The Universe and Me

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Genealogy 102B Game of Names

I couldn’t decide between something bland, like how names keep changing, or Changing Names, or you get it, but do you have the right name?

Unlike my Grandmother who we didn’t know if she was Emma or Erma there are a lot of unique names in my family. Unique because they constantly change. On my mother’s side I call it the flipped name. It seems that a majority of her ancestors went by their middle name, not their given name. Her grandfathers name was William Edgar but most of the time he is listed in records as Edgar or Ed and he actually went by the name Banty. That is a story I would like to know, how he got his nickname.

There were a lot of arguments disagreements about his name. His brother was known as Arthur but his given name was George Arthur. All his sisters had names of flowers and didn’t seem to use their middle names except for one. Her name was Zena Alma (I always thought it was just a bad spelling of Zinnia. The name was found once in a record in it’s full form, the majority of the time she went by Alma. I have confirmed that the baptism records list William and George. Zena, as yet, has not been found on a birth or baptism record.

Their father was named Josephus and while on my fathers side, which is Catholic, all names tend to be in Latin his name was Josephus. I continue to run across it in some family tree as Joseph. It is not. He himself listed his name as Josephus and was called Josephus. My fathers father was Leonardus Julius and was called Jules, his name was normally stated Leonard Julius. I could jump ahead and tell you that I found his baptism record recently and he was listed as Julius Leonardus and I just groaned and decided I didn’t want to debate what his name was because everyone and every document says Leonard Julius.

The one thing that it did show is people weren’t so concerned with the birth name as we seem to be now. The other thing it teaches is that when looking for a person in your research try flipping first names and middle names and try variant spellings as in Zena and Zinnia or Edgar/Edward and Ed.

That brings us to last names. It seems everyone has a story about what their last name use to be. Those stories are important as you want to move backwards in your family research. On my mothers side one of the names was Schmidt, eventually changed to Smith (oh that is a fun one to research). While the name was Schmidt, it is also found as Schmitt, so when working on this line I try them all. I also use the first and middle name switch along with the Americanization of names. One child was named Cristele in their original Prussian I’m still not sure which of the children she is as all their birth dates change in various records.

Name variation did not all come about because some ancestor came through Ellis Island and they changed their name. Even in Ellis Island they didn’t always change their name, they simple could not understand the language and the accented style of English when they were being told a name. If the immigrant was illiterate it sometimes resulted in a different name on the immigration papers, and sometimes Emma just called herself Erma.

A number of name variations come about because as the centuries go by we spell this differently and first names, middle names and last names became more of the norm. Not everyone had a last name as we know it today. In the Dutch/Flemish/French languages a lot of surnames where proceeded by de or De or Van. They originally stood for Leonardus of Ghent written Leonardus de Ghent (English translation) Leonardus de Gant (Dutch translation) becoming over time Leonardus DeGant, Leonardus Gant and possibly Leonardus Ghant. You need to follow every variation when trying to research your family tree. In my research in Flanders (present day Belgium) I find that i’s and y’s are interchanged and that ÿ is sometimes written ij.

When researching a name always think of various spelling, pronunciations and sounds that your name can make.

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