Last Name Meanings
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The Name Game
The study of names fascinates me. I occasionally read articles in the newspaper about the most popular children's names these days. Over time, of course, the popular names change. Mary is not as popular today as Megan, and Keith is no longer as popular as Jason. The change in patterns and trends is nothing new; it has been going on for centuries.
As we research our families, we may find naming patterns and conventions that can help with our quests. In this week's "Along Those Lines . . ." let's discuss some of the patterns you might encounter in your genealogical research.
What's in a Name?
Peg Sweatt, one of the people who came on our genealogy cruise last month, reminded me of another naming pattern. In some groups, the following pattern has traditionally been used in naming the succession of children born to a family.
Of course, there are variations. Middle names may have been taken from a variety of sources, including Biblical characters, family surnames and maiden names, other less close relatives, and public figures. In any event, the naming patterns above may provide some clues about birth sequence in families where birth dates are unknown or in question.
Catholic families have commonly used the names Joseph, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Mary, Maria, or perhaps the name of a patron saint associated with the child's date of birth or some other religious event's commemoration. Examples might include Christopher, Jude, Lucia, Joan, or others. Protestant and Puritan families have used such names as Noah, Adam, Ezekial, Isaac, Isaiah, Ishmael, and others for boys. Girls' names have included Mary, Leah, Sarah, Prudence, Constance, Chastity, and other names that reflect Christian virtues. Jewish families have used names such as Jacob, Moses, Abraham, Elijah, Rebecca (or Rebekkah), and many others. The point is that you should study the religion of your ancestral families to understand their religious heritage and, by extension, their choice of names for each person.
In my own family there is a nameGreen Berry Holderthat was reused as Green Berry Starnes. The name Green Berry is not unique. I find it used by many families. Always curious about it, I have researched its origin, thinking it must have been the name of some Revolutionary War officer. However, I have never found the origin, even though I have traced it back to the early-1700s in England.
Other names are easier to pin down, including George Washington Smith, Robert E. Lee Wilson, and Eleanor Roosevelt Jones. Often, though not always, there is a family story associated with why the parent(s) chose to name a child after a famous personage. Sometimes, though, it was just "a really good-sounding name."
Remember, genealogical research is not just filling in names on a pedigree chart or family group sheet. It is the study of the entire family, its history, and its traditions. All of this brings your family back to life in a new way.
George G. Morgan is a proud member of the International Society of Family History Writers and Editors, Inc. He would like to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org, but due to the volume of e-mail received, he is unable to answer every message. Please note that he cannot assist you with your individual research. Visit George's Web site for information about speaking engagements. George is also the author of The Genealogy Forum on America Online.
Anatomy of a Surname
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Behind the Name
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