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Given names

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  • Genealogical data regarding given names (first names) is subject to many of the same problems as are family names and place names. Additionally, the use of nicknames is very common. For example Beth, Lizzie or Betty are all common for Elizabeth, and Jack, John and Jonathan may be interchanged.

    Middle names provide additional information. Middle names may be inherited, follow naming customs, or be treated as part of the family name. For instance, in some Latin cultures, both the mother's family name and the father's family name are used by the children.

    Historically, naming traditions existed in some places and cultures. Even in areas that tended to use naming conventions, however, they were by no means universal. Families may have used them some of the time, among some of their children, or not at all. A pattern might also be broken to name a newborn after a recently deceased sibling, aunt or uncle.

    An example of a naming tradition from England, Scotland and Ireland:

    Child Namesake
    1st son paternal grandfather
    2nd son maternal grandfather
    3rd son father
    4th son father's oldest brother
    1st daughter maternal grandmother
    2nd daughter paternal grandmother
    3rd daughter mother
    4th daughter mother's oldest sister

    Another example is in some areas of Germany, where siblings were given the same first name, often of a favourite saint or local nobility, but different second names by which they were known (Rufname). If a child died, the next child of the same gender that was born may have been given the same name. It is not uncommon that a list of a particular couple's children will show one or two names repeated.

    Personal names have periods of popularity, so it is not uncommon to find many similarly-named people in a generation, and even similarly-named families; e.g., "William and Mary and their children David, Mary, and John".

    Many names may be identified strongly with a particular gender; e.g., William for boys, and Mary for girls. Others may be ambiguous, e.g., Lee, or have only slightly variant spellings based on gender, e.g., Frances (usually female) and Francis (usually male).

     



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    Last modified: Saturday, 18 March 2017