Blue Thistle Genealogy

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in Scotland



Features about Scottish family history

A Confusion of Names !            (1)

The tradition of naming children after relatives generally followed a specific order -

The first son was named after his paternal grandfather, the second son after his maternal grandfather, the third son after his father, and then on to uncles, etc..

The first daughter was named after her maternal grandmother, second daughter after her paternal grandmother, third daughter after her mother, then on to aunties, cousins, etc..

Not everyone stuck rigidly to this pattern, of course, for all sorts of reasons -

  • Perhaps Grannie had never liked her own name, and didn't want to see it inflicted on her granddaughter.
  • One of the parents didn't get on with their father or mother-in-law, and refused to call their child after them.
  • The actual grandparent may have died very young, leaving the new baby's mum or dad to be raised by their grandparent, so that they decided to call a child after the earlier generation, instead.
  • The local area may have been saturated with certain Christian names, plus a small pool of local surnames, causing a much confusion, so some innovative young couple decided to go for something completely different.

If a child died in infancy or early childhood - all too common in the 18 th and 19 th centuries - the same name would frequently be re-used for a later child. It is not uncommon to find 3 children of the same name in one family, in which case you can generally ( but not always!) assume that the first holders of the name had died before the last child was born.

As a case in point -   my mother-in-law's cousin, in the Western Isles, had 5 sons, of whom one was named Hugh, and one named Hugh Archie.   I asked my mother-in-law if one of the boys had, perhaps, been adopted?

"No", she said, apparently surprised that I should need to ask.

Then why call two brothers by the same name?

"Well, it isn't really the same name - one of them was called after his father, one after the old bodach down the road!"

      (bodach = gaelic "old man")

The naming protocol could lead to even greater confusion as, in extreme cases, if both the paternal and maternal grandfathers, and the child's father were called William, a child might be named after each of them, and possibly one after an uncle or two, as well - with the result that there might be 4 or 5 brothers, all called William!

In other words, Scottish naming conventions can be a great help in working out who was the parent of whom, but - beware! - they can also be a maze of wrong turnings and dead ends!




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