Recently at my crochet group meeting, the ladies and I got on the conversation about names and how we got ours.  The discussion grew out of one where an expecting mother shared that she had not chosen a name for her new addition, who was due to arrive in three months.  The conversation continued with her sharing that she got her name because of a typo.

That conversation was the inspiration for this post and the discussion at the last genealogy group meeting.  How did we get the name we would carry for the rest of our lives?  Unless, of course you decide to change it or it was changed due to a change in your status, like marriage.

What was interesting about the expecting mother’s story was someone’s mistake has affected her whole life.  It seems so trivial now but that situation was commonplace, especially when most of the people in the country could not read, write or spell.  Isn’t funny how something that seems so trivial now, can affect a person’s life?  Here’s another example – In his pursuit of learning about his family’s history, my husband recalled hearing a story about a grandfather who’s name was just R. T. (yes. That’s not a typo 🙂 )  The story goes that when he arrived to the mill to work, the foreman told him that they already had a R. T. and that he would be known as Robert Thomas.  Funny how a man can know another for all of five minutes and then give him a name.  Just so you know, the relative became known as Artie.  The rest of the tale is a story within itself to be shared later.

Back to names. We all have them (of course) and most of us have a story behind its origins. Some were named for ancestors, while others were named for relatives or friends. Some were charged with the task of carrying on the family’s name while another’s name was derived from the combination of their parent’s name.  The stories of how a person got their name is as varied as the names themselves.

One question for you:  Have you asked the question of where a person’s name came from?  The answer to this question may lead to the breaking down of brick walls…you never know so consider making note of the question and be sure to ask it during your next oral history interview.

So as the members of the Genealogy Group shared their stories about their name and one of relatives, its important to be aware that the name for an individual may have varied from document to document.  One reason could be the person’s use of a nickname, a middle name, or even only their initials (I really dislike this one. It makes researching a tad bit harder!)

So what’s in a name?  The name we have can define us.  It, at times, is all a person has to go on and people can and will judge you on your name.  Like Mercedes?  Or DeBron (think De Bron) Or Bomsheka or even Tamika for that matter.  Some of our names are the creativity of our parent’s or the person given the “honor” of naming us.  Like Demonique.

As genealogists, we know how important names are and how important the spelling of it is.  But do we understand the possible motive behind why a person was name was they were?  We may never know the real answer as to why uncle Leonard was nicknamed Boo-Boo but what we know is he has a nickname that we can make note of and keep in the back of our mind as we look for him in the pages of the past.

So, this post was just a way to ask you to consider a person’s name.  Sometimes, we can miss the tree because we’re focusing on getting through the forest, not realizing that this single tree may be the key to breaking down the wall on the other side of the forest.

All that said to say this:  Names are important and can be great clues to putting your family history puzzle together.  Case in point – I have a stronger case to the identity of my 2nd great grandfather due to my great grandfather naming is daughter after his older sister. Because of this, I was able to confirm the family connection when the names of the family were the same as those listed in the obituary of the namesake when she passed.

Hopefully, this post was encouraging and maybe made you consider something you hadn’t before.  And it wouldn’t be a post without some resources, right?

Here you go.

The Importance of Given Names by Donna Przecha (

Common Nicknames – USGenWeb (Thanks DW!)

As always, if you know of other resources, please feel free to share!