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TIP OF THE DAY...What's in a name

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Jonesey Report 30 Apr 2013 10:52

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” wrote William Shakespeare but it could equally have been written by Will/Willy/Willie/Wm/Bill/Billy or even Fred Shakespeare.

Parents choose a name for their offspring but that name can be changed for many reasons and in many different ways. Often having registered a child’s birth using one name the parents may have had second thoughts and then changed or added names when having the child Baptised/Christened. Sometimes having named the child after themselves, to avoid confusion at home, they called the child by a different name or family name. Extreme example: The heavyweight boxer George Foreman had 5 sons all of whom he named George. All of them except the eldest, George Jr, were known by different names within the Foreman household.

Sometimes a diminutive or alternative name became the name an individual was known by or recorded as. Sometimes the individual became known by a pet name or nickname and that name stayed with them throughout their life. Sometimes if they had 2 forenames individuals would reverse the order so Henry Charles became known as Charles Henry. Finally sometimes the individual would simply adopt an entirely different name because he/she preferred it or did not like the one that they had been given. In the UK providing that the change is not for fraudulent purposes anyone can call themselves by any name they choose. There is no legal requirement to notify any authority of the change of name, no need to use a deed poll to effect the change, simply start using the new name that you wish to be known by.

So where is all this information leading you may ask?

It is leading to the conclusion that we may have to be flexible when it comes to looking for our hard to find ancestors who appear to have “Just disappeared”. We may have to widen our searches using diminutives or alternatives of the given names of our ancestors. We may have to rely on other known facts about our ancestors as well as their names in order to trace them. The link below will take you to a website that indicates possible diminutives and nicknames for lots of common forenames. It is not 100% comprehensive but it may offer alternatives which you may not know about:

Finally, unfortunately even armed with this information it is not possible to guarantee success as sometimes things happen in a haphazard manner for no obvious reason. I knew a chap for many years who I and everyone else I knew at the time, called him Bill. He answered to that name and never corrected it. It was only when we attended his funeral that we discovered that his name was not Bill or even William, nor did he have a second such name. His only forename was plain John.

Good hunting.


Corinne Report 6 May 2013 21:08

My parents named me Corinne and registered me as such a couple of weeks after my birth. By the time I was 10 months old their marriage had broken down and my dad left the marital home. My mother then decided that she didn't want to be reminded of my dad in any way so changed my name to Camilla. I only discovered this when I was 10 years old and changed schools and had to take my birth certificate in to the school. Being me, I had a peek into the envelope to see what my Dad's name was and discovered the name Corinne. I was totally shocked but couldn't ask my mum about it so asked my Nan and she explained all.


SheilaWestWilts Report 7 May 2013 18:55

This seems to be a particular issue around the early 20th century, certainly in OH's family. His Dad (Ernest) was always called Bill, his brother (Frank) was Jim and we only found out a few weeks ago (when OH's Dad died) that his sister Grace was actually christened Mabel!!

I have had probelms with 'Peg' as it is usually a diminutive for Margaret, but my Gran (Henrietta) also used it sometimes.


Jonesey Report 13 May 2013 10:37



Andysmum Report 13 May 2013 12:19

My biggest problem, and I won't be alone in this, is that my siblings, my cousins and I were all known by our second Christian names.

This was no bother and accepted by authorities, until computers came along, together with the American habit of using first names for complete strangers. Suddenly we all had to start answering to our first names.

I still ignore people who use the "wrong" name - I'm not being rude, it just doesn't register!!