woolwich (on the North side of the Thames). Her other son Bernard served in the Coldstream Guards and survived the war.
The rapid increase in Redverses in 1900 meant that around a hundred men went to fight a World War bearing the name of a hero of the colonial wars they heard about at school (among the smaller numbers of Badens and Kitcheners named after other heros of the Empire). The phenomenon of naming children after people in the news is nothing new. Neither is the trend of giving children slightly silly names after famous people with those names. The type of celebrity might have changed but the trend is not a new one.