Many if not all of us have encountered it. A long-ago ancestor whose name has suddenly appeared in an original marriage record but barely recognizable as your ancestor!
I've talked about problems with name variations before - in The Name Game, parts 1 and 2 I shared how difficult it was finding my husband's great grandfather "Archie" DeMeulenaere in the records in Belgium. Why? Because his baptismal name was "Achiel" but we did not know this.
In The Confusing Maze of Genealogy Mixups in Names you can see some common names in other countries and what they equate to in N. America, as well as the true story of my ancestor who changed his name from Van Valkenburg to Vollick after the American Revolution.
But back to your dilemma of that marriage record for your 5th great-grandfather John Smith. Instead of seeing your ancestor recorded in his marriage record as John Smith (which you know is his name), he is listed as John Smythe. But you know it's the right person because his wife's name is correct.
Hmm... You scratch your head in bewilderment and puzzle over how to enter this information in your genealogy program. Not sure, you move on to finding his arrival in the USA.
And bingo there he is - you know it is him because he is with his siblings whose names you have proven. But his name on the passenger list is recorded as Johann Schmidt! What to do??
Other ancestor records are found - for your great grandmother Anna Maria Werner. But you find her in various records as Mary Warner, Anne or Anna Warner/Werner and even Hannah Warner/Werner.
These are not cases of mistaken identity. They are one person being recorded throughout their lifetime in different ways. People from another country will have names written as they would be in their place of origin. German names may become Americanized after an ancestor has been living in N. America for awhile (but no, the Ellis Island officials did NOT change your grandpa's name on arrival!)
Not only do inviduals have nicknames (hubby's grandfather was born Leon Thomas as his first and middle name, but called Charlie his entire life) they sometimes switch between using their first name to their middle name, or vice versa.
German naming conventions often use two names, with the middle name being the name the person is known by.
Those of us with Dutch ancestors in early New York (New Netherland) are faced with another problem - patronymics, or identification of an individual based on the father's name.
For example, Jan Albertszen is named after his father, Albert. Albertszen means son of a man named Albert. Geesjie Barentsdr. (Barentsdochter) is named after her father Barent.
An individual could also be known by his place of origin. Cornelis Antoniszen, my 9th great- grandfather, was known in some records as 'van Breuckelen', meaning 'from Breuckelen' (a town in the Netherlands). The place-origin name could be a nationality, as in the case of Albert Andriessen from Norway, originator of the Bradt and Vanderzee families - he is entered in many early records as Albert Andriessen de Noorman, meaning the Norseman.
An individual might be known by a personal characteristic: e.g. Vrooman means a pious or wise man;Krom means bent or crippled; De Witt means the white one.
Sometimes an occupation became a surname. Smit=Smith; Schenck= cupbearer, Metsalaer= mason. An individual might be known by many different 'surnames' and entered in official records under these different names, making research difficult unless you're aware of the names in use.
My Cornelis Antoniszen Van Slyke mentioned above, was known and found in official records under the following names:
* Cornelis Antoniszen
* Cornelis Teuniszen (Teunis being the diminuitive of Antony)
* Cornelis Antoniszen/Teuniszen van Breuckelen
* Cornelis Antoniszen/Teuniszen Van Slicht
* Broer Cornelis (name given him by Mohawks)
Phew! So, you've hit the name wall. You have found your ancestor under a dizzying and bewildering variety of recorded names. How do you enter this information in your genealogy program??
Consistency is very important. The best method is to choose ONE name - the name you knew your ancestor by if you knew them personally, or the name most often found in the genealogy records. Enter that name in your genealogy program and use it consistently. In the notes section you can note the other names under which you found your ancestor. In your sources, note exactly how the name was recorded.
And now you're good to go, your genealogy is consistent and accurate. And you can enjoy thinking about all those names your great great grandfather used in his lifetime.