Tuesday, March 29, 2022

In Genealogy, Onomastics is Serious Business

Names - Are you Ignoring Clues?
Onomastics (onomatology) is the study of proper names, and the origins of names.  It can be used to effectively identify where your family lived before immigrating to North America. The study of proper names and place names (toponomy) can help pinpoint the origin of our ancestors. In studying the personal names (anthroponomastics) family researchers can uncover community practices of naming descendants, allowing the researcher to untangle family units.  For this reason, genealogists are familiar with naming patterns within ethnic communities or even religious communities.

 According to Meriam- Webster Dictionary, onomastics is:

Many genealogists take for granted that there are naming conventions amongst the Irish, the Swedish, the Germans, etc.  Yet, each may be unique. And, other cultures, countries, communities, may practice differing naming conventions. 

Irish:   A traditional naming pattern often used by Irish parents until the later 19th century:

First son usually named for the father's father
Second son usually named for the mother's father
Third son usually named for the father
Fourth son usually named for the father's eldest brother
Fifth son usually named for the mother's eldest brother
First daughter usually named for the mother's mother
Second daughter usually named for the father's mother
Third daughter usually named for the mother 
Fourth daughter usually named for the mother's eldest sister
Fifth daughter usually named for the father's eldest sister

These naming patterns are guideline. Although often practiced, they were not required. And based on the ancestor's origin, and timeframe, other naming practices may be uncovered. 

Figure 2 Text by A. Beider - iijg.org

Naming practices of rural families and clans from the 18th to the 20th century help us create an idea of the social values based on the community. The a3Genealogy Research Team recently finished a multi-year German project -the Glos / Gloss family.  It was through onomastics that we were able to identify the family unit, to their German origin. The untangling of the many German Glos’ that arrived in America was not only by their Bavaria origin, but the men were all “shoemakers/bootmakers” both in their town of origin and in America. 

Less helpful in tracing a family name would be the patronymic based naming patterns as seen in many early European countries, prior to “familiar surnames” This naming convention causes quite a bit of chaos if the family is not cohesive.  An example: John the son of Peter was John Peterson; and John’s son Niel, was Niel Johnson. New surnames were created generationally.

Where to Find Traditional Naming Patterns

Researchers may wish to use the following to assist in identifying Old Naming Patterns.  If your ancestors were traditional, knowing  naming patterns could cut hours off your research.  However, remember these patterns were generalizations; not regulated.

When the a3Genelaogy team researchers are stuck with associating naming with language and culture, we turn to the work of
Albion’s Seed by David Hackett Fischer.

Chart from Martha Wallace Santa Cruz  Handout 2014

Martha Wallace 2014 Onomastics – Using Naming Patterns in Genealogy Santa Cruz Handout has more examples and charts, as below:

Her Santa Cruz handout also proffers a variety of resources.

Other Resources
In genealogy we may reference academic papers:

 Article by K. Van Landuyt, 1995 

The following are a few resources in the a3Genealogy library shelves.

Behind the Name, Mike Campbell

Naming Patterns & Your Genealogy, Arlene Eakle

Dictionary of Americanized French-Canadian Names: Onomastics and Genealogy,
Marc Picard

The Jewish Journey – A Passage Through European History, Edward Gelles

Our current project is uncovering a1709, French Canadian family who settled in the Nebraska Territory.  Onomastics has assisted the researchers in mapping the migratory path. Yet, so much work is still needed. 

Be Historically Correct

Kathleen Brandt
Accurate Accessible Answers

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