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Forename Variants

Variations in forenames are very common in the records. The name by which a person was born or christened, might look very different when they married or died. For example, Elizabeth might be known and/or recorded as Elisabeth, Eliza, Betty, Betsy, Beth, Bessie, Elspeth, Elsie, to name but a few. Some of the influences brought to bear on Scottish forenames are indicated below.

Abbreviations, Diminutives, Nicknames/pet names
Records are full of abbreviated forms of some forenames, e.g. William might be recorded as Will, Wm. or Willm., Charles as Chas., Margaret as Margt. or Mgt., James as Jas., Alexander as Alexr., and so on.
Also, diminutives, nicknames and pet names, if habitually in use, might be recorded instead of the proper name, e.g. Euphan/Eupham/Effy for Euphemia, Katie/Kate/Kath/Kathy for Katherine, Jamie/Jimmy/Jim for James, Maggie/Meg/Peggy for Margaret, Alec/Alex/Sandy/Eck for Alexander, Dod for George.

This is particularly prevalent in the Old Parish Register records, and probably more so in smaller parishes, where the person recording the information, usually the session clerk or the minister, would know the families in the area.

Anglicising forenames
It was very common for registrars in Gaelic-speaking areas of the Highlands and Western Isles to anglicise common Gaelic forenames, for instance recording Morag as Mary, Iain as John and Hamish as James. Gaelic-speaking families themselves, who migrated to urban areas, may also have anglicised their names.

Ambiguous names
Names that, today, we would normally associate with boys were occasionally (mainly in the North of Scotland) given to girls and vice versa, for example, Nicholas. Christian, viewed as a boy’s name today, was quite a common girl’s name in Scotland, and used as an alternative to Christina.

Sometimes during indexing of the Old Parish Registers, it was unclear from the name whether the child was male or female, particularly if the entry recorded “child of” instead of “son of” or “daughter of”. Further confusion would arise if the name had been abbreviated and that abbreviated form could apply equally to a boy or a girl, e.g. Willm. might be William or Williamina. In such cases, a “U” for unstated was entered in the index to ensure that the wrong sex was not attributed. These “U” values are included in all Male, Female or Both Sex searches.

Many boys’ names were transformed into girls’ names by adding “ina”, e.g. Thomasina, Georgina, Hughina, Jamesina, Williamina. These names might be abbreviated to Ina in later life. Williamina might become Mina.

Interchangeable names
Some names are completely interchangeable e.g. Agnes and Nancy, Donald and Daniel. Jane could be recorded as Jean, Jessie or Janet.

Early spellings may vary from later ones , e.g. Jannet, Jhonet, Jonat, Jonnet or Jonet instead of Janet, Margrat or Margret for Margaret, Henrie for Henry, Andro or Androw for Andrew, Alisoun, Alesoune, Alisone for Alison.

Traditional naming patterns
Scots often named children by following a simple set of rules:

1st son named after father's father
2nd son named after mother's father
3rd son named after father
1st daughter named after mother's mother
2nd daughter named after father's mother
3rd daughter named after mother

Although this was not universally applied (some families adhered strictly, others “dabbled” and still others ignored it), it can still be helpful in determining the correct entry when confronting the relative lack of information in the OPR’s. It can also give rise to great confusion when eight children of the same family in a small parish name their offspring according to convention! The use of traditional naming patterns gradually declined during the 19th century.

The application of naming conventions and the general desire to ensure that a family forename perpetuated through the generations, sometimes led to duplication of forenames within a family. For example, where a family wished to adhere strictly to the traditional naming pattern, and both grandfathers bore the same forename, that name might be given to more than one child. If a child died young, parents might name a later child after the dead sibling. In unfortunate cases, the name may have been used more than once.

Sometimes there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the naming: a child might be named after the minister, the midwife, the doctor, an employer, an influential personage in the community or a close friend, who might appear as a witness to the birth. Witnesses are not always given in OPR entries, but where they are, sometimes (as in Dundee) you will find their relationship to child, if any, noted, e.g. “Charles Jobson, grandfather”, “Mrs Janet Speid, father’s mother”.

Middle names
The existence of a middle name can be extremely helpful to the family historian. Parents might use the mother or a grandmother’s maiden name as a child’s middle name. However, do not assume that this name will appear in all subsequent records pertaining to that child. Consider also the possibility that a person might use his/her middle name as their first name in later life and be recorded as such.

Forename variants may be captured using wildcards. See Wildcards for further information.

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