Wednesday, 5 July 2017

What's in a Name? A Look at Naming Patterns




Our ancestors seemed to have loved reusing names. For us, many many years later, it can be enough to yank your hair out to have discovered that you've traced back to yet another John, James, Mary, or Margaret. Middle names become very important. My own two middle names are from one paternal great grandmother, and one maternal great grandmother.

If you have a strong heritage to a particular country, your family may have followed a long standing naming tradition for first names. On the surface it may seem frustrating, but there are some great clues in these traditions that can help you establish another generation back.

French Canadian Naming Patterns
These can be confusing, without throwing in "dit" names. That's a whole blog post in itself. Usually a child would have three names


  • First name: Joseph or Marie, depending on the sex of the child
  • Second name: name of Godfather or Godmother, depending on the sex of the child
  • Third name: the name they were generally known by
On my maternal side, this has occurred right up until my mother's generation. The only deviation in my mom and her siblings is that there were only two names. It is their middle name that they go by. 


Scottish Naming Patterns
According to FindMyPast's blog post, they were actually two different traditional naming patterns people followed. They caution that not everyone used the naming traditions.

The first pattern for boys was:

  • First son: father's father
  • Second son: mother's father
  • Third son: father
  • Fourth son: father's eldest brother, or father's paternal grandfather
  • Fifth son: mother's eldest brother, or mother's paternal grandfather
For girls:
  • First daughter: mother's mother
  • Second daughter: father's mother
  • Third daughter: mother
  • Fourth daughter: mother's eldest sister, or mother's maternal grandmother
  • Fifth daughter: named after father's eldest sister, or father's maternal grandmother
See the link above for details on the second naming tradition.

English and Irish Naming Patterns
The traditional naming pattern of England is very similar to the Scottish. 

Boys:
  • First son: father's father
  • Second son: mother's father
  • Third son: father
  • Fourth son: father's eldest brother
  • Fifth son: father's second eldest brother, or mother's eldest brother
Girls:
  • First daughter: mother's mother
  • Second daughter: father's mother
  • Third daughter: mother
  • Fourth daughter: mother's eldest sister
  • Fifth daughter: mother's second eldest sister, or father's eldest sister
The British also tended to use maiden names as middle names. This can be extremely helpful with tracing your female ancestors. I once had a friend ask me to find out where the middle name "Steel" came from in her family line. It was a long standing tradition to give the first born son this as a middle name. It turned out it was the maiden name of her 3x great grandmother. It had traveled down through 5 generations of sons as a middle name. 

German Naming Patterns
Similar to French Canadians, Germans traditionally used a religious name first, and the name they went by was second. In my Lunenburg ancestors, I have a lot of "Johann" and "Anna" as first names. For the commonly used name, they usually followed the following pattern:

For boys:
  • First son: father's father
  • Second son: mother's father
  • Third son: father
  • Fourth son: father's paternal grandfather
  • Fifth son: mother's paternal grandfather
  • Sixth son: father's maternal grandfather
  • Seventh son: mother's maternal grandfather
For girls:
  • First daughter: mother's mother
  • Second daughter: father's mother
  • Third daughter: mother
  • Fourth daughter: father's paternal grandmother
  • Fifth daughter: mother's paternal grandmother
  • Sixth daughter: father's maternal grandmother
  • Seventh daughter: mother's maternal grandmother
Ukranian Naming Patterns
The Canadian West in particular has strong Ukranian roots. A traditional Ukranian name would follow the following:

For boys:
  • First name: name they are called by
  • Middle name: (father's name) with the suffix "ovych" or "yovych"
For girls:
  • First name: name they are called by
  • Middle name: (father's name) with the suffix "ivna" or "yivna" 
So if the father's name was Ivan, then the son's middle name would be "Ivanovich". His daughter's middle name would be "Ivanivna".



Now keep in mind that not everyone stuck to ethnic naming patterns. Some families tended to have their own unique versions. I've seen traditions where a son's middle name was a father's first name. But if you're lucky enough to see a pattern develop, it can give you some great clues on getting another generation back.


6 comments:

  1. Great post Candice! Will come back to this page many times.

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  2. Interesting - our family (and I suspect we are not alone) had a habit of calling the children by their middle name - and 'forgetting' the first name although it usually appeared on the birth certificate.

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    1. Yes you are not alone. It wasn't until I started doing my own family history that I realized that the names I've always known my maternal aunts and uncles by were actually their middle names 😀

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  3. In Sicily it get ridiculous when the male and female names are all but identical. My ancestry is swamped by Sebastianos/Sebastianas, Giovannis/Giovannas and Giuseppes/Giuseppas. And whether they are first or second name doesn't seem to matter either.

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    1. That would be enough to make you pull your hair out!

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