John, Ann, William, Mary, Thomas and Elizabeth. These are probably names which appear dozens, if not hundreds of times in your family history, particularly as you delve into the earlier decades of the 18th century. However, while researching you family tree I am sure that you have also encountered one or two strange, unusual or odd-sounding first names in that sea of otherwise dull, repetitious system of name-giving. Besides learning of a particular name’s existence, it is quite possible that you have discovered the name was somehow popular or significant in your forefathers’ time, and was consequently used fairly often generation after generation, a useful way of investigating collateral branches in your ancestry.
Such was the case of Milborough, a female (yes, female!) name which often appears on several branches of my own family tree. Milborough derives from the Medieval name Milburga (sometimes spelled Milburgh or Mildburh). Historically, Milburga was the daughter of Saint Ermenburga and of Merewalh, King of the Mercian sub-kingdom of Magonsaete, in the area occupied by the present-day diocese of Hereford, which is where my family came from. Milburga had two sisters, Mildrith and Midgytha who, like her, were later canonised by the Catholic church, still prevalent in the England of the Middle Ages. Milburga, according to legend, had a mysterious power over birds, and it is said that she was able to turn these creatures away from the crops whenever she asked them to; she was also reputed to perform other miracles. She eventually became a Benedictine abbess of Wenlock priory (which was converted into a private home following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1540), and her feast day is celebrated on 23rd February.
Milburga’s association with Herefordshire explains why several of my relatives from that area were named after her, not to mention a small village on the southern border of Shropshire, called Stoke St Milborough. I first encountered the name Milborough when I researched my great-great-grandmother’s family. The patriarch of the bunch, Frederick Vickress, had five daughters and five sons, although two of each died in infancy. One of the surviving girls was my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth, so named in honour of her grandmother; when it came to naming the middle sister, their parents chose to call her Milborough. She and her husband would go on to live near her sister Elizabeth and her family in the Herefordshire countryside. Milborough became a widow in 1932 and died herself in 1936, four years after the passing of her beloved elder sister.
“Aunt Milborough” got her name from one of her father’s younger sisters. The elder Milborough was the sixth of her parents’ twelve children, but unlike her niece, she never married. Instead, she remained a spinster all her life, working as a dressmaker, and lived with her elder unmarried sister Drusilla, who was an invalid, until her death in 1894.
I have not been able to find further Milboroughs further up the family tree, but the name pops again a few generations later when, true to tradition, my great-grandmother’s cousin was baptised Milborough in 1892. This cousin married a man called Jenks during the Great War and had three children. She passed away in Wales in her mid-70’s. Milborough Jenks also had a niece (her brother’s daughter) who was born just weeks before the outbreak of WWI. She too went on to marry and produce children, and passed away in the 80’s, to my knowledge the fourth and last of a line of Milboroughs which since the 1820’s have populated my family tree.
But if we want a name with history, that has to be the name Montilion. This (male) name has been in the family for generations and, although no longer in use by living family members, it does strike me as somewhat significant. The first time the name pops up in my family tree is in 1746 when two of my ancestors baptised their first-born son. To me, the fact that it was their first child who received the name is somewhat significant, as it implies it was probably important to them (or plainly their number one preference for a name). But there has to be more to it. Where could they have taken this un-English sounding name from?
The name Montilion appears in different forms throughout the next three generations, Mantilian and Monteleon being the alternative spellings. The latter sounds distinctly Spanish, but again it may just be a coincidence in spelling. Or is it?
The 17th and 18th centuries saw an increase of population in Britain, mainly due to the Industrial Revolution which swept the country and changed life in the country forever. But this was not the only cause for the surge in demographics. Immigration also played a key part, and a particularly notable group of immigrants who arrived in England were the Huguenots, French Calvinist Protestant who fled religious persecution on the other side of the Channel. Although far from being conclusive evidence that my ancestor’s name was linked to French Huguenots, I find it significant that Montilion’s wife Sarah was the daughter of a woman whose maiden name was Tringam.
Tringam (alternative spellings Tringham and Stringham) is a surname which, according to several online sources, originated in France. One branch of this Protestant family arrived in Herefordshire at the time of the Edict of Fontainebleau, which effectively expelled Huguenots from France. If Sarah’s mother was indeed descended from a family of religious refugees, would they not have also kept ties with other Huguenot families in the area, thus allowing for a matrimonial alliance with Montilion’s family? The question remains to be answered.
Sarah and Montilion had eight children, including one son also called Montilion. The latter died in 1838, not before giving his own name to his younger son, born in 1805. Alas the latter appears to have died young, as I can trace no references about him in later sources. The name was also given to a first cousin born approximately a generation later, but as the child died prematurely, the name was not used again. Only a sister of his, Ann, gave it as a middle name to one of her own brood, but he too seems to have disappeared from the records in the 1850’s. Thus, after one hundred years in the family, the name vanished as mysteriously as it had first appeared. Who knows if one day it will be revived?