Naming Patterns

I have always been interested in the forenames that people are given by their parents.  When I started searching for information on the Smith family, I realized quickly that there were some forenames that occurred frequently.  For boys, there were the names William, Thomas, John, Joseph and Lancelot.   For girls the names were usually Mary, Hannah, Agnes, Sarah and Anne.   When I looked at the church records in Cumberland I saw these same names in many other families besides the Smiths.  Lancelot was not as common as some of the other names for boys but it wasn’t as unusual as I assumed it was.

I found there was a naming pattern that each generation of Smith parents followed closely and this pattern did not break down until the middle of the nineteenth century.  The traditional name pattern was probably common in all rural areas of England too:

  • Eldest son was named after his paternal grandfather
  • Eldest daughter was named after her maternal grandmother
  • Second son was named after his maternal grandfather
  • Second daughter was named after her paternal grandmother

After those four children were named, the parents were free to name the younger children – but still using the same restricted list of names.  Because the same forenames were used many times within the same family it can be hard sometimes to identify which John Smith or Hannah Smith is being described.  If one of the older children died young, a later sibling could be given the same name but I saw only one instance of that in the Smith family.

It was not the practice to give more than one forename to a child.  The first example I have seen in the English Smith families was George Hardy Smith, who was born in Gamblesby, Cumberland in 1852.  The first example of a Smith born in Ireland being given two names was Agnes Hannah Smith, born in Cashel, Tipperary, in 1866.

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