Todays genealogy article from our guest blogger Deborah Large Fox is about how to understand Irish names.
Patterns. I have been surprised at the number of researchers who have found that their families, especially in the 1800′s and earlier, did indeed follow a traditional naming pattern. While the pattern sometimes varied with locality or family, generally the first son was named after the paternal grandfather, the second after the maternal grandfather, and the third after the father (with daughters, reverse, with the first daughter named after the maternal grandmother, etc.). Various aunts’ and uncles’ names followed. In families where the naming pattern was not present, I have often found that it was in fact followed, but that an older child had died and the name was re-used for a later born child. So, if your ancestral names did not seem to follow a pattern, be on the lookout for a deceased older sibling, or for a sibling that you have not yet discovered.
Middle Names. I have found that Irish families varied in their use of middle names. Every researcher I ask seems to have had a different experience with middle names. Two stories are often repeated by researchers about the middle names in their families. One is that ancestors were called by their middle names to distinguish between the members of a large family with a number of identical names. In the 1800′s, baptismal records, both Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland, in the southern counties rarely list a middle name. I have found more middle names recorded in nineteenth century church records in the northern counties. When an ancestor is known in family records only by his or her middle name, finding their official or church records can be difficult indeed.
Many researchers have discovered that their ancestor’s middle name was not given at birth, but was taken as a confirmation name. This practice can wreak havoc with one’s research. Few lists of comfirmands from earlier times exist, and I have seen no lists with “taken” confirmation names.
Many researchers have reported that, at an ancestor’s baptism, the Catholic priest demanded that the parents choose a middle name for a child if that child’s first name was not that of a saint’s. Stories abound about this practice–well into the 1950′s and 60′s! I am not sure if this practice was limited to twentieth century America, but it seemed to have arisen in many American cities when Irish immigrants began breaking with the traditional naming patterns and choosing fashionable names.
Nicknames. Ahh, the nickname–created by our Irish ancestors just so that they could look down upon us one day and laugh as we spend years searching for great Gramma Nancy’s records when Nancy’s name was really Anne! And Helen was Ellen, and Ted was Edward, and Biddy was Bridget, and Dick was Richard, and Sallie was Sarah…
One word to researchers of very common surnames: in Ireland, family groups with the same surname were often given family nicknames to distinguish the branches from each other. You might have the Red Brennan’s and the Black Brennan’s, or the Tarlar Donaghy’s, to name a few I have seen. Knowing your family’s ancestral nickname, if they had one, is a crucial research tool when researching local Irish records, especially if you are researching a very common surname such as Kelly or Murphy.
Gaelic and Latin Names. Be on the lookout for Anglicized Gaelic names, especially as you go back in time and into Irish records. As you research RC church records, keep in mind that many priests, both in the US and in Ireland, wrote the names in Latin. Often, the Latin names bear no resemblance to the English or Gaelic names–Eugenio for Owen is one example.
I said it before and I will say it again, Irish genealogy research wouldn’t be so much fun if it were simpler, now would it?
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