Genealogy is based on a person's name.. but names can contain pitfalls as well as clues for further research. One of the biggest pitfalls is assuming that all records for the same name are specific to one person. Another is assuming variant spellings of a name mean the two names are not connected. Or that because two people share a surname, they are probably related. Names can be changed -- by marriage, by legislation or just by the person involved-- and a person can go by more than one name.

Remember: You're not looking for names; you are looking for people. View the names in context and search with an eye towards the vagueries of record keeping of the day. Be alert to possible mis-spelling and transcription errors.

Books, articles, audio tapes
On the Web

Redmonds. Christian Names in Local and Family History (studied in records of England )

Redmonds. Names and History: People, Places and Things


In Ancestry, November/December 2006, we find these several articles on names:

  • "In the Name of Love"
  • "Daddy's Little Girl and Other Related Namesakes"
  • "Naming Your Boy Sue and a Host of Other Options"
  • "Playing the Name Game"
  • "Want YOur Son to be Rich?"

Crume. " What's In A Name?" in Family Chronicle Feb. 2007 pp. 17-22 This article gives a brief overview of surname origins covering 28 ethnic groups, with links to databases of names based on ethnic origin.

Mills. Unravelling Balls of Yarn: Lessons in the Use of a Skeptical Eye. Genealogical Journal (Utah Genealogical Society )vol. 19 no. 1/2 1991.


Rising. Proving Identity: Sorting Individuals of the Same Name. and Rising. Sorting Out Ancestors with the Same Name. (these talks may be substanatially the same).

Given names

Good Connexions: Naming Patterns

McClure. How to Name Your Females.
McClure. Divorce and Surname Changes

Naming Patterns in the 18th and 19th century... but remember, people didn't necessarily follow these patterns.


The Family Names entry in Wikipedia offers a concise overview of the common use of surnames in a variety of language groups.

Patronymics are surnames based on a component of the father's name. Far less common, are Matronymics or surmanes based on a componant of the mother's name.

Customs surrounding married and maiden are described in this Wikipedia entry.

Name and Word Spellings

Linda Davenport provides us with a great list of links on the topic of "Names, Names and More Names."


Return to Bobbie's Genealogy Classroom
This page last updated February 19, 2007