Saturday, 21 January 2012

Naming Baby

When researching Scottish families it’s common to come across the same forenames repeated through the generations. Whilst this can sometimes lead to confusion (I’ve recently researched a family in which seven generations of men had the same name!) it can also be very useful for confirming that you have the right family, especially when a traditional naming pattern was used. 

Kinkell Baptismal Font (now in St John's Episcopalian Church, Aberdeen)
Photo by Nick Thompson

It’s rare to find the relative after whom a child was named specifically stated, so I was interested to come across these entries in the register of Comrie Associate Congregation, concerning children of the minister, Samuel Gilfillan: 

National Records of Scotland ref. CH3/608/1 

13th May 1809
Same day in the afternoon my own Son
was baptized by Mr Wallace his name is
Samuel after myself Samuel Gilfillan died the
15 Febry 1810 - aged 7 months
and 15 days - of a croup

Comrie 8 May 1816
My own daughter was baptized to day
by Mr Scott, Crieff - Her name is Martha
Rankine, after my Mother and the Surname
of my Mother in law, Mrs Barlas - Martha Rankine
Died suddenly on the 30th Decr. 1816.-
If an unexpected name (particularly one including a surname) crops up in your family it can sometimes be because the child was named after the minister who baptised them. The Comrie Associate Congregation register also provides evidence of this: 
Comrie 9th Feby 1817
Baptized a Son to day to Peter Millar
one of my Elders, his name is Samuel - after my
self - Deus benedicat

Glentarken 2d Decr 1817
Baptized a Son to Daniel Carmichael named
Samuel - after myself - Deus benedicat - Samuel
Carmichael died soon after he was baptized
The Reverend Samuel Gilfillan died in 1826 but his name seems to have lived on among Comrie families.   A google search for his name brings up an entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography for Samuel Gilfillan McLaren, born in Comrie in 1840, and information on the Reverend Samuel Gilfillan Carmichael, born in Comrie in 1871. 

According to his entry in Fasti, the Reverend Samuel Gilfillan Carmichael was the son of another Samuel Gilfillan Carmichael and his wife Janet Miller, so he may well have been connected to the Millar and Carmichael families mentioned above. 

I haven’t found a child named after a minister in my own family, but I have come across another reason for a child being given a particular name which is sometimes overlooked - that of being named after a relative through marriage (rather than a blood relative). One of my great-aunts was named after her step-grandmother (two older sisters being named after the actual grandmothers). I’ve also researched a family in which two brothers-in-law named a son after each other.

The reason that a child was given a particular name may not be immediately obvious but it can be worth investigating as it may provide evidence of a network of family connections, reveal the parents’ religious or political beliefs, or the allegiances felt to an employer or landowner.


  1. I've found Bruce and Gifford as Christian names for girls (in Shetland Old Parish Registers) and more recently Archer and Erland for boys in Orkney. As you say, a little investigation can often reveal the connection :-)

  2. I remember researching one Glaswegian family, for a colleague, and discovering that all the children were named after both relatives and the relatives' mothers' maiden names. So, for example, a child might be called Agnes Turnbull Scott Laidlaw, named after her grandmother Agnes Turnbull (maiden name) and Agnes Turnbull's mother's maiden name was Scott, so that name was passed down as well. And so on, throughout all the children in the family, both boys and girls.

  3. Very good information, Kirsty. My aunt was named after the district nurse that delivered her. I smiled when I read about your seven generations of the same name. I have 37 Henry Fowlers in my tree and still don't have all of the outer branches complete.

  4. This post struck a chord with me as I was told I was named after the wife of the doctor who safely delivered my premature birth...I've since found out that some of my early ancestors had the same name too - coincidence perhaps.

  5. My mother-in-law was given the surname of the doctor who delivered her as her third Christian name. This was in Denholm, Rox. It was apparently because she was his first delivery. Hopefully he wasn't counting babies he'd delivered during his medical training!

  6. Thanks for the comments and the examples of names and reasons why names were given. Very interesting that several people have relatives who were named after doctors and nurses. I suspect this became more common in the 20th Century when more mothers received medical assistance with childbirth.

  7. Some of the 18th century OPRs for Dundee have a "Witnesses" column which lists the namefather(s) or namemother(s) of the child. Information usually includes the person's relationship to the child, if there is one, and, in the case of a man, his occupation. I've even seen deceased people named in the "Witnesses" column, with "In commemoration of" before the name.

  8. Pssstt.. Kirsty, I tagged you..come on over and play....

  9. Specific naming conventions often stick within families...

    I've had an occasion where a mother's maiden name was passed down as a middle name (and is still in use today) to the eldest son. My great-great-grandmother's maiden name was Collingwood, she named her son Harry Collingwood Mitton, who name his son Leslie Collingwood Mitton. Leslie named his eldest Harry Collingwood Mitton (who unfortunately died aged 17), but also to his second son William Collingwood Mitton. William had no sons, but a daughter, who named her daughter with the Collingwood middle name.

    On my Irish side, my great-great-grandfather called Thomas McMahon. He named his son Daniel McMahon, who named his eldest son Thomas, who named his eldest son Daniel (my uncle). Although it stopped there, my father named my middle name Thomas after my grandfather.

    There is also a Northern tradition of giving sons the christian name of a mother or grandmother's maiden name. My great-uncle was called Hedley Joseph Bradford, his mother's grandmother's maiden name was Hedley. I've seen this tradition pop up a few times.