The Name IS the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist

cf8006Two hundred years ago no parent would have named a child for a favorite movie star. There were no movies. However, naming a child for an historical figure, like George after George Washington, was not uncommon. Other naming practice common in the past would seldom be considered today. However, understanding such practices may help a genealogists better identify their ancestors. For example, using an uxornecronym. An uxornecronym is a name given to the first daughter born into a marriage were the name honors a previous wife. Such practices would be less common in a society were divorce is the primary reason for having previous marriages, but not so in a time when death, especially in child birth, would have left an empty place in a home to be filled by a second marriage. Genealogists looking to better understand and trace their ancestors by their names may benefit greatly from The Name IS the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogists, a new book by Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck.

What is Onomatology? Where etymology is the study of the origin and history of words, onomatology is the same for names. Bockstruck explains, “onomatology is the study of names. It involves both forenames, commonly called first, second, or middle names, and family names or surnames. It also includes nicknames and  place names which in the United States are often named for individuals.” He also makes the important distinction, “the study of onomatology is one based on records over centuries and requires an awareness of a multitude of changes in names.” This book provides, at least, the basics of onomatology for genealogists.

The Name IS the Game is broken into five chapters. The first acts as introduction. The second and third chapters examine given names and surnames, respectively. These chapters represent the bulk of the book and cover all types of naming practices over centuries of Europe and the United States. The last two chapters cover toponyms, place names, and provide a selected bibliography for further reference.

I have provided, below, and expanded table of contents. The list should demonstrate just how much this book covers, especially regarding surnames.

Table of Contents  (expanded)

Chapter 1 Introduction

Chapter 2 Forenames

  • Ethnic Clues in Forenames
  • Forename or a Title
  • The Maiden Name of a Mother as a Forename
  • Forename Clues
  • Diminutives
  • Diminutive Abbreviations
  • Forename Equivalents
  • Multiple Forenames
  • Uxornecronyms
  • Ambisexual Forenames
  • Postponing the Bestowing of Forenames
  • Repetition of Forenames
  • Forename Clues
  • Hagiographic Forenames
  • Naming Patterns
  • Optical Mis-recognition
  • Forenames from Historical Figures
  • Initials
  • Renaming of a Living Child

Chapter 3 Surnames

  • Maiden Names
  • Spelling Fixation
  • Surname Confusion
  • Misinterpretation of Letters of Surnames
  • The Un-aspirated Initial Letter of Surnames
  • Pronunciations
  • The Terminal “G”
  • Nee, Alias, and Genannt
  • Adoption of a Step-parent’s Surname
  • Military Influence on Surnames
  • From English to Another Language
  • From One European Language to Another
  • The Dit Name
  • Dialects and Minorities
  • Dutch Surnames
  • Abbreviations of Surnames
  • The Crossed Tail of the Letter P
  • The Long “S”
  • The Female Title of Mrs.
  • Idem  Sonans
  • Translation into English
  • Surname Shortening
  • The Letters “R” and “L”
  • “Ou” and “Wh”
  • Gender and Surnames
  • Ethnic Clues
  • Statutory Changes
  • District and County Court Changes of Names
  • Multiple Independent Appearances
  • Spanish
  • African-American
  • Jewish
  • American Indian Surnames

Chapter 4 Toponyms

Chapter 5 Selected Bibliography of Legal Changes of Names


Copies of The Name IS the Game: Onomatology and the Genealogist are available from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $16.61

Spelling Variations in German Names

Changes in the spelling of surnames when immigrants came to America create problems enough for genealogists. Add to this name changes made afterwards, often to better fit the local culture or simplify a names usage. Now add these issue to surnames and locations in foreign countries with changes in spelling over time. In research, questions like, “How can Diependörper and Tiefendorfer be the same name?” are often as common as most researchers are unprepared to deal with them. Surprising to many, these changes are “natural, logical, and predictable,” not to mention, explicable. Spelling Variations in German Names: Solving Family History Problems Through Applications of German and English Phonetics is a thorough study of German name changes and the means to understand these changes.

Throughout the pages of this guide, author Roger P. Minert, PhD, A.G., helps the reader uncover patterns in the variation of vowels and consonants. For example, how -bach and -beck are of the same origin. Likewise, -trup and -dorf have the same meaning. Minert reveals underlying phonetic principles, which through learning and understanding, help the researcher uncover the patterns necessary to follow spelling changes.

