Exceptions to the rule: Scottish naming patterns and the case of Nicholas, 2015.

When Ryan Reynolds and his wife Blake Lively announced that they were naming their daughter James, there was a flurry of comment about the appropriateness of giving a girl a ‘boy’s name’ in the media.  According to some these is a recent “Hollywood” trend, and open to a lot of mocking.

For me though, this is not a recent trend, but a common occurrence in my Scottish family. My great-great grandmother was called Nicholas. And she wasn’t the first in the family, nor the last. Nicholas Bryden was born in Williamstown, Upper Canada (Ontario) in 1827 to William Bryden and his wife Agnes Newall. She married William Leitch and with him had 7 children.  4 of her granddaughters were called Nicholas either as first or middle names, and 2 of her great-granddaughters, and even one of her great-great-great granddaughter has it as a middle name.  It was family tradition.  And according to tradition the women were known as “Nixie.”

I often wondered where this name had originated.  I thought for sure Nicholas Bryden was named after some lamented uncle and the name stuck. While that might be the case, it is likely much further back.  Nicholas Bryden was named for her mother’s sister, Nicholas Newall (1798 -1872 Scotland), who was named after her mother Nicholas Murphy, who was born about 1754 in Aucherhay, Borgue, Scotland.  It might go back further than that.

And it is not confined to the Leitch family, but the other Newall descendants in Ontario: the Browns and the Copelands.  So really, the naming girls with “boys names” is not that new a thing, but rather an odd Scottish naming tradition.

William Leitch and his wife Nicholas Bryden c 1860
William Leitch and his wife Nicholas Bryden c 1860