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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Naming Patterns May Hold a Clue
by Rhonda R. McClure

July 13, 2000
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

As genealogists, we always need to use every tool and trick to keep pushing further and further back. In the past we have looked at the origins of some surnames. However, given names can also hold clues to your research as well. And, while not a given name, patronymics give you a little information about the next generation back.

Sometimes we concentrate too much on researching surnames. We become obsessed with understanding the origin of the surname as though that will magically give us all the generations on that line that we are looking for.

Given names can also help you in making those connections through the generations.

Keep All Names in Mind

It is important to search for records that might include a middle name. Marriage records and birth and death records will often have the full name of a given ancestor, but might not have the names of the parents, or the maiden name of a mother. In many instances, I have found where a child's middle name was the maiden surname of the mother. This was especially true in the New England states of the United States.

When researching an English immigrant, who left England as Edward NEWTH and arrived in Pennsylvania as George MORRIS, it was with interest that we discovered he had given each of his four sons the middle name of NEWTH. While my mother and aunt were not given middle names, my uncle was named David Bailey AYER. His middle name, Bailey, was the maiden surname for my grandmother.

An Order to the Names

When I discovered myself researching Scottish lines, I learned that they have a naming pattern for the children:

1st son - named for the father's father
2nd son - named for the mother's father
3rd son - named for the father himself
1st daughter - named for the mother's mother
2nd daughter - named for the father's mother
3rd daugher - named for the mother herself

When locating the children in a familial unit, through a census for instance, you will often learn the birth order of the children and then can begin to search for certain names. While this may not always be the case, it is a valuable clue for you to begin searching for others that may be connected to the family.

In Conclusion

As your research progresses you may discover other naming patterns unique to a family line or ethnic region. Always keep these in mind as you progress. Such patterns usually were consistent for a number of generations and can be the turning point for you on a brick wall.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at

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