Tuesday, August 27, 2013

He was named after whom?


Here is a common naming pattern found in Irish families (and this does not mean that every Irish family did this, it is just something you need to look out for).

First male child – paternal grandfather
Second male child – maternal grandfather
Third male child – father
Fourth male child – father’s eldest brother
First female child – maternal grandmother
Second female child – paternal grandmother
Third female child – mother
Fourth female child – mother’s eldest sister

Many families named children after grandparents and the father and mother’s brothers and sisters even if it wasn’t in such a structured way as listed above.  Sometimes there is a prominent person in the family so everyone wants to name their child after him.  Just recently there was a discussion on one of the mailing lists, I can’t remember if it was the APG or the TGF list, about a man who in his will pretty much said that if he grandsons weren’t named for him he wouldn’t leave anything to them.  So, all of this man’s children named a son after their father.  Of course something like this is a nightmare for genealogists when you have 16 men named Aloysius Grigsby.  On the surface you would think it would be easy with an unusual name like that but not so!

The one you have to be really careful with is the suffixes, senior and junior.  In modern times this almost always means a father and son relationship but that wasn’t always so.  It was used when there were two men in the community that had the same name, regardless of their relationship.  They could be uncle and nephew, two cousins or no relationship at all.  When the elder one died, the younger usually got promoted to senior.  This was true even if they did happen to be father and son. 

Another thing you need to watch out for are children in the same family with the same name.  If a child died early they might give that name to another child.  You will also see the maiden name of the mother as the middle name of all of the children.  Another fun one is just naming kids similar names just for the fun of it.  Here are a couple examples:

Samuel Wood married Susannah Clement.  Their children were named Obediah Clement, Simon Clement and Francis Clement Wood. 

Silas Simmons and his wife Janet had 12 children but several had very similar names.  They had Elizabeth, Melinda Eliza, Matilda Elizabeth, Mary Jane Angarone and Mary Nancy.  That is way too many Elizabeth/Eliza and Marys for me!

My grandfather’s name was William Houston Simmons.  He had an older brother named Walter William.  I guess my great-grandparents liked the name William. 

One more thing you need to watch out for.  Birth names and christening/baptismal names are not necessarily the same thing.  You might also have another name at confirmation (Catholic).  It just makes it all the more fun for genealogists to track down which child belongs to which parent.

Copyright © 2013 Michele Simmons Lewis


  1. I don't comment often, although I do often benefit from your posts. But I MUST comment on this one!
    My great-great-grandmother is Irish, and I decided to look at what I know (her descendants only) to see how this played out. My cousin had come over for the day, and we looked at what I had. Sure enough - her third female child was named for her. But the clincher is that her first female child, my grandmother, followed this naming pattern, even though she married a German! She named her first daughter (my grandmother) for her maternal grandmother (the above-mentioned great-great-grandmother), and she named her second daughter for her paternal grandmother! So my Grandma had an Irish name, and her sister had a German name (Lizzette)!
    Seeing how this played out encourages me to extrapolate the names backwards, to some unknown ancestors, and play with the possibilities that turn up!! :)

  2. Excellent! The only thing you have to watch out for is don't assume that every Irish family did this. Let's say you have a child named John. You can't assign him to a specific family just because his name fits a naming pattern. You still have to take a look at the other possible families. Who knows, maybe a woman despised her father-in-law and refused to name her son after him :)

  3. Michele

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2013/08/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-august-30.html

    Have a great weekend!

  4. Woo hoo! I love when I make your list :) :)