Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Breadcrumbs: What Are the Naming Patterns in Your Family?

[Breadcrumbs is a series on the Marian's Roots & Rambles blog that looks at ways to leave tangible breadcrumbs behind for your future descendants to find.]

No, silly, not your ancestors! Your family!  Did you use any naming patterns when naming your own children?  What clues did you leave for your future descendants?

Naming patterns are an important part of genealogical research.  Many cultures have used naming patterns.  Even ancestors who did not follow the exact naming patterns of their ethnic group may still have named their children after family members.  By looking at the names of children we can apply what we know about the naming patterns to try to determine the names of the grandparents. (That's a bit of an over simplification but you get the idea.)  It's amazing how effective it is in genealogical research.

There seems to be a free-for-all with naming children these days.  And yes, parents should be free to name their children whatever they want.  But perhaps what was old will come back in and it will become hip again to name children after family members.

Both of my parents were very interested in genealogy when they started having children.  My oldest brother is a junior.  That's an easy enough pattern to figure out.  Our dad had been named after his grandfather, so if descendants look carefully they will find an extended pattern.

My second brother was given the first and last name of a Revolutionary War ancestor. It's a very cool Dutch name and I think he's always been proud of it.

I was named after my grandmother, Marian, and since she died long before my birth I've always been grateful for that connection. My parents gave me my great grandmother's last name as a middle name.  I didn't always love that but I've grown to appreciate it more over the years.

Looking back I think my parent's did a great job naming their kids with a nod toward family history.

So how did my husband and I do?  Not too bad really, even if it was mostly by accident.

My oldest son is a junior.  That will make it easy for future descendants to figure out that relationship.

My second son is named for my husband's brother who passed away before we were married.  It also happened to be used commonly with my mother's German ancestors. 

When my third son surprised us, my husband said, "This one is all yours. Name him whatever you like."  And just right.  I felt no guilt whatsoever in choosing a name without his consultation.  He had gotten both of the first children after all. The only check my husband did was to make sure none of the potential names translated badly when spoken in French. 

By this time, I was fairly obsessed with family history.  I scoured the fan charts to find something interesting and unusual.  I picked the most unique name out of the whole lot.  It's a German last name and so makes a striking contrast when paired with Pierre-Louis. 

I was not the originator of this brilliant idea.  In fact, my great grandfather was given this as his first name as well. I've always had a fondness for my great grandfather.  He had a larger than life reputation in our family.  I was a bit hesitant because of that to bestow his name upon my son.  But I did it anyway and almost nothing has made me prouder in this life.

The thing that I like the best was that I was in control of linking the past to the future.  My name choices intentionally linked the generations.  Young parents might not think of that until it's too late and their family is already established.  If you get the chance, encourage newly married couples to consider traditional family names.

What about you?  What names and naming patterns did you lay down for your descendants?

Photo credit: Photo by Identity Photogr@phy used under the creative commons license.


  1. Uh oh! Future generations are in trouble. My children are not named for anyone. They have names we simply liked. Obviously pre-genealogy days.

  2. Our first 3 children's names were what we liked. Our only son is named for his two grandfather's. Our twin daughters middle names are their two grandmother's names, although in my mother's case it's her middle name, but she always went by that one anyway. It's also my middle name, so I'm cursing this daughter with the fact that if she has a daughter, she must also carry this middle name.

    Same daughter was named for her Grandmother's dog (teasing). Actually, said grandmother named the dog for the daughter she was hoping to have some day, but didn't (had 3 boys, and the oldest daughter was named something else). So in actuality she carried on a name that never was, in our family.

  3. My daughter's middle name is one that came from my grandma, and goes back as a middle name in her line to at least 1810. It's an unusual name too, so it will serve nicely as a breadcrumb for future researchers.

    My son's middle name comes from my favorite ancestor (who is actually my great-great-grandfather's not so closely related, but he's still my favorite).

  4. Our oldest son carries the middle name of his grandfather. Oldest daughter carries no connection that I am aware of. I read her name in a book and liked it, thought it was different...come kindergarten I found out different :( there were 3 others in her class, maybe I should have stuck with a family name. Our second daughter carries the middle name of her great grandmother and our youngest son...makes many folks happy :D he carries his fathers, grandfathers(my dad), his great uncles (his fathers uncle and actually a well used name in my husbands paternal line, his middle name is his great grandfathers middle name.

