The Names and Named Patterns In Your Family Tree

By | February 20, 2017

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.

Named Patterns In Your Family Tree

You also maybe 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.

The origins of our surnames can be identified by the following:

  1. Patronymic – After the Father’s Name
  2. Occupation – What Did They Do For A Living?
  3. Nickname or Descriptive – What Were They Like?
  4. 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 various 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 most common surnames that can be found in the Western world.

The Different Naming Conventions in this Post:

Baptism Name

If your ancestor was baptised 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 used 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 actually quite popular as there was such a naming pattern that was very popular in Britain. The period of this pattern dates from about the early 1700s to the second half of the 19th Century.

Family Naming Patterns

By understanding and using this pattern it can help you identify why your ancestors 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.

The Naming of Boys:

  1. First born son named after his father’s father
  2. Second born son named after his mother’s father
  3. Third born son named after his father
  4. Fourth born son named after his father’s eldest brother
  5. Fifth born son named after his father’s second eldest brother
    or his mother’s eldest brother

The Naming of Girls:

  1. First born daughter named after her mother’s mother
  2. Second born daughter named after her father’s mother
  3. Third born daughter named after her mother
  4. Fourth born daughter named after her mother’s eldest sister
  5. Fifth born daughter named after her mother’s second eldest sister or her father’s eldest sister

If however both grandparents shared the same name then then this would mean you go to the next step in this list for either the boy or the girl.

When I first began researching my ancestry I discovered that some of my ancestors 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 to 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 ancestors 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 across different spellings for your ancestors. Even though they have different names you maybe convinced that they are in fact the same person. This maybe because they share the same details, such as year and place of birth.


So take for example my second great grandfather John. 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

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
  • Sam for Samantha

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. When one of my ancestors died before they turned three years old his parents named the next child after them.

Reusing Given Names

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. Within my family there various names that have been repeated, names such as John and Jeremiah have been passed down to the first born son. A combination of girls names such as Mary Ann has also been popular in my family tree.

Frequency of Given Names

As I have pointed out you may see within your family tree siblings that are named after their aunts and uncles. If your family have 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 it is quite possible that you may have found a family connection. Especially if they share the same surname.

Translation of a Name

If your ancestors was 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.

Translation of a Name

As society has been known to be quite biased it is quite reasonable to think that your ancestors may have changed their name in order to get work, or to rent accommodation.

So if your ancestor came from Germany for example and was called 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 second name. This is the case for my maternal grandmother, whose middle name Evans was the maiden name of her mother.

Surnames as a Given Name

You can see from this that given names can actually give you clues to you 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.

Virtuous Names

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 name 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 think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

10 thoughts on “The Names and Named Patterns In Your Family Tree

  1. Zbigniew

    I’m impressed with your knowledge. I had no idea that looking for your ancestors’ names can be so complicated. I’ve always found genealogy very interesting and even though I am not going to trace my genealogy free anytime soon, I’ll keep your guidelines in mind. Just in case, you know 🙂
    All the best to you,

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you for your comment. You can get so many clues from the names of your ancestors and their siblings. The clues that I have given here can really help you backtrack even further with your family tree.

      I hope that when you are ready that you will keep this site in mind as I am always adding more and more useful guides and tips.

  2. Ashley

    This was incredibly helpful! My father has always kept books on our family’s heritage, however, I started using to check some of it out for myself. I was able to find even more connections than he had recorded! Knowing the common order for naming children is incredibly helpful and I’m going to have to go back and double check a few things. It began to get very confusing when uncles, sons, fathers, great-grandfathers, and cousins all had the same thing. Or when last names were later used as middle names! I really appreciate this article, you’ve built something really useful here!

    1. Owain Post author

      You’re quite welcome Ashley. I too carried on with the research that my father did. And like yourself I went onto Ancestry. I was particularly interested in siblings so this guide that I have posted was incredibly helpful for me at the time. I am glad that I have been of assistance.

  3. Marlaine

    Fascinating post! My husband and I are from big Dutch families and we have so many of these name conventions in our families. Some family members have common names that are completely different than the names on their birth certificates (for who knows what reason), some have names that were changed when they immigrated here, there’s even a last name that changed its spelling to “fit the pronunciation” better. My father’s family did the traditional “naming of boys” and “naming of girls” for their (many) children… all in all, I could relate to a LOT of what you wrote here! A fun read! 🙂

    1. Owain Post author

      Hey that’s great Marlaine that there were so many conventions from this guide that your family used. Like myself there are a number of these different naming conventions within my own family, so I also benefited from it as well.

  4. Brent

    Wow, you really know a lot about this type of stuff and it is certainly educational. The URL of your site definitely fits!! I have shared this post as it will be good to pass this type of education on. thank you for sharing.

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you for the compliment, it’s very much appreciated. I was quite excited when writing this post as I knew it could be quite helpful for fellow family historians.

  5. Tasleem

    Hi Owain,

    I have been doing some research on my own and you know what? My surname is not really my surname, in fact it is one of my ancestors first name which mistakenly got recorded as the surname and apparently there have been a lot of such incidents where lots of mistakes like that and spelling errors also have been made.

    1. Owain Post author

      That is quite interesting. I have never heard of that happening, but I suppose anything is possible with family history. You just don’t know what you will find. Thank you for sharing your family story.


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