I am reading a book analysing the distribution of first names in England, mostly using poll tax returns in the late 14th century, but also talking of earlier and later times. Christian Names in Local and Family History by George Redmonds. It is using first names to show where families lived and came from and what parts of England they were spread to and from.
He has a chapter on the influence of godparents on naming patterns which he ranks very highly as a naming influence in medieval times. In the late medieval, Tudor and Stuart times he says statistics showed it was a strong force, and in the 1550s and 1560s over 85% of boys were called after a godfather. (Might explain why in 1381 46% of boys born in Essex were called John.)
He talks in this chapter of kith and kin and affinities. In 1534 a dispute talked of supports including ‘tenauntes and inhabytantes of the maner, beyng of their alye and affinyte, all sworn to uphold an unlawful act." He talked of affinity as a spiritual relationship allied to sponsorship, and quoted someone saying "Godparents were regarded by the Catholic church as spiritual parents who were spiritually related to each other and to the infant of whom they were sponsors, within the prohibited degrees." The names of godparents were registered at the time of baptism, so the relationship between the names of godparents and child can be seen.
He then went on to talk about the word ‘kith’ likely to have referred originally to that affinity, and meaning a linkage between members of a community, stronger than just neighbours or friends or even some blood relationships. "Godsibs" could be friends, supporters and colleagues. In Chaucer’s Wife of Bath story she is called Alisoun as was her ‘gossib’ who ‘knew myn herte and eek my privetee bet than our parisshe-preest.’
Mr Redmonds then goes on to discuss individual names within this context. Some names while being quite rare overall or in certain periods nevertheless have stronger popularity in some counties, but on analysis these names (they included Giles, Laurence, Brian, Thurstan, Ottiwell) have often come with one person and extended to their kith, kin and affinitied communities. Giles Kaye of Bury in Lancashire was part of a gentry family, and registers in the district of Almondbury show: In 1560: Giles baptised, son of Humphrey Armitedge, godfathers Giles Kaye and Giles Langfelde; in 1565 Giles baptised son of Giles Kaye, godfather Giles Kaye; 1573 Giles baptised, son of John Hanson, godfather Giles Kaye; 1590 Giles baptised, son of Thomas Croslande, godfather Giles Kaye.
He quotes another example of the use of a name in a wider kith community where James Witle in 1534 made a will making his son Georgie Witle an executor, a second Georgie Witle, the son of Ranalde, inherited 20 sheep, and the overseers of the will were called Georgie Godley, Georgie Hoill and Georgie Crosle "surely evidence of the Whiteleys’ wider circle of kith and kin, a relationship which may be further emphasized by the consistent use of the diminutive...George was a rare name in England in 1377 – 81, but was popular in some regions by about 1550 and this will demonstrates one way in which that expansion was taking place." There is also the example of a Cheshire woman, Jane Strangways leaving 40s to her five god-daughters, all called Jane.
What do you know of these kithship relations, as separate from kin, or perhaps as well as kin? it is not really something I have read much of before. My upbringing being Presbyterian didn’t include godparents and everyone bar one family in our community were Presbyterians so no one else had them either, but even those families who do use them don’t seem now to always continue a strong relationship between the two families. Sometimes godparents hardly ever see their godchild. But 1000 years ago it would seem they had very strong connections and influences.
As an aside, it was not uncommon for two children in the same family to have the same name, and he quotes a 1644 mention of "two sons of Mr Richard Horsfall of Storthes Hall were named Richard, ‘being twindles’." I have never heard the word ‘twindles’ before, and I find it rather lovely.