  5. All our children's middle names are family names, and they have my surname as a third name. My oldest son's middle name is after both his grandfathers and is a name that extends back through my paternal line. My daughter's middle name is my great great grandmother's - one I had started researching at the time, and is another common name on my father's side of the family. My youngest son's middle name is the same as his father's, and my maternal grandfather's.

    I actually changed my name slightly by deedpoll in my late 20s, and added in my maternal grandmother's maiden name as a third name. So, a few breadcrumbs for the generations to come! :D

  6. "Step-daughter" was named after me when my ex remarried. (Kinky.)

    As far as I can see, due to lack of hindsight, no-one in the past 50 years has been named after anyone further out than grandparents. And, in most cases, not even that. If anyone's looking for breadcrumbs they'll need a magnifying glass.

  7. I broke the pattern when my own daughter was born. For the previous five generations all first born females were given the same name either as a first or second name. I decided I wanted my own daughter to be an individual and although she has a traditional name I didn't want her to feel stuck in a groove - she can always add the family name if she ever wants to. I've found it can sometimes get very complicated when doing Family History if so many people in a family have the same Christian name

  8. Son #1 is “the fourth”, so there’s no question about his line, since all of his names are the same as a whole bunch of his paternal ancestors. Son # 2 get his first and “first middle” names from one of his maternal great- great-grandfathers, while his “second middle” name is his mom’s maiden name. Granddaughter has her maternal grandma’s first name and maternal great-great grandma’s surname as her middle name, while Grandson got one of his paternal great-great grandpa’s first names and his maternal great- great grandma’s surname as a middle name. While it’s not a pattern, it’s an echo.

    Side-note: when Grandson was “on the way”, I was asked for list of “used” family first names; I sent ‘em an Excel spreadsheet with several hundred to try on… Names like “Othmar”, “Ordo” and “Theophilus” didn’t make the cut.

  9. I'm with Lisa. Although my oldest daughter has the middle name of Rebecca which was only because I liked it. When we named her, both of my grandmother's said "my favorite grandmother was Rebecca" and I never gave that another thought. Until now that I've gotten into genealogy and have learned about these two women. And one of them even had a mother named Rebecca who died giving birth to her. So it turns out that it is a pretty special name after all.

  10. A wonderful post (as usual)! My sisters and I actually weren't named after anyone. My mother named her first three daughters pretty common names but not the spellings. She stayed with the more French variants (although she is 100% Irish and my father 100% Lithuanian!). I'm Cherie, my sister Michele (one "L"), and my other sister Aimee.

    I suppose because they had all been named after family members she decided for a change. I'll have to ask that question. My husband and I have 2 sons and while we picked fairly common first names (Benjamin and Daniel) their middle names were for ancestors. Our oldest has the middle name of Romand after my husband's paternal grandfather and my youngest has a very common "Edward" for his middle name, but it was my uncle's, and several grandfathers (great and otherwise).

  11. Although I have no children, this is something I've thought about quite a bit. I'm the fifth generation in my paternal line to bear a fairly unusual name. It's my grandfather's and great grandfather's first name, and my father's, great-great grandfather's, and my middle name. It also occurs quite frequently among relatives from both sides of our family, including another great-great grandfather and all three of his sons' middle names. I even have several female relatives with a feminine variant of the name. Both my siblings already used forms of the same name for their sons (the Spanish and Latin equivalents).

    Beyond that, I plan on reusing other frequently occurring family names, and the names of my grandparents as middle names.

  12. Interesting question! This has been a topic of discussion for our family many times.

    Our oldest child bears the only non-family name out of the four. A point he sometimes gives me grief over! His name was one that my husband and I loved so he became Jason.

    Next two sons we also wanted "J" names but added family middle names. Son two inherited his father's name, and son three my father's name.

    When our daughter was born my mother-in-law was in the final stages of cancer. To show our respect we chose her maiden name for our daughter's middle name.

    As she grew older our daughter decided she wanted everyone to call her this name. Thus she has become our Starr.

  13. One of my favorite topics. I wrote about this last month.

  14. My son's given name is a variation of his father's middle name, and his middle name is his father's given name.

    My daughter's given name is a variation of my father's name, and her middle name is a variation of her father's middle name.

    Their father left the naming up to me. I never really thought when I named them of leaving breadcrumbs, but did feel a need to honor those who came before them.