Playin’ the Name GameJul 22nd, 2009 | By Leonard Legends & Legacies | Category: How-To
“Shirley, Shirley, Bo-Birley, Banana, Fanna, Fo, Firley… Shirley.” If you remember the original song lyric, you are officially an antique. And you now have an ear worm. You’re welcome.
Shirley Ellis and Laura Branigan notwithstanding, very few of us enjoy playing the name game that comes with researching multiple generations of ancestors with the same given names as their predecessors. Which William, which Silas, which Mary? Argh! Can’t you people come up with an original name?
The simple answer is, “Yes. Yes, they can.” (No offense, Barack.) Our ancestors, like you and I, were paying homage to their ancestors. In their case, by naming their children after them. And, in a round about sort of way, they may have offered us a bread crumb trail to earlier generations. In other words, there was method to their madness.
Any time I run into a brick wall, or maybe just puzzle over the identity of “Uncle Isaac,” I go back to a handy-dandy naming chart that explains the naming traditions of our English and Irish ancestors. And every once in a while, I could figure out someone’s mother or father by studying the names of their children.
These are not hard and fast rules, mind you, but very popular naming patterns between 1700-1875:
- The first son was often named after his father’s father.
- The first daughter was often named after her mother’s mother.
- The second son was often named after his mother’s father.
- The second daughter was often named after her father’s mother.
- The third son was often named after his father (contrary to modern conventions of naming a first son “junior.”)
- The third daughter was often named after her mother.
- The fourth son was frequently named after his father’s oldest brother (Uncle ____).
- The fourth daughter was frequently named after her mother’s oldest sister (Aunt ___).
If the pattern would result in duplicate names in the same family… for example, if both grandfathers had the same name, the parents would skip the second grandfather and move on to the next naming convention. Likewise if grandfather was an abusive, irresponsible drunk.
Mortality rates being what they were in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, parents were often faced with the death of a child in early life. In those cases, the child’s name might be reassigned to the next baby of the same gender. Some families went so far as to hold off on naming their children until they were two years old. These practices can lead to some incredibly confusing census reports.
There are other issues with nicknames, Baptismal, translated, and phonetic names… but I’ll save those for another day.
And none of this applies, of course, to people like George Foreman.