name variations

Name is the Game: Maiden Names and Name Variation

Editor’s Note: The post below includes an excerpt from chapter 3 of Lloyd Bockstruck’s book, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist.

While we wish we could share the entire book here, we also want to mention some of the other valuable material in Bockstruck’s publication. “Chapter 2: Forenames” discusses the ancestral clues that are inherent in names. Did you know, for example, that the German forenames Franz and Xavier were predominantly used by Roman Catholics? Similarly, if the father of an unborn child died before the baby’s birth, the child might have been named Ichabod. And Doctor was often used as a nickname for the seventh son in a family because it was believed that a seventh son had an intuitive knowledge of the use of herbs.

In our recently featured Part I excerpt from Lloyd Bockstruck‘s book, The Name is the Game, we focused on the history of surnames. Pulled from the same chapter on surnames, the following excerpt discusses maiden name and spelling variations, and how these can affect your research.

Enjoy Part II below:

Maiden Names

In the British colonies outside of New England, civil records of vital statistics may not have been maintained and religious records may not have survived. When the available court records do not reveal the maiden name of a wife, it could be because she changed her condition but not her surname. William Hastings, the son of Henry Hastings, was born in 1759, married his first cousin, Arney Hastings, 26 October 1785 in Amelia County, Virginia. Her father, William Hastings, gave his consent. Fortunately, the civil marriage record survived to make it possible to identify her maiden name.

Olive Branch married his kinswoman Verlinche Branch in Henrico County, Virginia but no civil or church record exists to prove her maiden name. The bride’s forename was one peculiar to the Branch family and was a very good clue for identifying her maiden name.

Spelling Fixation

It is a mistaken belief that different spellings ofa surname applied to people from different families. A good example is Sir Walter Raleigh. His surname became the capital of the state of North Carolina and the seat of Wake County. Another American city named in his honor is Rolla, Missouri although the spelling tends to conceal the connection.

The name of Sir Walter Raleigh has appeared in written records as Raghley, Raghlie, Raileigb, Rale, Raleagh, Raleghe, Raleghus Ralego, Raleigh, Raleighe, Raleile. Raleygh, Ralight, Ralighe, Ralle, Ralleg, Rallleigh, Raughleigh, Raughley, Raughleye, Raughlie, Raughly, Raulaeus, Raule, Rauleghe, Rawligh, Rawlight, Rawlighe, Rawly, Rawlye,Rawlyghe, Raylie, Raylye, Raylygh, Reightly, Reighly, Rauley, Rhaleigh, Rolye, Wrawley, and Wrawly.

In the aftermath of the Civil War George Wise published his work, The Autograph of William Shakespeare (Philadelphia: P. E. Abel, 1869) giving 9,000 spelling variations of the most celebrated individual in the history of the English language. No name is lacking in variant spellings and close attention must be paid to all possibilities. Andrew Jackson said a man who could not spell his name more than three ways was not worth knowing, so Shakespeare falls within that criterion.

Image credit: Portrait of Sir Walter Raleigh by Nicholas Hilliard [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


surname history

Name is the Game – Surname History

Editor’s Note: The post below includes an excerpt from Lloyd Bockstruck’s book, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist. We are focusing on surname history, as that can be a common question and potential pitfall to be tackled in genealogical research.

Names, like people, have lives of their own, which is why Lloyd Bockstruck’s recently published book about the serendipity and life’s choices that can alter our family names is must-reading for every researcher. Mr. Bockstruck, one of America’s foremost genealogists and the former genealogy librarian at the Dallas Public Library, has distilled the wisdom of a lifetime about the vagaries of names into this work. Eminently readable, The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist is a collection of illustrations and cautionary tales that can help family historians surmount the obstacles or avert the pitfalls associated with naming practices throughout the centuries.

The book is divided into five chapters, and it engages the reader at the get-go. For instance, in the introductory first chapter Bockstruck relates a number of first-hand accounts that fostered his early fascination with names, such as his initial failure to find the tombstone of German great-aunt Barbara Baker (born Barbara Becker). The introduction’s high point is the incredible story of the peregrinating Scots colonist Ian Ferguson, whose name was recorded as Johann Feuerstein when he was among the Pennsylvania Palatine immigrants, and was later recorded as John Flint when he moved to Philadelphia. Two generations later, one of his grandsons, Peter Flint, moved to Louisiana, where he was recorded as Pierre a Fusil, only to end up as Peter Gunn when he settled in Texas after the Civil War.

While we obviously recommend reading the book for yourself, we will be excerpting from Chapter 3, the “Surname” section of the book. This is the longest section of the book, and it covers lots of territory. Topics include maiden names, spelling, surname misinterpretation, aliases, military influences, changes in language, dialects, surname abbreviations, and much more.

Please enjoy Part I below, and visit us again soon to read more from The Name Is the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist:

The use of an additional name to differentiate among people of the same Christian name in a community began as a byname. It was not until that the second name became hereditary that it became a surname.

The first people to adopt more than one name were the Chinese. It was Emperor Fushi who ordered the use of family names in 2832 B.C.

Family names can be grouped according to five categories. One is for surnames derived from toponyms, i.e. places or features of the landscape or ofnames of actual localities.The Jacob who lived at the edge of the woods would become Jacob at the woods or Jacob Atwood. His neighbor who lived in the agricultural belt of the community might become John Fields. William Hill, Robert Brooks, John Rivers, or Peter Meadows are other examples of people taking a surname from a landscape feature. The Germans and the English have a high incidence of such surnames.

Other surnames are indicative of a trade or occupation such as Smith, Carpenter, Taylor, Shepherd, Teacher, Turner, Cooper, and Wheelwright.

Sometimes people who excelled in particular roles in morality plays acquired surnames from their roles. Sheriff, Duke, King, and Bishop are examples of such.

Still other surnames arose to express relationships . Jeremiah the son of John became Jeremiah Johnson. William the son of Richard became William Richardson, and Richard the son of William became Richard Williamson. Sometimes the suffix “-son” was expressed in the possessive so that the letter “s”was appended to the Christian name as in Williams for the son of William or Harris for the son of Harry.

Sometimes it was the diminutive of a forename which Jed to the adoption of the surname as in Dickson or Robinson . Patronymical surnames predominate among the Welsh, Scots, Irish, Danes, Swedes, and Norwegians. They are also widespread among the Germans and Poles.

Surnames also derived from nicknames indicating a physical or personality trait such as Goodfellow, Short, or Black. The Italians and Irish favor this category.

It was said of the Todd family of Kentucky that their surname had two d’s while God had only one.

Please visit us again soon for Part II!

Image credit: Grave stones These are around the perimeter of the ruined church of St Mary’s. By Dennis Simpson [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons.