What’s in a name? Well, a lot more than you might imagine. These named patterns are inherited, passed down the generations with no or little change. It is our given names though that require a little thought by our parents.
In this post, I want to cover the named patterns that you will encounter within your family tree.
I also want to show other tips to consider when researching your family history.
You also may be wondering what does your surname mean?
Well, our surnames are inherited as I have just pointed out and these can come in four different forms.
Surname origins can be identified by:
- Patronymic – After the Father’s Name
- Occupation – What Did They Do For A Living?
- Nickname or Descriptive – What Were They Like?
- Location – Where Did They Live?
I have written two other posts regarding the origins of names.
The first post, entitled What Does My Name Mean? looks at the different ways that people get their given name. Also, included in this post are useful guides to help you find the meaning behind your name.
The second post, What Does Your Surname Mean? discusses four different ways that your surname may have originated from.
I have also added a top 10 of the most common surnames that can be found in the Western world.
Different naming conventions explained:
- Baptism Name
- Family Naming Patterns
- Nicknames as Given Names
- Reusing Given Names
- The Frequency of Names
- Translation of a Name
- Using Surnames as a Given Name
- Virtuous Names
If your ancestor was baptized then please take care when looking for records regarding him or her. My second great-grandmother was called Mary Jane, but her baptism name was Vickey Ann.
Because of this difference, you may indeed find records of your ancestors under different names.
So, it is well worth checking if records do exist for your ancestor under their baptism name.
Family Naming Patterns
While researching your family history you may encounter the same name again and again in your family tree. From this, you may have thought that you see a pattern in the naming of your ancestors.
Well, this is quite popular as there was such a naming pattern that was very popular in Britain.
Naming patterns began in the 1700s
The period of this pattern dates from about the early 1700s to the second half of the 19th Century.
By understanding and using this pattern it can help you identify why your ancestor’s siblings were given their names.
Knowing this pattern can also help you break down possible brick walls that you may have encountered during your genealogy research.
There is nothing worse than encountering a brick wall.
So, if you refer to this naming pattern it can help you trace other members of your family tree.
Be aware though that if both grandparents shared the same name then this would mean you go to the next step in this list for either the boy or the girl.
The naming of boys:
- A firstborn son named after his father’s father
- A secondborn son named after his mother’s father
- A third born son named after his father
- A fourth-born son named after his father’s eldest brother
- A fifth born son named after his father’s second eldest brother
or his mother’s eldest brother
The naming of girls:
- A firstborn daughter named after her mother’s mother
- A secondborn daughter named after her father’s mother
- A third born daughter named after her mother
- A fourth-born daughter named after her mother’s eldest sister
- A fifth born daughter named after her mother’s second eldest sister or her father’s eldest sister
This key helped my research!
When I first began researching my ancestry I discovered that some of my ancestor’s siblings were named after aunts and uncles.
So, it was quite a discovery to make this connection.
As you can see from this guide you can work out any missing siblings within your genealogy research.
However, I must stress for you be cautious when using such a guide.
It is all very well naming your children after grandparents, aunts, and uncles. But would you want to name your child after someone you do not think of too highly, for whatever reason?
Also, your ancestor’s siblings may not have been named after a family member at all. They may have been named after a friend, or it may have been a popular name at the time.
Please note: Use this naming pattern only as a guide.
Nicknames as Given Names
When checking official records you may come across different spellings for your ancestors. Even though they have different names you may be convinced that they are the same person.
This may be because they share the same details, such as year and place of birth.
My family history
So, take for example my second great grandfather John Couch.
Even though that was his given name he was also known as Jack, which by the way is a common nickname for John.
Even on official records such as censuses I have seen different spellings, or nicknames, written down instead of their actual given name.
So, pay particular attention to this when tracing your ancestry.
The same can also be said for the female members of your family.
One particular ancestor of mine was called Elizabeth. But on some records, she was put down as Lizzie, (a nickname of Elizabeth).
Some nicknames for boys:
- Bill for William
- Bob for Robert
- Harry for Henry
- Jack for John
- Jake for Jacob
- Jim for James
- Nick for Nicholas
- Rick for Richard
Please check out a really useful guide, Male birth names and their associated nicknames, over at Genealogy by Barry.
Some nicknames for girls:
- Abby for Abigail
- Alex for Alexandra or Alexandria
- Angie for Angelia or Angela
- Kate for Katherine
- Lizzie for Elizabeth
- Pat for Patricia
Please check out a great article I found entitled Victorian 19th C. Names & Nicknames: Women, Baby Girls, Female over at AncestorVille.
Reusing Given Names
I have already highlighted a naming pattern for boys and girls at the start of this post. But what if one of the children died young. This has occurred on a few occasions within my family.
Naming a child after the deceased
When one of my ancestors died before they turned three years old his parents named the next child after them.
It can be quite confusing for us genealogists when it comes to tracking down these family members.
We can get quite confused as to who we are referring to. Their year of birth will be quite similar and possibly their birthplace will be the same as well.
So, please take care when researching these family members.
The Frequency of Names
Your family may not have followed this pattern but it doesn’t hurt to keep in mind. It can aid you in finding missing links within your family tree. The repetition of names though can be significant.
Popular names in my family tree
Within my family, various names have been repeated, names such as John and Jeremiah have been passed down to the firstborn son.
A combination of girls’ names such as Mary Ann has also been popular in my family tree.
As I have pointed out you may see within your family tree siblings that are named after their aunts and uncles. If your family has emigrated they may have kept this tradition.
This is quite handy to note for when you are researching your ancestors’ homeland.
If you come across the same repetition of names then you may have found a family connection. Especially if they share the same surname.
Translation of a Name
If your ancestors were an immigrant then chances are that they may have changed their name. This may have been so that they could have fitted into society more easily.
If they had an obscure name they may have decided to use a more suitable English name.
Changing the name to get work!
As society has been known to be quite biased it is quite reasonable to think that your ancestors may have changed their name to get work or to rent accommodation.
So, if your ancestor came from Germany for example, and was called ‘Franz‘ then they may have decided to adopt the name ‘Frank‘ instead.
If you are researching through old documents, records or a historic newspaper keep an eye out for the two different names for your ancestor.
They may have decided to keep their original name for certain circumstances.
The German example Franz I have given is quite similar to the English name Frank.
But what if there isn’t a similar spelling for your foreign ancestor.
Well, they may have decided to pick a name that they quite liked the sound of.
Using Surnames as a Given Name
When researching your family tree you must accept that your ancestors may have a surname as a given name. This could either be a first name or a second name.
This is the case for my maternal grandmother, whose middle name Evans was the maiden name of her mother.
You can see from this that given names can give you clues to your ancestry and help you trace your family history further back.
So, if you can’t get clues like this from your ancestors then try looking at the names of their siblings.
While researching your family history you may have come across some unusual names. Your ancestor may have been named after values that their parents may want their children to have possessed.
These could have been names such as Charity, Patience, or Prudence.
These names could sound quite bizarre and unusual in this day and age.
But they could have been quite acceptable in the past.
Thank You and Please Leave A Comment
I hope you enjoyed this post that answers your question “What does my name mean?“. If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below.
Please share with family and friends if you think this post will help others by using the social media buttons below.