18th & 19th Century Britain families
generally tended to name their children in a specific pattern as follows:
Scottish Naming Patterns
An understanding of naming patterns can be
very helpfull in tracing ones ancestry.
Many Scotts families follow the custom of
naming thier children after the grandparents in the following maner.
- First born son named for the paternal
Second son named for the maternal grandfather.
- Third son named for the father.
- First born daughter for the paternal
- Second daughter for the maternal grandmother.
Third daughter for the mother.
This can cause families to have two
children with the same name if the grandparents had the same name. The process
also started over if the parent remarried, so it is common to find half
brothers or sisters with the same names. Not all Scotts families followed this
pattern, but many that did continued it long after leaving Scotland.
Surnames & Naming patterns
In Scotland - as in the rest of Western Europe -
there were four main ways of acquiring a surname:-
Patronymic - taking the father's Christian
name e.g. Robertson
Occupation - e.g. Smith (the most common
surname of all)
Locality - e.g. Wood
Nickname - e.g. White, Little.
Patronymics - Lowland names such as Wilson,
Robertson, Thomson and Johnson are among the most common surnames in
Scotland. 'Mac' names are also patronymic. MacManus - son of Magnus. 'Mc' is
just a printer's contraction and has no significance as to etymology.
Occupation - Names which are derived from trades
and occupations - mostly found in towns. The most common of these is Smith
(the most common surname in Scotland, England and the USA) but other
examples would be Taylor (tailor) Baxter (baker) and Cooper (barrel maker).
Locality - In Scotland the tendency is for
people to be named after places (in England the tendency is the opposite).
Examples of such names are Morton, Lauder, Menzies and Galloway.
Nickname - Names which could refer to colour or
size, e.g. White, Black, Small, Little. Scottish names in this category
include Campbell (meaning 'crooked mouth'). Another example of nickname -
this time referring to the bearers origins - is Scott.
People of all countries tend to use forenames
which run in the family. In Scotland families not only use such names but
they tend to follow naming patterns - the most common of which is:-
1st son - named after his paternal grandfather
2nd son - named after his maternal grandfather
3rd son - named after his father
1st daughter - named after her maternal
2nd daughter - named after her paternal
3rd daughter - named after her mother
Although this naming pattern was not always
used, it can be a useful indication to genealogists. Unfortunately, this
pattern is not used to the same extent today.
Origins of some Scottish surnames
Fraser - Originally De Frisselle, de Freseliere
or De Fresel. The first recorded bearer of the name was Sir Simon Frasee who
held lands in East Lothian. Fortunate marriages enabled the family to
acquire lands all over Scotland. By such means they acquired Philorth in
Buchan in 1375 - this became the chief seat of the Frasers. The family was
raised to the peerage in the person of the first Lord Lovat. To the Gaels
the chief of the Frasers is known as MacShimidh - 'son of Simon'.
Bruce - A locality name from Normandy - Brix
near Cherbourg. The first recorded bearer of the name accompanied William
the Conqueror and the second accompanied King David to Scotland to claim the
throne. This was the family which produced Robert the Bruce and, although
the royal line died out in 1314, the name Bruce is today among the hundred
commonest Scottish surnames.
Robertson - a patronymic name. The first bearer
of the name was Robert, grandson of Duncan the Fat (Donnchadh Reamhar). The
family acquired lands in the central Highlands. However, the commonality of
the name in Scotland can only be explained, not by any connection to the
original family, but by the large number of people who adopted the name
because it was their fathers' forename. In Gaelic the clan continues to be
called Clann Donnacha - Duncan's children - from their descent from Duncan
Stewart - an occupational name. It comes from
the office of steward which was a position of importance under the Crown.
Among alternative spellings of the name are Stuart and Steward. Mary, Queen
of Scots favoured the spelling Stuart as there is no 'W' in the French
language. To the Gaels the Stewarts are known as 'the race of Kings and
Another way families end up with more
than one child with the same name is through high child mortality. Before
modern medicine fewer children survived to adulthood. Parents often reused the
name of a dead child for the next child born.
COLONIAL NAMING CUSTOMS
"The trend of History is often reflected in the
very names borne by the men and women who played a part in it", according
to Donald Lines Jacobus, often considered the father of American
The history of given (first) names in early
America offers a glimpse at our forebears and their customs, as well as clues
to their origins.
New England's first settlers bore names of three
different types: those of English origin, those of Hebrew derivation, and
those intended to have a moral significance.
Old English names, connected with the Church of
England, were not often favored by the Puritans. Puritans named their children
somewhat differently than other English-speaking settlers, preferring Biblical
names. Evidently, some parents shut their eyes, opened the Bible, and pointed
to a word at random--what else could account for a child being named
Notwithstanding or Maybe?
