Naming Patterns

In 18th & 19th Century Britain families generally tended to name their children in a specific pattern as follows:


  • First-born Son - father's father

  • Second-born Son - mother's father
  • Third-born Son - father
  • Fourth-born Son - father's eldest brother
  • Fifth-born Son - father's 2nd oldest brother or mother's oldest brother



  • First-born Daughter - mother's mother

  • Second-born Daughter - father's mother
  • Third-born Daughter - mother
  • Fourth-born Daughter - mother's eldest sister
  • Fifth-born Daughter - mother's 2nd oldest sister or father's oldest sister

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 grandfather.

    Second son named for the maternal grandfather.
  • Third son named for the father.
  • First born daughter for the paternal grandmother.
  • 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.


Naming patterns

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 grandmother

2nd daughter - named after her paternal grandmother

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 the Fat.

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 Tinkers'.


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.



"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 genealogy. 

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 Thankful. 

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 mother. 

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 generations.

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 genealogy research.

Naming pattern:

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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