Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Call me... No-merit

I have just finished reading an excellent book: God's Secretaries: The Making of the King James Bible by Adam Nicolson, a great fan of the rich language of this mighty book. His own relatively small book is a passionate look at a fascinating time in British history, which just makes me wish I knew more about it. The Jacobeans were by all accounts a remarkable lot, and the team that worked to translate the bible were a mixed bag, whose final achievement is all the more remarkable for the size of the group and their differing backgrounds. There is a fair bit of humour in this account as well, including examples of guesswork by the stumped translators when tackling some of the Greek/Hebrew texts.

From one of the lighter parts of the book, here's a quote:

"Some Puritans maintained that the names of the great figures in the scriptures, all of which signify something - Adam meant "Red Earth", Timothy "Fear God" - should be translated. The Geneva Bible, which was an encyclopaedia of Calvinist thought, including maps and diagrams, had a list of those meanings at the back and, in imitation of those signifying names, Puritans, particularly in their heartlands of Northamptonshire and the Sussex Weald, had taken to naming their children after moral qualities. Ben Jonson included characters called Tribulation Wholesome, Zeal-of-the-Land Busy and Win-the-fight Littlewit in The Alchemist (1610) and Bartholomew Fair (1614), and Bancroft himself had written about the absurdity of calling your children 'The Lord is Near, More-trial, Reformation, Morefruit, Dust and many other such-like'. These were not invented. Puritan children at Warbleton in Sussex, the heartland of the practice, laboured under the names of Eschew-evil, Lament, No-merit, Sorry-for-sin, Learn-wisdom, Faint-not, Give-thanks and, the most popular, Sin-deny, which was landed on ten children baptised in the parish between 1586 and 1596. One family, the children of the curate Thomas Hely, would have been introduced by their proud father as Much-mercy Hely, Increased Hely, Sin-deny Hely, Fear-not Hely and sweet little Constance Hely. Bancroft, and this royal translation of the Bible, could give no credit to that half-mad denial of tradition. It was one that travelled to America with the Pilgrim Fathers. Among William Brewster's own children, landing at Plymouth Rock, were Fear, Love, Patience and Wrestling Brewster. It is one of the ironies of America's relationship to the King James Bible that, at the very beginning of the Massachusetts colony, the thinking of the colonists and of the Bible, which would in time come to seem like their national text too, could not have been further apart. The Pilgrim Fathers would undoubtedly have taken the Geneva Bible with them."


Angie Muresan said...

This is fascinating! I must pick up this book as well. I have a few friends who have named their daughters Faith and Hope, and while their names are certainly cute and popular, their parents are fascinated with naming their kids after Christian virtues.

Blog Princess G said...

Angie, it's a great read! Thank you for your comment. :)