The early Massachusetts Brewster family had two
sons, Love and Wrestling, and two daughters named Patience and Fear. The names
Humility, Desire, Hate-evil, and Faint-not also appeared in the region.
Other New England onomastic Practices included
obscure references and names that commemorated an occasion--such as Oceanus
Hopkins, who was born on the Mayflower in 1620.
Early settlers seemed to favor names for their
associated moral qualities. Among girls' names, which were no doubt intended
to incite their bearers to lead godly lives, were: Content, Lowly, Mindwell,
Obedience, Patience, Silence, Charity, Mercy, Comfort, Delight and
In many families, the first names of the father
and mother were given to the first-born son and daughter, respectively. In the
Massachusetts Bay Colony, 53 percent of all females were named Mary,
Elizabeth, or Sarah. Other popular girls' names were Rebecca, Ruth, Anne,
Hannah, Deborah, Huldah, Abigail, and Rachel. Meanwhile, prevalent boys' names
included John, Joseph, Samuel, Josiah, Benjamin, Jonathan, and Nathan.
In Virginia, Biblical references were less common.
Early settlers often named sons for Teutonic warriors, Frankish knights, and
English kings. Favorites included William, Robert, Richard, Edward, George,
and Charles. Daughters received name of Christian saints and traditional
English folk names, such as Margaret, Jane, Catherine, Frances, and Alice,
along with English favorites Mary, Elizabeth, Anne, and Sarah.
First-born children were named for their
grandparents, and second-born for their parents.
A popular custom in both Virginia and New England
was the use of surnames as given names. This occurred mostly with boys, but it
was not unknown for girls. Some names were also chosen for their magical
properties, and astrologers were consulted in attempt to find a
"fortunate" or "lucky" name.
Among Quakers in Colonial Pennsylvania and
Delaware, babies went through a ritual called nomination. An infant's name was
carefully selected by the parents, certified by friends, witnessed by
neighbors, and then entered in the register of the meeting.
First-born children were named after grandparents,
honoring maternal and paternal lines evenly, often with an eldest son named
after his mother's father and an eldest daughter after her father's
While this practice was not universal among Quaker
families, it was common in the Delaware Valley. Many names came from the
Bible, with favorites for boys being John, Joseph, Samuel, Thomas, William,
and George; and for girls, Mary, Elizabeth, Sarah, Anne/Anna/Hannah, and
Esther/Hester. Also popular among the Quakers was Phebe, which rarely appeared
in New England or the South. They also favored the names Patience, Grace,
Mercy, and Chastity. One family's eight children were named Remember, John,
Restore, Freedom, Increase, Jacob, Preserve, and Israel.
Naming patterns differed in the "back
country" of early America, which was heavily populated by Scotch-Irish as
well as German, Scandinavian, Irish, Scottish, French, and Dutch families. In
these rural areas, many given names were "Americanized," making it
difficult for genealogists to identify a family's ethnic origins.
As a general rule, the patterns included a mixture
of Biblical, Teutonic, and saints' names. Among the most popular given names
for boys were: John, Robert, Richard, Andrew, Patrick, and David. Celtic names
such as Ewan (and variants Ewen and Owen), Barry, and Roy were often used, as
were Archibald, Ronald, Alexander, Charles, James, Wallace, Bruce, Percy,
Ross, and Clyde. Again, eldest sons were often named after their grandfathers,
and second or third sons after their fathers-- similar to patterns found in
early tidewater Chesapeake families.
One peculiar naming pattern found among the
back-country settlers was the one bestowing unusual--sometimes made-up--given
names. From an early date, these rugged pioneers cultivated a spirit of
onomastic individualism, a spirit still found today in this country as parents
search for a special, perhaps unique, name for their baby. Others prefer to
select a name from their family tree that has been passed along for
Our ancestors often used the following naming
pattern when selecting a name for a new child. This explains why certain names
are very common in a family line. Watching for these patterns can help in your
1st son = fatherís father
2nd son = motherís father
3 rd son = father
4th son = fatherís oldest brother
5th son = fatherís second oldest
brother or motherís eldest brother
1st daughter = motherís mother
2nd daughter = fatherís mother
3rd daughter = mother
4th daughter = motherís oldest sister
5th daughter = motherís second oldest
sister or fatherís oldest sister
It is also common to use:
the motherís maiden name as a second name;
the surname of close friends as a second name;
give another child exactly the same name as a previous child who had died; or
give a child the name of a relative or friend who had recently died.
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