G is for Gertrude

Gertrude means “strong spear/spear maiden.”

My grandmother was born Gertrude Elizabeth Yates on August 10. For the longest time, we all, i.e. her daughter and her family, thought she was born in 1898, which I found easy to remember: the Spanish-American War was that year. But one day in the 1960s, she decided or was persuaded, to register to vote. And we were surprised to discover that she was in fact born in 1897. Why had she lied about this fact for so many years, we never knew.
My mother was born Gertrude Elizabeth Williams on November 17, 1927. The younger Gertrude was called Gertie by her family. Turns out, she HATED being Gertie, and, at some point before I was born, became Trudy. Only some of her cousins still referred to her as Gertie.

I’m fascinated how some names somehow get dubbed as “old-fashioned.” Gertrude is a perfectly serviceable name. In William Shakespeare’s Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet’s mother and Queen of Denmark. Yet, in the Social Security’s baby name register in the US, Gertrude was #25 in 1880 for girl names, the first year for which there was data, and stayed in the top 30 through 1912, but fell out of the top 100 in 1931, the top 200 in 1942, the top 500 in 1955, and out of the top 1000 in 1966, never to return.

It used to bother me, and I suspect it bugged my mother, that comedian Red Skelton, who had a variety show on CBS-TV for many years in the 1950s and 1960s, featured cross-eyed seagulls named Gertrude and Heathcliff in his act.

But I do find it interesting that Gertrude means strong spear/spear maiden since Roger means famous with the spear/renowned spearman.


The Mission Choir, the Catholic choir that my sister sang with for years and still an inactive member, requested and was granted the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass to be offered in honor of my mom. That’s pretty amazing, apparently, since they know she was not Catholic. It will be Sunday, May 1st, 2011 at noon when the choir sings: Mission Basilica San Diego de Alcala’, 10818 San Diego Mission Road, San Diego, CA 92108.

Also, a member of the Mission Choir enrolled Mom in the St. Patrick’s Mission Circle as part of the St. Patrick’s Fathers. The document says: “All members, living and deceased, are associated with the work of St. Patrick missionaries throughout the world, share in their daily Masses and prayers and in three special Masses each day as well as in sixteen Novenas of Masses each year.”

Not being Catholic, I don’t exactly know what that means, but it sounds nice.

ABC Wednesday – Round 8

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

60 thoughts on “G is for Gertrude”

  1. My middle name is Elizabeth – I was named after my grandma or nana as I called her. Her name was Elizabeth Ellen, everybody called her Dolly. I think the older names are now more fashionable than ever – I pity any baby being named Kylie or Britney!

  2. It is interesting how popular culture can affect attitudes towards certain names. I wanted to call my daughter Lydia because I love the name, but even now it conjures up images of Groucho Marx’s song, Lydia the Tattooed Lady, so we called her Bryony instead.

  3. I was born Catholic, and am still a practicing Catholic, but my Mom had Methodist parents, but they were poor during the depression, so my Mom was born at a “charity” hospital, Fordham Hospital in the Bronx. A nun there convinced my Grandmother that being baptised a Catholic couldn’t hurt. I think anytime someone offers prayers for someone it is good, no matter what the faith.

  4. Gertrud – we don’t have the last e – is an old Swedish name as well. It nos very popular just now but it will certainly be when time comes. Birgitta is not popular either 😉
    Nice to read about your story!

  5. I went to school with a Gertrude, never thought much about the name, I think it is what we get use to. My name is
    Anna, I never went by it until I went to school, up until then everyone called me Honey, because that was what my father always called me. I hated Anna, but the story goes that when I started first grade, the teacher, who was also a neighbor asked me what I wanted to be called, Honey or Anna, they tell me I told her, Anna is my name, so call me Anna. I now go by Gigi Ann. Gigi is for Great Grandma.

  6. Very strange about names, Roger. I can remember when Jessica and Jennifer were old-fashioned names. NOW jessicas and Jennifers are everywhere. Gertrude will make a comeback!

  7. I’ve never known a Gertrude — interesting about names and how we get them, how we name our own kids. My mother was a great fan of Sylvia Sydney, way back in history, consequently, my name. I do think it’s lovely that they are saying a Mass for your Mom! Fascinating post as always, Roger.

