Halifax Explosion: Names of the Time

Halifax Explosion Short Story Collection

Names. We all have them. Every character in a book who wants to be remembered has one. It might be Susan O’Toole or Frederick Butler or Dino, but readers need a name, a handle to use when they talk about their most favourite and least favourite characters.

We can’t refer to them as that guy or that girl. We’d all become confused fairly quickly, if we did.

Names are unique to culture, gender, countries and eras. If you are writing a story set in 1917, you’d look for names popular in the 1910s. For men, they were John, James, William, Robert, George and Charles. For women, they were Mary, Helen, Margaret, Dorothy, Ruth, Anna and Elizabeth.

These names fit the many people who already lived in Halifax and Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, and those who came to the city to support the war effort because many of the individuals were of European descent. Their family lines can be traced to places such as England, Scotland, Ireland and Germany.

Their surnames, however, would hint at their origins: John Tucker may be from England, whereas John Mailman’s family might hale from Germany.

TOld Millhat doesn’t mean other ethnic groups weren’t present, but if you look through the 1911 Canada Census for the city of Halifax, you’ll find the majority of the individuals are one of these four groups.

After searching several pages, I found the widow Catherine Henrion and her five children who were Belgian. Catherine’s children had the familiar names that reappear thousands of times across Canada at that time: Francis, William, Mary, Catherine and Richard.

Next door to them lived William DeBay’s family, who was French. His wife Frances was English. Their children had common names for the era too: Winnifred, Edith and Geraldine.

On the same census sheet, Omer During of Sweden, his Irish wife Jane, and his son Arthur is found.

Names. If you’re looking for one to use in the story, check out the 1911 Census, take one from there and one from here. Good luck.

To learn more about the Call for Submissions check out the Halifax Explosion Short Story Collection.


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