Victorian Names and Jewelry

Costume Jewelry Collectors
an original publication by RCJ and Dorothea Stringfield

Caption: Victorian sentimental jewelry in silver and gold featuring more vintage names. All jewelry on this page courtesy of The Spare Room, Baltimore, MD.

Victorian Names Then and Now
Where Have All The Susan’s Gone?
by Susan “Maxine” Klein

Printed with permission of Susan Klein
and Antiques & Collecting Magazine – March 2009 issue

© 2009


Names popular in Victorian times are in fashion again and Victorian sentimental jewelry name brooches are a hot collectible. Often found in silver and sometimes in gold or jet, name brooches were very popular among the Victorians. According to Marcia Moylan and Jacqueline Smelkinson of the Spare Room Antiques in Baltimore, MD (http:/, the brooches were produced in England from around 1880 to about 1915. Earlier examples have no silver or gold hallmarks, but later examples can be found with hallmarks. Moylan and Smelkinson explain that individual jewelers would buy the blanks and would engrave the name on the brooch for each individual customer. According to the book “Victorian Sentimental Jewelry” by Diana Cooper and Norman Battershill (A.S. Barnes & Co., New York, NY, American Edition 1973), these unique name brooches were given as presents of affection in working class families and sometimes the individual pieces can also be found inscribed “Mother” or “Baby”.

Names constantly go in and out of fashion and these interesting brooches made me wonder where have all the Susans gone? Back when I was in college in the late 1970s, if someone yelled “Hey Sue”, eight girls on my dorm floor would have answered in the affirmative. I clearly recall eight heads peaking-out into the hallway in response. Then I joined a sorority, where there were a total of ten Sues and Susans. The Susan majority was followed by a plethora of Kathys, Debbies, Karens, Dianes, Lisas, and of course Cynthias. Back in the 1970s, today’s popular monikers of Morgan, Madison or Mac Kenzie, would have been appropriate names for one’s dog. If a girl who came of age in the 1970s, had the moniker of a last name as a first name, (i.e. Kimball, Connor, or Tyler) it was assumed that she had a southern mother who, unfortunately, saddled her with some old family name. Wisely, these girls disguised this fact and went by their nicknames, initials or middle names (i.e. Kim, Connie, or Ty).

Naturally, we Susans thought the names of our mothers’ generation to be hideous: the Bettys, Arlenes, Marjories, Evelyns, Lucilles and Lorettas were definitely NOT cool and completely old fashioned. The names of our grandmothers’ generation even more frighteningly outdated: the Fannies, Elsies, Josephines, Mabels, Blanches and Thelmas had gone out with the horse and buggy.

Today, I have come to the unpleasant realization that the name ”Susan” is now completely out of date. In current grade school classrooms filled with Tiffanys, Aubreys, Ambers, Katelyns and Meghans, their mothers have old-fashioned names like — Susan. I always felt sorry for the girls I grew up with that were stuck with outdated names like Helen, Lorraine and Delores. Today, it would be extremely embarrassing if your 5th grader’s name was something like Nancy, Marsha or Peggy. It does seem, however, that some old-fashioned names are making a comeback. Actresses Julia Roberts and Jennifer Garner made ground-breaking decisions to name their daughters “Hazel” and “Violet”, respectively. They may have single-handedly made these old fashioned names popular again. Many of the current grade school contingent already possess back in fashion vintage names such as Cecilia, Olivia, Amelia, Hannah and Sophie. Will such names such as Gertrude, Beatrice, and Ethel be the hot names as we head to the end-point of the 00 decade?

My name ”Susan” firmly attaches me to the era in which I was born. Even if I wanted to shave, say ten years, off my age (which I can’t) – my name would give me away. Susan is a name firmly attached to the baby-boomer generation. Perhaps, I shall start going by my middle name, which was once so embarrassing and outmoded, that I only used the initial “M.” as its reference when signing my name. Now, 48 years later, it is interesting and rather exotic. So ladies, if you plan to lie about your age, you may need to change your name as well. Consider giving yourself a name lift! If you are a Janet, Jori might be better. Sandy can be replaced with a more modern Sasha. Might I suggest Maya, instead of Michelle.

Who needs Botox! I’ll just call myself, “Maxine” Susan Klein.

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