The book serves genealogist at all skill levels. Even experts are often unaware of how the science of phonetics plays into the pattern of name changes. This science deals with “the sound of speech, their production, description, and representation in written symbols.” This guide provides basic technical understanding researchers can use to compare variant spellings and to more easily identify possible variation; like, with Diependörper and Tiefendorfer, which might otherwise be overlooked.

Table of Contents


List of Tables, Illustrations, and Maps

1.0 History

2.0Symbols and Notations

3.0Vowels: Introduction

3.1 Length of vowels

3.2 Location of vowels in the mouth

3.3 Unrounded vowels

3.4 Rounded vowels

3.5 Doubled vowels

3.6 Diphthongs

3.7 The character ie

3.8 Silent vowels

3.9 Unaccented neutral vowel

3.10 Search/research tactics with vowels in Germany

3.11 Search/research with vowels between Germany and America

4.0 Consonants: Introduction

4.1 Points of articulation

4.2 Types of articulation

4.3 More important terms describing consonants

4.4 Specific consonant sounds

4.5 Doubled consonants

4.6 Search/research tactics with consonants in Germany

4.7 Search/research tactics with consonants between Germany and America

5.0 Elision of e and i

5.1 Elision of e and i in unstressed syllables

5.2 Elision of e in the diphthong environment

6.0 Non-Phonetic Variations

6.1 The suffix -in

6.2 Possessive markers

6.3 Latin declinations

6.4 Errors in deciphering and extracting names

6.5 Names translated entirely or partially

7.0 The Old High German Sound Shift

7.1 The role of the Old High German Sound Shift in German genealogical research: Introduction

7.2 The theory of the Old High German Sound Shift

7.3 Practical application of the OHGSS in genealogical research

7.4 Summary

8.0 Conclusions

9.0 Trouble-Shooting Guide to Name Spelling Variations: Introduction

Notes Annotated Bibliography


Table 12: Trouble-shooting Guide

Every Name Index


Spelling Variations in German Names: Solving Family History Problems Through Applications of German and English Phonetics is available from Family Roots Publishing; Price: $16.12.

Nicknames: Past and Present, 5th Edition Expanded

Resources, records, documents, hours of research and in the end it all comes down to names and dates. No matter what any of us ever learn about out own ancestors, genealogists start and end with names and dates. Those names are critical to research. But, have you ever considered that two different documents may show different names but if fact are for the same individual? Nicknames in the past don’t always match modern usage of the same name. Some nickname today are used for different given names than in the past. Nicknames: Past and Present, 5th Edition Expanded, by Christine Rose, was written to help researchers avoid untold wasted hours searching for non-existent ancestors.

As a young researcher, Rose spent two years trying to track down a second marriage for an ancestor for whom two different court records showed two different names for wives, one for “Martha” and one for “Patsy.” How many people know that Patsy is a nickname for Martha? Admittedly, I did not. The author expresses her desire to help other avoid this type of wasted efforts.

Sometimes surnames play a part in nicknames. Some nicknames are common to location or region. The popularity of names, including nicknames, changes over time. The same name may commonly have multiple nicknames over time. Likewise, the same nickname may get used for many different given names. Of course, it is also possible for any apparent nickname to be a person’s actual given name. I have a friend who most people assume his given name is Tom or Thomas, but it’s not. His actual given name, on birth record, it Tommy.

Nicknames provides a listing of both male and female names. In addition, five appendices provide some foreign language English equivalents, truncated and superscripted names, as well as names used by both males and females. The appendix also includes a reprint of “Nicknames in New England,” by Donald Lines Jacobus.





Female Names Section One

Male Names Section Two

Appendix A: Dutch/Frisian and their Equivalents in English

Appendix B: English Names and their Equivalents in Dutch and Frisian Baptismal Names

Appendix C: Truncated and Superscripted Names

Appendix D: Male and Female Names

Appendix E: By Donald Lines Jacobus, reprint of “Nicknames in New England” from The American Genealogists

Appendix F: Italian given names with English equivalents, nicknames, and diminutives (new in this edition)

Nicknames: Past and Present, 5th Edition Expanded is available from Family Roots Publishing; Item #: CR0004, Price: $9.75.


A Bit About Nicknames

The following article was written by Bryan L. Mulcahy, Reference Librarian at the Fort Myers-Lee County Library, and was reprinted with his permission:

How often have you encountered and individual or family in a census which looks like yours, but the names aren’t quite right? Have you found what appears to be your great-grandfathers marriage license, except that it says he’s married to someone named who went by a different name instead of what you always heard?

Our ancestors’ seemingly changing names often leave us puzzled and frustrated, when in fact such apparent name changes are often just a result of the recording of an individual’s nickname or middle name in the official records. While some think this is a historical trait, in reality, many people today are known by different names to our family, friends, and business associates. My father’s name was Lawrence yet his family always referred to him as Bob. His middle name was Robert.

