Name Spotlight: Chester


The next two names (Nellie was the first) that I will shine a spotlight on are one of the many names that have made great strides in the Top 500 in England and Wales in 2015.

What started out as a form of protection against the enemies now became a rising name in Britain and a dated one in the United States.


Chester was originally a place name, derived from Old English Ceastre (neuter noun ceaster)¹ which, in turn, is derived from Latin castrum (accusative plural form is castra) meaning “fort, castle.”¹


Chester has been in use since, at least, the first half of the 17th century when the usage of surnames as first names was picking up.
In the United States, for the first 3 quarters of the 19th century, usage of this name was increasing steadily², though by the last quarter, the popularity of Chester increased. Of note, below is a graph, using SSA data³ for the period between 1880 and 1890, showing the increase in popularity in 1881.


In that same year when Chester increased in popularity, Chester A. Arthur became the 21st president of the United States in September of that year after his predecessor, James A. Garfield, who held the position since March, was assassinated⁴.
Using a different source for determining name popularity (a quick record count on FamilySearch from birth records and indexes from 8 states: West Virginia, Michigan, Massachusetts, Ohio, Wisconsin, North Carolina, Idaho and New Jersey), Chester would have ranked outside the top 100 in 1870-4 and 1875-9. Come 1880-4, when Arthur was put into the position of president:

1880-4 around 85th
1885-9 around 86th
1890-4 around 75th
1895-9 around 69th

Chester continued to rank above the 100th place mark in the SSA charts until 1930 and it would take a long while longer until it would leave the top 1000 in 1995³. Last year, it was given to 98 boys, up 14 counts from 2014 and up 27 (28) counts from 2012 (2006 – the year with the lowest count)³.

Though it has been a common name in the United States, elsewhere, it’s not as popular or common a name as it was in the US.
For instance, in England & Wales, it was rarely used in the 19th century and most of the 20th century, though it did jump in numeral usage for a short time in the mid-1940s, and it wasn’t until the late 20th century and early 21st century (especially the late 2000s) where usage really starts to pick up, as noted in the graph below, using different sources⁵.


The last 2 years saw Chester ranking in the top 500 for the first time, thanks, in no small part, to the birth of Holly Willoughby’s son back in late 2014.

Other places to note in this section⁶:

SOUTH AUSTRALIA never reached the top 100, 6 the highest number in 1945
ONTARIO never reached the top 100 either on the official 1912-2010 list nor my 1870 list, 42 the highest number (1920), 1996 last year over 5 counts
BRITISH COLUMBIA only reached the top 100 once in 1919 (6 counts)

That’s all I have for this post. If you have any thoughts on this name or this post, leave them in the comments section below the sources.

Bosworth-Toller Anglo-Saxon Dictionary on ceaster –¹
Wiktionary on castrum –¹
Douglas Galbi’s Popular Given Names in the US, 1801-1999 –²
SSA –³
Wikipedia article on Chester Arthur –⁴
FreeBMD –⁵
Office for National Statistics ––england-and-wales/index.html⁵
South Australian Government –⁶
Ontario – (for girls, replace male with female)⁶
Province of British Columbia Vital Statistics –⁶

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