In 16th-century England, some Puritan communities decided that the names being given to children at the time were too often the Hebrew names of the Old Testament and the French names of their former Norman conquerers. In reaction to this trend, the Puritans began giving their newborns more eccentric names in the hope that they would either be reminded of mankind's sins or be inspired to embody their virtues. Still others were given entire Biblical passages or exhortations.
One name that became popular was Increase, as in, "The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children," from Psalm 115. Increase falls into a category referred to as thanksgiving names. In a time when childbirth was a difficult process with high mortality rates for both infant and mother, every healthy birth was seen as a blessing. As such, some children were given names like Good-gift, More-fruit, and Deliverance.
Boys named Increase became common in colonial New England due in part to Increase Mather, the influential preacher and father of Cotton Mather. Increase Nowell, a founding member of both the Massachusetts Bay Colony and First Church in Charlestown, was undoubtedly another inspiration. The name continued to be popular into the late 18th century. Among the entries in our obituary database are: Rev. Increase Davis of Dorchester, NH; Rev. Increase Graves of Bridport, VT; and Increase N. Tarbox, a prominent author, newspaper editor, historian, and educator. While recently processing archival materials from First Church in Dochester (originally the church of Increase Mather's father, Richard), Sari came across mentions of sermons preached by Increase Sumner.