    ABC Team

  8. LOL!! Enjoyed your stats on how names fell off the Baby Name Registers 😀 My French teacher in school was Miss Gertie, a cute dainty ma’am!!
    You have expressed very beautifully the finer and more delicate sides of your dear family members!!

  9. Gertrude is a fine name I feel Roger! and its a nice family post 😀 Cheers.. Happy ABCW G 🙂

  10. Roger, this is wonderful, a mass offered for your mother. I’m not Catholic and don’t know what it means, either, but I think it means your mother was a good person.
    Fascinating about the spear in the meaning of her name and yours.
    My grandmother also lied about her age, LOL. Her name was Mabel Gertrude. My mother’s name was Gertrude Pauline, and was called Trudy until some point (before high school) when she insisted on being called Pauline.
    — K

    Kay, Alberta, Canada
    An Unfittie’s Guide to Adventurous Travel

  11. Roger, I remember two Gertrudes in my family: My great great aunt Gertrude and my mom’s first cousin, Gertrude, known like your mom as Trudy. I have one of those old-fashioned names, being named for my mother’s mother.
    Thank you for the family history and the stories of your mother and grandmother. Three cheers for prayers however they come to us!

  12. What a beautiful tribute to your mother! Thank you for sharing. The certificate is very beautiful. I am a protestant but we introduce more and more Catholic elements in our church.

  13. I do have a little Gertrude in one of the schools I work for, but it’s still an old-fashioned name here as well. The meaning rocks, though (like so many Germanic names – they really loved their Gers, it seems)

  14. I always like the posts you write about your family and this was no exception. Great stories. I also find it interesting how names go in and out of fashion. When my daughter was in elementary school there would be 3 girls with one name, 3 with another etc. in each class. It got to where it was necessary to either use first and last names or first and middle or nicknames. It also seemed like there were at least 3 with the nickname Kat to make it even more confusing.

  15. Very interesting post for G day! And I think Gertrude is a fine name. Much finer than mine which is Cremilde and which I hated when I was a child:o)
    And my pseudonym Cildemer ( = cil de mer = eyelash of the sea) is an anagram of my name. And I chose it because I was born by the sea and I consider myself nothing more than a grain of sand which your eyelashes protects from on windy days! he he he;o)

    Have a nice and happy week, Roger****

  16. My grandmother’s name was Gertrude also. And my Father-in-law used to call his wife Gertie. She didn’t like it so much.


  17. I do like your family posts, Roger. I like to think ‘a rose by any other name would smell as sweet’ and so it is with Gertrude, – or Hildred which NEVER was popular and means war counselor – Scandanavian I believe. My Irish/Scots grandfather picked it after reading of either a noble woodcutter’s daughter named Hildred, or a woodcutter’s noble daughter.

  18. I always enjoy seeing photos of people’s families. It’s interesting how names go in and out of fashion. Now they have to compete with names of pop stars and the goofy names that movie stars give their kids. Apple, anyone?

  19. Your Mom looks lovely in the picture. My Grandma’s middle name was Gertrude. Her first name was Myrtle. I always thought both of her names were a little strange. In 1976 when I was born Jennifer was the name to be had : ) but I got Rebecakah : (. Now Jennifer’s aren’t too popular any more. A popular baby name for girls for the last few years has been Sophia.

  20. I always like the name Elizabeth, sounded to grand and beautiful….maybe because of the Queen Elizabeth of England…

  21. A lovely remembrance of your grandmother and mother. I’m so happy for you all that she will be honoured at the Holy Sacrifice of Mass!

    ABCW Team

  22. Thanks for your comment! I don’t think that you look like a green man. The only thing you have in common is the name. I should like to know if this is a celtic thing or that it appears all over the world. Perhaps you can find this out for me.

  23. My mother in law was named Gertrude and I remember most people called her Gert. I have to admit it wasn’t my favorite name but she was a lovely woman.
    A very nice tribute to your family.

  24. Dawn – I doubt it. She never mentioned it, and I never knew the meaning of her name until recently.

  25. great post Roger. I believe uncommon names make life so much more interesting, that’s why I made up my own using two of my favorite flowers!

