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November 25, 2008

What's in a Name? I Showed you Mine, Your Turn to Show me Yours!

I've talked previously about surnames that changed (either deliberately or accidentally) over the years. This makes research into those families challenging! But what about first names?

Besides the usual nicknames (Bob=Robert, Jim=James, Cathy=Catherine) that we find as we research our ancestors, what other problems might we encounter along the path of our family tree?

How about ancestors with first names that have absolutely nothing to do with the name they were given at birth! These are people whose commonly used first name is not a derivative or nickname or anything other than some invented or pet name used by family and friends.

You can't assume that just because Grandpa was called Charlie that his actual name was Charles. Grandma might have been called Bobbie by her friends but does that mean her name at birth was Roberta? NO! Let me give you some actual examples in the family trees of my husband and myself.

My husband's grandfather was Charlie. Everyone called him that, friends and family alike. His wife called him Charlie. That was the name on their mailbox and in the local phone book. So of course we assumed his given name was Charles. But his birth registration found a few years ago showed that his actual first and middle names were Leon Thomas. How did he get the nickname Charlie? No one knows and he is no longer living to tell us. It's a family tree mystery that will likely never be solved.

My own grandmother was Dolly. As a child I assumed that was her given name but in reality her name was Ruth Ethel. When I asked her about her name she told me that when she was born she was so tiny that her mother thought she looked like a little doll. That was what her mother began calling her, and the name Dolly stuck with Grandma her whole life.

Other examples are my friend Bobbie whose brother could not pronounce her real name of Celia. He called her "baby" which sounded like "Bawby" and thus Bobbie was the name used by family and later her friends. It was many years before I learned her real name!

So don't get too stubborn about refusing to believe that the genealogy record you found for a man named Achilles is in fact your Belgium great grandfather Archie (another example from my husband's family tree) when all the facts fit! In this example, once we had the name Achilles pronounced by a native French speaker, we realized that it sounds like Aw-SHEE, which of course can easly become Archie. And thus my hubby's great grandfather Archie was indeed the man named Achilles baptised in Tielt Belgium in 1894.

Do you have examples of such names? Tell me about the names in your family tree, not common nicknames such as Jim for James, Bob for Robert, Bill for William, Cindy for Cynthia, etc., but pet names or invented names that you discovered for an elusive ancestor. Use the comment section here or write a post to your own blog to share your stories.


Snowbird said...

I had an aunt whose real name was Mary Ann but she was called Mayme her whole life.

Thomas MacEntee said...

Great post - here is my name game submission:

Becky Jamison said...

You've been tagged for the Meme: Eight Things About Me:

Apple said...

Rose wasn't really Rose but until recently I didn't know what name to look for.

Anonymous said...

My grandmother had 6 brothers-- Uncle Lee, Uncle Claude, Uncle Frank, T.J. (Thomas Jackson who died of diptheria in 1931), Uncle Joe and Uncle Pathetic (well, that's what he told ME his name was when I asked him where his hair was.. I was 3 the first time I remember him coming home for a visit... ) He was bald by the age of 40. Of course at 3 yrs old, nothing is sacred, so I asked him how he lost his hair. He said, he lost it by "sticking his head out the window of the bus coming back to Oklahoma to see his sisters. It just "blew away" at a "Pathetically young age".. that's why my name is Pathetic.. I'm your Uncle Pathetic. Didn't your Grandma tell you that?" From then on, when she talked about her brothers, I'd ask if she was talking about "Uncle Pathetic".. Her response when I was older was "My brother's name is NOT PATHETIC! His name is Carl Edward. Now for Heaven's sake, please call him Uncle Carl!!" I called him "Uncle Carl", when he got off the bus when I was about 11 yrs. old.. (He refused to fly anywhere!! LOL) He looked at me.. " I told you my name is PATHETIC, did you forget??" I said, "No, but it's getting on your sister's nerves.." He looked at my Grandmother like she had lost her last marble.. and said very firmly. "I LIKE your grandchildren calling me PATHETIC, or I wouldn't have given them the name.. Leave it be Sis, my own grandchildren call me Grandpa Pathetic.. I think it's funny!" That's what I called him the rest of his life.. Much to Grandma's chagrin!! Grandma said he was always the family clown!! I can believe that one!!