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What's in a name?

By Victoria Advocate
July 21, 2010 at 2:21 a.m.


By Martha Jones

Names are interesting. In genealogical research, we come across some very unusual given names from time to time and are grateful for those ancestors with names other than those repeated from generation to generation, such as James, William, John, Mary, Elizabeth and Ann. A good example of an unusual name is my maternal ancestor, Absalom Jett. His records are easy to locate because there are no other Absalom Jetts in Orange County, Texas during the 1800s.

Sometimes middle names are the mother's maiden name, a national hero, or favorite wealthy patron. My paternal great-grandmother Everman chose names for her sons reflective of the Kentucky era: William Buchanan, Samuel Wadsworth, Ulysses Grant, Robert Taft and George Washington. Yes, all the sons had nicknames because no one was going to bother with those monikers. I remember only a few: Buck, Wad, and of course, G.W., my grandfather.

Naming patterns in families can help you decide which family is yours out of many with the same surname. If you are looking for a known ancestor with an unusual given name, then he is more likely to come from a family that tended toward unusual names rather than generations of Williams, Georges and Susans. Naming an infant for her grandmother or using her mother's middle name can also direct you to earlier generations. Some cultures have a "naming pattern."

Given names in family history can also be confusing. In the 17th and 18th centuries, sometimes an infant was given the name of an older and now deceased sibling. There are cases where living children have the same name presumably because both grandmothers had the same first or given name, or perhaps because the first child with that particular name was not expected to live and the parents wanted to keep the name in the family. And then there is George Forman, who has 11 children and each of his five sons is named George: George Jr., George III, George IV, George V and George VI. Some day this family is going to give genealogists a huge headache.

The history of family names can help a researcher determine not only his or her family, but can also aid in locating the family geographically. Books have been written about the etymology of names, where they came from and their meaning. They are very useful for determining what "clan" or "sept" your surname belongs to or for deciding if you really want your child to grow up with that particular name.

Caution: Do not forget the possibility of nicknames. Names taken from family history lend a sense of "belonging" to children, a feeling they are part of something larger than themselves as individuals.

Happy Researching family names.

E-mail mjones@vicad.com Victoria County Genealogical Society members will research queries requiring extensive study.

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