  26. My mother wanted to name me “Edna” after her mother, but my father refused. I have been grateful my entire life, though I have met several perfectly wonderful Ednas and am sure it was a tone time a perfectly wonderful name. Maybe one day both Gertrude and Edna will come back into favor. It has happened with others.

  27. I was born 1966 and I haven’t known anybody by a name Gertrude. I have a classmate in college we call her Gertie but I don’t know if her real name is Gertrude. I used to “hate” my name, that’s a very harsh word huh! Yes I “hate” my name KIM because there is one brothel house that is called “KIM’s”!!! Can you imagine how kids teased me for this??? Good thing I have this fighting spirit I didn’t mind those kids but deep inside I “hate” that place. It was a relief when I was in high school the place was burnt down, can I say “alleluia for that”? NO??? hehe! I get over it though.
    I am a Catholic and this means, St. Patrick Missionaries pray your whole family everyday 3x, deceased and alive, as long as St. Patrick Missionaries still exist your family is always remembered. Ain’t that nice? Happy Wednesday!
    ABC Wednesday-G

  28. My grandmother’s name was Pricilla, also thought of as old fashion. My parents were from the mid west (Oklahoma) and I received a common name at that time of Wanda Mae. (Also I was born on May 1st so that works), but I have friends and cousins of that area, that have similar names like Bobby Jo, Betty Sue, etc.

    I love the history you have given us on your grandmother and mother. Really lovely and interesting stories. Love the tribute they are receiving.

  29. Fashionable names are a disaster, I think, particularly for the poor children afflicted with them. Family names can be difficult, too. I knew a girl at school who was called Euphemia, after an aunt, I believe. She was always called Effie, except by one teacher who got it completely wrong and called her Phemie!

  30. Names are so interesting, and how they change through ones life. How lovely to have prayers for your Mother, she looks so happy in the photograph. Your parents obviously gave your names some thought to come up with the initials. An old name, Gertrude of Nievelles, friend to the poor goes way back. Not that I’m a Catholic either but in art there is usually a mouse climbing her staff unnoticed, she is deep in contemplation.

  31. My grandma was from the same generation born in 1894 ! Her name was Margarete, and everybody called her Gretel ! I also had a aunt Trudi !

  32. Nice and interesting post. Gertrud(e) was a common name in the generation from your mother in Germany. Often nicknamed Trude or Trudi.

  33. Can’t say I’ve every known a Gertrude. It is interesting how names fall in and out of favor over the decades…and sometimes centuries!

  34. It’s true that isn’t a name you see girls with these days. We had an Aunt Gertrude in our family that became Trudy as well. It’s interesting as well how names get changed like that. RYC: Busking..hadn’t thought of that phrase for it. I could have used the picture for “B” as well. Judging from the number of street performers we see in Northampton I guess it’s done well enough by them. There’s also a number of music venues so I imagine they supplement what they make ‘filling in’ with acts as well.

  35. It is so funny that your grandma didn’t disclose her correct year of birth for so many years…..
    Great post!

  36. It means that a lot of people are praying for your mom! All good, positive thoughts. I will join them in prayer-particularly on May 11.

  37. So, that’s where Trudy comes from. That’s a cool name. I also like the sound of Gertie. Someone who knows what’s what and can laugh about it, too.

  38. Hi Roger,
    I personally love the name Gertrude and the shortened Gertie…I have noticed the older names making a comeback so who knows what will happen in the future 🙂

  39. Hi Roger! You asked about the Quakers. Well I scheduled the Q post already for 10th May, because Q is a difficult letter and I am overjoyed when I come across a word for Q,U,X, or Y. Even Z is difficult. Then I do some googling and collect some information and write a post months before it is due. I have written all my posts up till Q now. And I scheduled them all. I even did S, T, W, X, Y, Z. Silly aren’t I?!

  40. Well, Wil- I’ve done up to J. I know what K, L, M,. N Q, and Z are, which helps!

  41. Loving your family history. Names sure do change with the years. I don’t know any Gertrudes, except from tv. Thanks for sharing. Have a wonderful weekend Roger.

  42. As always, such a lovely post from you, Roger! 🙂
    Gertrude is a sweet name… love your grandma’s story. nd I’ll specially keep your mom in my prayers on May 1st.

    Kisses from Nydia.

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