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How fluid were names?

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  • How fluid were names?

    Hi everyone,

    Just wondering how common it is for names to morph between records?

    For example, James to John, Margaret to Mary, etc?

    Should I keep digging amongst these random names, or disregard them?


  • #2
    I have found certain names Edward/Edwin, Ann/Nanny/Hannah, Mary/Maria interchangeable in my own tree though the examples you give look a bit too different, though I think you have to take them case by case and look at the evidence for each individual.


    • #3
      Yes, I would also say that those names are too different to be commonly exchanged. Although having said that I have one named William James John who was mostly known as John but sometimes William. Confusingly he had a brother called William too!
      As well as those examples given above I could add to the list of names commonly morphed:
      James, Jim, Jimmy, Jacob
      John, Jack, Sean
      Margaret, Meg, Peg, Peggy
      Mary, Polly
      Ellen, Helen, Eleanor



      • #4
        In my area Jane has often morphed into Jinny, Sarah into Sally and Mary Ann into Polly.
        Janet in Yorkshire

        Genealogists never die - they just swap places in the family tree


        • #5
          I wonder if it's more the handwriting rather than name changes? Mary and margt can look similar. You have to remember for census entries in particular, what you see is at least second hand transcriptions of the originals.

          Sometimes errors are recorded too, such as wrong father on the marriage cert or wrong mother's given name on the baptism.

          As people have said, nicknames are often dimunitives of other names, even if they sound unrelated.


          • #6
            James wouldn't change to John, but they are often mis-transcribed as each other - especially when abbreviated ..Jas, Jo etc.
            Last edited by AntonyM; 05-08-23, 12:14.
            Retired professional researcher, and ex- deputy registrar, now based in Worcestershire. Happy to give any help or advice I can ( especially on matters of civil registration) - contact via PM or my website www.chalfontresearch.co.uk
            Follow me on Twittter @ChalfontR


            • #7
              Other changes due to mistranscriptions from handwriting include David and Daniel...also...Maud and Maria.

              One particular branch of my tree often registered a baby with one name only for it to be changed and the child goes through the rest of it's life with a different name.. eg. Robert became Richard.
              Careful checking confirmed that these were not different people.

              This happened to several children in the same family.


              • #8
                I have a small shudder each time I have a Mary Ann. Going forward do I look for Mary or Ann, or Maryann with no space or with a space! And don't get me started on whether there is an E!!

                I have a person in the 1700's named Lettice. The name got passed down through neices and daughters and 4 generations later had settled as Leticia.


                • #9
                  I have an ancestor whose middle name is "Vye". We originally thought it may have been a derivative of "Violet", and it had travelled down some generations of other branches. Turns out it is a hampshire surname and was the grandmother's maiden name. It gets transcribed as "Nye" "Bye" "Hye", etc depending on the handwriting and transcriber. Ancestry's transcripts are terrible in comparison to say findmypast. But sometimes a shoddy transcription is accurate to the image.