How to use naming patterns to find your ancestors

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11 April 2019
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Did you know that often the first name given to a child followed a traditional pattern? We show you how to check this pattern and discover clues that can help you with your family tree research.

Did you know that often the first name given to a child followed a traditional pattern? We show you how to check this pattern and discover clues that can help you with your family tree research.

Many countries have their own naming traditions – the English traditional is shown below and this also applies to Irish patterns:

  • First son – named after the father’s father
  • First daughter – named after the mother’s mother
  • Second son – named after the mother’s father
  • Second daughter – named after the father’s mother
  • Third son – named after the father
  • Third daughter – named after the mother
  • Fourth son – named after the father’s eldest brother
  • Fourth daughter – named after the mother’s eldest sister

Scottish naming patterns

FindMyPast wrote a blog that lays out two alternative patterns – the most common one is:

  • The first son would be named after the father's father (variation is after the mother's father)
  • The second after the mother's father (variation is the father's father)
  • The third son would be named after the father
  • The fourth son would be named after the father's oldest brother (variation is after the father's paternal grandfather)
  • The fifth son would be named after the mother's oldest brother (variation is after the mother's paternal grandfather)

and for girls:

  • First daughter named after the mother's mother (variation is after the father's mother)
  • Second daughter named after the father's mother
  • Third daughter named after the mother
  • Fourth daughter named after the mother's oldest sister (variation is after the mother's maternal grandmother)
  • Fifth daughter named after the father's oldest sister (variation is after the father's maternal grandmother)

Using naming patterns in family history

As you can see, the above pattern could be of real help when guiding you towards the correct person in records such as the census, birth, marriage & death records and other family history sources. It can also help you concentrate your search, particularly if you’re dealing with unusual first names repeating down the centuries.

Obviously the above are only a guide – many people might have chosen a family member’s middle name when naming a child, or made their own unrelated choice. It’s also possible that family tensions can play a part, with people avoiding one of the naming patterns so as not to name a child after a member of the family whom they disliked.

Good luck in your search and let us know if you manage to find that elusive ancestor thanks to a naming pattern!

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Image copyright Taro Taylor