Difference in Names

names-surnamesAs you have gone through searching for your ancestors you may have come across a common middle or first name repeated over several generations. Or even a given name not at all familiar or on any branch of the family tree. Many times there is a reason for some of these strange occurrences.

First, it was a common practice that babies were named after elders – the parents, grandparents and great-grandparents on both sides of the family. Knowing this can often help you identify family groups more easily when searching through old records. For example, a person’s middle name could actually be the maiden name of a mother or grandmother, a maiden name you did not know yet. Example: Nan Musselman Everhart. This child’s legal middle name was the maiden name of the baby’s grandmother. It was an important branch in the family. Tied into naming the baby after elders in the family included naming boys for their father, so they are a Jr. Or the full name goes back several generations so the full name also has ‘III’, or “IV” or even “V”. You really need to know birth years to sort all with the same name.  names-suffixes

The next common naming technique was naming a newborn for a child in the family born earlier but who had passed away before this newborn. So you could have two people in the same family with the same parents with the exact same full name, yet was one born say 1890, then died in 1892 and the newest born 1894 was given the same name. With dates close and the same name that can get hard. names-popular-surname-by-state

The spelling that parents gave a child could really vary. Look at Elizabeth, it can be spelled Elisabeth, Elisabetha, Elisabetta, or Elisabet to name a few. This is not counting the shorting of a name to ‘Beth’.

Then if an ancestor was an immigrate to the United States they may have changed their surname or given names to fit more into American society. Many descendants think the names were changed when the ancestor entered the immigration port. Many of the changes made may not even have sounded or were spelled like the original name at all. More likely the names changed to fit in better after they have been in America a few years.

Also when a person was not educated, they may not have known how to spell their names. That would cause various spellings quite often.

names-nicknamesIf an ancestor used most of their life a nickname, that can make a search more difficult. Some common nicknames Dick for Richard, and Bob or Bert for Robert. Then there can be a nickname which doesn’t come close to fitting with the legal name. Those nicknames of Boo, Buddy, Bunny, Dimples, Hun, Pink or Saint. So don’t overlook searching using nicknames.

If you go back to the 1700s, there were some real legal given names that you swear were made up. There was Patience, Friendly, Baptist, Charity, Christmas, Easter, English, Faith, Innocent, Clerk, or Pagan to name a few.

Just be open to differences in given and family names as far as spelling, variations or nicknames.

Photos: Surnames; Suffixes (Jr., II, III); Surnames in US; and Nicknames.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

Surnames in the United States

Middle Names

Surname Origins


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