Friday, December 5, 2008

Family Names

Ever ask your parents how you were named? In their day, there were fewer unusual or unique names as most children were named after a family member probably a grandparent or parent to honor them. Usually the first son was named after his father then called by some nickname like Junior or Sonny. One of the daughters would be named after the mom. It took the birth of almost six children, three male and three female, before the parents could finally select a new name of their own choice. Then there were their brother’s and sister’s names to consider.

It made for lots of confusion when everyone got together or signed legal documents with many relatives sharing the same name but born in different generations. Middle names were added to distinguish individuals with the same first name. Often maiden names were used for middle names that otherwise would be lost in family genealogical records. Thus, my ancestor John McGuckin Malin was named after his mother Sarah McGuckin.

Another common tradition was to name your child after a prominent person in local or national history. In my family I have several examples: Christopher Columbus Johnson, John Quincy Adams Johnson, Benjamin Franklin Johnson, and George Washington Johnson are just a few. Popular names taken from biblical characters were used for some of my male ancestors: Elijah Malin and Noah Smith. Biblical names for girls popular were: Patience, Charity, Faith or Chastity. Try naming a child today one of those names.

After all the work of naming a child, then parents sometimes used a nickname. First names were shortened: William became Bill, Richard––Dick, Robert––Bob, and James––Jimmy. Girl’s nicknames were more interesting as Elizabeth became Beth or Liz or Eliza or Betsy, Susanna became Sue or Susie, and Virginia––Jenny. Amelia became Amy, Margaret––Meg, Faith––Fay, and Katherine was called Katie. Henrietta became Etta, Sarah––Sally, Mary––Molly or Polly or just May. Or the nickname could have nothing to do with the given name like: Butch, Buddy or Red.

How do you feel about your name or nickname? Have you told your family how you were named or how you choose their names? What unusual family names do you have? Utahans are known to give their children strange two syllable names like LaPrell, RaNae, LaGene or DuWayne to name just a few. I’ll bet your grandkids have unusual first names and unique spellings.


  1. Yup, biblical names were very popular back in the day. Today, some names are so strange to me.

    Not too many people focus on the "meaning" of names anymore.

  2. There was actually a guy recently who named his newborn daughter Sarah McCain Palin (don't know what their last name is). He and his wife did have another named all picked out, but he went behind his wife's back and registered the baby's name without telling her. I hope it isn't a "mixed marriage" the new mom isn't a Democrat, or they'll be arguing for the next 18 years!!

  3. Names hold a fascination for me.
    I noticed several years ago, that young folks were giving their children reasonably common names with wacky spellings like: Marree.
    Having a common name...Karen, spelled differently, Caryn. I know the complications that can lead to.

    We, named our daughter Chandelar. She goes by Chandi. My mother and sisters hated her name. Chandi, in turn named her three boys, Brannock McKay, Ryson McCall, and Keaton McCormick Gill. I like them all except Ryson. It's not a favorite. But, who says that's important? My first grandson is Davin White, after his father Dustin White, after his father Wayne White, after his grandmother, Lacy White Olpin.

    One of my favorite things that people do is name all of their children with the first letter of their names being the same. My good friend's family was Wanda, Wendell, Wayne, Woolworth, Wade Winston, and Wynetta Frye. Perhaps this was done to enable them to pass down the monogramed pillow cases. Whatever the reason, their poor mom was always tripping over their names when she called for them.

    The new age custom of naming offspring things like: Apple, River, Truck, Begonia, etc is creative, dontcha think?

  4. My mom and dad have crazy nicknames for all of us that have nothing (well, almost nothing) to do with our names!
    I am having trouble thinking of a name for the new baby! I'm glad you posted this:)

  5. My first name, which I NEVER use, was my mother's first name, too. I dislike the name immensely but learned to stop fussing about it to my mother.

  6. My nickname was Shell which my mother complained about as it wasn't my full name, but she still used it too...

  7. Interesting, Lin! I was named after my mother. Sort of. She is Sandra. Nonetheless, living nearby all my life and using some of the same doctors has created some major confusion. She got the call when the doctor found that I was pregnant.

    After I straightened that one out, I moved to a different practice.

    I think naming kids for family members is a sweet practice. My daughter's name, Adella, is an old one from the family. It's a nice way to stay connected with family history.

  8. Good post, Lin. Very interesting too. I know how (and why) I was named, wrote a post about it a while back.

  9. I was born on my Dad's birthday. His first name and middle initial: Carl A. So that's how I got my name. It wasn't a very common name in the 40s and 50s. Maybe that's why so many of my teachers called me Clara.

  10. My name was chosen because it was the shortest name they could come up with to balance my long last name. I made it a point to give my children longer names so they could play with it.