May 20, 2007

Getting Real with Naming Patterns

I've been following some genealogy discussions on mailing lists recently and noticed that many genealogists fall into the trap of taking sides on a question - sides that are emphatically one way or another, with no middle ground or room for a "Maybe...."

One of the discussions started over a seemingly simple question -- were there naming patterns for children in the 1800s in [fill in blank with any country].

Subscribers began to jump in with their opinions - all either YES or NO with reasons or rationale or examples to support their YES or NO stance.

But no one jumped in with "MAYBE.... SOMETIMES... YES BUT...."

Let's get real! Naming patterns existed.

Were they identical in all cultures? No

Were they identical in all centuries? No.

Were they always used? No.


It's easy to forget that our ancestors were living breathing people, just as we are. They fought, they loved, they cried, they laughed, they had good days, they had bad days, and so on.

Even if there are established naming patterns that are used 99.9% of the time (as is the case with the Dutch who settled New Netherland, now New York in 1600s) --- as researchers we must keep an open mind as to whether or not the customs might not have been followed

Maybe *your* ancestor fought with his father or mother and vowed to never name a child after him or her.

Maybe *your* ancestor was a free spirit and loved the name Lancelot even though the first born male in her family had been called James for the last 10 generations

Maybe your ancestor wanted to cozy up to his rich great uncle so he named his first born son after that person instead of his father.... and gave his second born his father's name.

If you find 7 children in a family and 6 are named after known family members (paternal grandparents, maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles...) then there is a good chance that the 7th was also named after a family member - but it's not guaranteed, they might have named that child after a good friend - or an important contemporary person or a benefector.

On the opposite side of the fence, you may be trying to find parents' names. You spot what looks like a naming pattern of children which fits with the parents you are fairly confident are the correct parents. But one parent's name is missing from the pattern... That's not the time to toss out your theory! There may be a missing child, one whose existence you aren't aware of, or who died. And that child may be the missing link, named after that one parent who is missing from the pattern.

So, use Naming Patterns as a guide. That's all it is, it is not a set of rules set in stone

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