Nicknames stand for the name of a person or thing other than its proper name. The nickname may either substitute or be added to the proper name. It may be a familiar or truncated form of the proper name, such as Bob, Bobby, Rob, Robbie, Robin, and Bert for Robert. It is common in many genealogical records, especially more informal records such as census records and obituaries, to find your ancestors listed under names you might not expect. In many cases these names may have been the nicknames as they were known to their family and friends.

Nicknames have always been popular, but until the modern era, people generally used whatever variation of their legal given name they felt like using at various times during their life. Legal requirements that govern the processing of how legal papers in modern times were non-existent. Once an ancestor was out on their own, they often adopted a nickname or a variation of their given name.
Nicknames can sometimes be difficult to catch, however. “Kim” as a nickname for “Kimberly” is fairly straightforward, but “Polly” as a nickname for “Mary” and “Peggy” as a nickname for “Margaret” have tripped up many genealogists. Sometimes nicknames were formed by adding a “y” or “ey” to the end of a name or part of a name – i.e. “Johnny” for “John” or “Penny” for “Penelope.” Other times the name was shortened in some manner – i.e. “Kate” for “Katherine.” But sometimes it is just a matter of knowing which nicknames were commonly used in a particular time and place. That’s why it is important, as a genealogist, to familiarize yourself with commonly used nicknames and their corresponding given names. Do not forget, however, that what appears to be a nickname isn’t always – many nicknames became so popular that they later were bestowed as given names.

For further reading, see: Nicknames Past And Present – 5th Edition Revised, by Christine Rose

Unusual Baby Names Spurned Despite Celebrity Trend

The following Press release was written by Genes Reunited:

Tuesday, 5 July 2011:

  • 37% of people would name their children after relatives with traditional names
  • Quirky celebrity baby names not so original after all
  • Brooklyn and Cruz found in the 19th Century censuses
  • Genes Reunited analysed over 750 million names

Analysis of over 750 million records by, a leading family history website, reveals that celebrities are not as original as they may think when it comes to naming their offspring, as research shows unusual baby names such as Suri, Cruz and Apple have been recorded for over 150 years.

Although celebrities continuously opt for unusual names, a recent poll shows that 79% of people prefer traditional names in favour of something more unusual. Furthermore, half would choose a name simply by whether or not they liked the sound of it. [1]

It’s not unusual…
David and Victoria’s children’s names have all appeared in the UK censuses before. In the 1881 Census a Brooklyn was recorded and since 1841 someone has carried the name Cruz four times. This is also the case with their brother Romeo, namesake of one of Shakespeare’s most famous protagonists, who appears 294 times between 1841 and 1911.

Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow also went down the unusual name route, with a fruity name for their young daughter, Apple. Whilst unheard of in modern times, it was used over a hundred years ago with the name appearing in the 1861, 1871 and 1911 censuses. Apple has grown in popularity, appearing 76 times in the birth records.

For their first daughter together Nicole Kidman and husband Keith Urban went for the seemingly unusual name of Sunday. They may have been unaware that it had previously been used 305 times from 1837 – 2005.

The prize for the most original celebrity baby name goes to Sir Bob Geldof and the late Paula Yates, whose eldest daughter [Fifi] Trixibelle doesn’t appear in any of the Census records. Friends of the Beckham’s, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ daughter’s name Suri has only been registered once, in the 1891 Census. However, Suri has gone on to be registered 67 times in the birth records up until 2005.

The analysis of over 750 million names in the records shows that there are 1000 completely unique names, both forename and surname, highlighting that there has always been an appetite for unusual names. Some of the unique names registered include Flossy Nairn, whose brother was called Ora Nairn, as well as Willington Trites and Glesson Whatman[3].

Keeping up with the Joneses
Despite society often following the lead of celebrity culture, the records have shown that millions of people like to stick with tradition. John and Mary take the crown for the most popular names ever recorded in the UK, with over 8 million Marys and over 10 million Johns.

Top 10 boys’ and girls’ names of all time

Girl Boy

  1. Mary John
  2. Elizabeth William
  3. Sarah Thomas
  4. Ann James
  5. Margaret George
  6. Jane Robert
  7. Alice Charles
  8. Hannah Joseph
  9. Emma Henry
  10. Ellen David

Vicki Dawson, Head of, says: “If you are interested in family history or are simply looking for inspiration for a potential baby name, our records with over 750 million names going back centuries, provide a fascinating insight through history and maybe some great ideas.”

