I am taking part in Amy Johnson Crow’s 52 Ancestors Challenge this year. This week’s theme is “Namesakes”.
It is a very common practice to name children after relatives. In my own family, the middle name of Arlen or Arleen has been passed down to successive generations. I have the same name as my great-grandmother Sarah Lewis Hurt and she has the same name as her grandmother, Sarah Neal Lewis.
Sometimes children are named after famous people. As I do genealogy, I sometimes see president’s names or other prominent people’s names in the family group sheet. My 4th great grandfather, Francis Asbury Johnson (1805-1865), was possibly named after a Methodist Episcopal minister named Francis Asbury (1745-1816). I don’t have any concrete evidence that this was the case but my uncle pointed out that it is a possibility. Always interested in history, I decided to investigate the life of this bishop and see why he might have been a candidate for a namesake.
According to an article in Christianity Today, Francis Asbury was born in England and became a Methodist minister about the time that he turned 21. He felt called to go to the British colonies in America in 1771 and preach the faith. His ministry lasted 45 years and he traveled the country in sickness and in health, staying through the American revolution. He was especially interested in getting his message to the people in the frontier lands of Tennessee and Kentucky. Circuit riders were important at this time – there were too few churches to serve the people in these areas. Francis traveled thousands of miles in his lifetime.
The Methodist Church grew from 1200 people to 214,000 members during his time and he has become known as “The Father of American Methodism”. He founded Bethel Academy in central Kentucky in 1790 near the town of Wilmore.
My ancestor, Francis Asbury Johnson, was born about 1805 in Kentucky, 15 years after the founding of this academy. The Christian History Institute claims that over 1000 children were named after him. My 4th great grandfather’s name may give a clue as to the religious leanings of the Johnson family. They may have heard him speak in person and felt him to be a great man of God and passed his name to their son. Incidentally, my Francis had a brother named Wesley. There is a good indication that this family was Methodist which gives me something to pursue in my genealogical research.
Anyone in your family named after someone famous? Religious, political, or even infamous? Doing some googling might bring some surprising results!
Sara N. Martin
 “Francis Asbury: Methodist on Horseback”, Christianity Today, undated, online archives, Christianitytoday.com (https://www.christianitytoday.com/history/people/denominationalfounders/francis-asbury.html : accessed 21 January 2021)
 “Francis Asbury”, Asbury University, online archives, Asbury.edu (https://www.asbury.edu/academics/resources/library/archives/biographies/francis-asbury/ : accessed 21 January 2021),para. 1
 “Francis Asbury”, para. 1,2
 “Francis Asbury: Did You Know?”, Christian History Institute, online archives, christianhistoryinstitute.org (https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/did-you-know-asbury : accessed 21 January 2021), para. 1.