Genealogy naming policies and double naming issues

Names are a key focus for genealogists. Studying the correlation between names and previous generations helps us build family trees and recognise patterns.

Naming policies in the UK have undergone changes over time as a result of cultural, historical, and legal factors. It is important to note that these policies and practices can differ across various periods and regions within the country.

For example, in Scotland, if you followed the naming policy (although not everyone did), it would be customary to adhere to a specific pattern, let’s consider women.

The first daughter in the family was named after her maternal grandmother. The second daughter was named after her paternal grandmother. The third daughter in the family was named after her mother.

The tradition of preserving family names and heritage is truly wonderful. But having a naming policy in genealogy can sometimes present challenges for researchers. There are various difficulties that genealogists encounter when encountering a naming policy.

Traditionally, families used to have a significant number of children due to reasons such as religious beliefs, limited access to contraception, and the expectation of being cared for in old age. However, it was understood that the chances of all children surviving to adulthood were relatively low. 

It was also common for families to reuse the name of a child who had been born and died for a later sibling. The decision to name the child in this way may have been influenced by a desire to maintain a naming tradition or as a way to honour the memory of the lost child. 

When conducting research on a relative, such as Great Aunt Mary, it is important to give careful thought to this aspect. Is it possible that Great Aunt Mary is actually two individuals?  

Conflicting records can occasionally serve as a useful indicator. For example, if Great Aunt Mary Rose was born in 1894 and Great Aunt Mary Rosa was born in 1896, you may want to search for a death record between those years particularly if you are having trouble with inconsistent dates.  I have experienced this on numerous occasions. I initially believed that I was observing a single person with a few inaccuracies, but it turns out that I was actually observing two individuals.

Here is a photograph depicting a gravestone. This family had two children, and both of them were named Margaret. Additionally, there is a young girl named Agnes. The grave fails to mention that after Agnes’ passing, the family had another daughter named Agnes, who lived to adulthood. 

gravestone Margaret showing double naming in Genealogy

After conducting additional research on the family, I decided to concentrate on a particular pair of great-grandparents. It was discovered that they had a minimum of 15 children. Agnes and William were born in the late 1700s and hailed from Ayrshire, Scotland. Throughout their lives, they were grandparents to a remarkable total of 56 grandchildren. What was even more fascinating was that all of these grandchildren had shared similar names.

By the time all her grandchildren were born, Agnes had been blessed with nine granddaughters named Agnes, six named Margaret, five named Mary, three named Elizabeth, and two named Sarah. The tradition was continued by six grandsons named William, five named John, three named David, four named Hugh, and two named Alexander. The family also had additional children with different names. 

The joy of Christmas and family gatherings becomes even more special when the majority of family members reside close by but in this household if all the children met, I wondered if they were numbered rather than named.

About Julie Johnson

an experienced and professional Genealogist who is accredited as an Associate of AGRA and able to assist with your family history brick walls and historical events.

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