“It seems to be a celebrity trend to name offspring unusual names, but we have found throughout our extensive record collections this is not a new trend. We have seen what was once an uncommon name, such as Daisy, slowly being incorporated into what we now see as traditional. Our research has found that 79% of people would prefer a traditional name, so maybe in the future ‘Cruz’ or ‘Suri’ will be seen in this way?”

[1] Figures taken from a poll of 947 Genes Reunited subscribers

[2] Number of times the names appear in the censuses

Census year
Forename c1841 c1851 c1861 c1871 c1881 c1891 c1901 c1911
Brooklyn 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Cruz 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 1
Romeo 13 18 16 28 38 54 52 75
Apple 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 2
Trixibelle 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Memphis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Suri 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0

[3] Below is a list of other celebrity baby names as they appear in the censuses

Census year
Forename c1841 c1851 c1861 c1871 c1881 c1891 c1901 c1911
Anais 5 3 2 20 10 9 12 22
Annais 2 3 12 0 1 1 1 0
Apple 0 0 1 1 0 0 0 2
Bluebell 0 0 4 0 1 3 7 20
Brooklyn 0 0 0 0 1 0 0 0
Cruz 1 0 1 0 1 0 0 1
Daisy 1 5 32 187 4225 27578 58437 77434
Fifi 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 3
Lennon 0 2 0 1 3 4 9 11
Lourdes 0 0 10 0 0 0 0 5
Maddox 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0
Madonna 2 1 14 8 11 12 23 22
Memphis 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Rocco 1 1 6 14 20 15 30 23
Romeo 13 18 16 28 38 54 52 75
Saffron 0 1 1 1 1 0 2 1
Shiloh 3 5 2 5 7 7 2 1
Suri 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 0
Tallulah 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 0
Trixibelle 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0

About Genes Reunited
Genes Reunited was launched in 2003 as a sister-site to the Internet phenomenon Friends Reunited. Since then it has grown to become one of the leading genealogy websites in Australia & New Zealand.

It marked a revolution in genealogy and ancestry by combining them with Internet social-networking. Members are able to build their family tree by posting it on the site and investigating which ancestors they share with other members. They can also search historical records such as census, birth, death, marriage and military records.

Genes Reunited has over 11 million members and over 750 million names listed. One new name is added to the site every single second.

Illegal Baby Names

Believe it or not, there are places in this world where the naming of a child is strictly prescribed by the government. In America we can call our kids most anything, but in some places it would be illegal to name your children One Million, Two Million, and so forth, as the Million family is said to have done in early Skagit County, Washington. It’s said that Ten Million was quite successful, so maybe the name can make a man after all…

The following examples are excerpted and heavily abbreviated in hopes that you’ll go My granddaughter, Tabitha Virginia Meitzler. For the first several weeks, I had to do a mental exercise in which I remembered the name, Samantha; before I could think of the name Tabitha - harking back to the era of Bewitched on television. The photo was taken 6-29-2010 with my Sprint Evo phone.check out the details at the CNN Living website:

1. Sweden
… “First names shall not be approved if they can cause offense or can be supposed to cause discomfort for the one using it, or names which for some obvious reason are not suitable as a first name.”
Rejected names: “Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssqlbb111163 (pronounced Albin, naturally) was submitted by a child’s parents in protest of the Naming law. It was rejected. The parents later submitted “A” (also pronounced Albin) as the child’s name. It, too, was rejected…

2. Germany
In Germany, you must be able to tell the gender of the child by the first name, and the name chosen must not be negatively affect the well being of the child. Also, you can not use last names or the names of objects or products as first names.
Rejected names: Matti was rejected for a boy because it didn’t indicate gender.

3. New Zealand
New Zealand’s Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act of 1995 doesn’t allow people to name their children anything that “might cause offence to a reasonable person;…
Rejected names: Stallion, Yeah Detroit, Fish and Chips…
Approved names: Benson and Hedges (for a set of twins)…

4. Japan
In Japan, one given name and one surname are chosen for babies, except for the imperial family, who only receive given names… The Japanese also restrict names that might be deemed inappropriate…
Rejected names: Akuma, meaning “devil.”

5. Denmark
Denmark’s very strict Law on Personal Names is in place to protect children from having odd names that suit their parents’ fancy. To do this, parents can choose from a list of 7,000 pre-approved names, some for girls, some for boys…
Rejected names: … Pluto and Monkey…

Check out the full article at the CNN Living website.

Thanks to my friend, Ernie Thode, for putting me onto the piece at the CNN website.