Sunday, May 4, 2014

Names, names, names

Question from Karen Henry:

“Not sure if you've covered this in your blog before I subscribed, but I was wondering if you could do a piece about how families changed surnames over the years. I have a couple of families who have done this type of thing and I was curious about the reasons for doing this. Was it just easier to spell for people? Did it make them sound more American? I have no idea and I feel like knowing the "why" might help me solve a few pieces of my puzzle. For instance, I have the CallihaMs who became the CallihaNs and the Burnes family who became the Burns family. I'm sure there are other, more drastic changes, with immigrants who's names were too difficult for Americans to pronounce. I think I might even pay more attention to places that misspell my last name. I get Henery a lot instead of Henry, but I don't want some ancestor 100 years from now wondering what I was thinking!”

There are just so many different reasons this could have happened.   It is actually easier to look at a particular family and the circumstances surrounding that family and then come up with a theory for why the name might have changed. 

There is a book I would like to recommend.  This is a little book but it is packed with great information.

The Name is the Game – Onomatology and the Genealogist
by Lloyd Witt Bockstock

This book is all about names in general but it also covers why a name could have been changed.  I learned so much reading this book and Karen’s question has made me want to read it again.  This book covers given names, middle name, surnames, nicknames, ethnic clues in names, place clues in names, naming patterns, akas/aliases/renaming, common transcription errors, common pronunciation errors, surnames that were translated into English, shortened surnames, and more.  Lloyd of course gives examples for all of this.  I highly recommend this book.


Copyright © 2014 Michele Simmons Lewis

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