News Article: Forename variants improved

We have recently been undertaking work to improve the success of searches that use the 'Name Variants' option to look for common forenames like James and Elizabeth. This search option relies on a database of variant names, which staff at National Records of Scotland compile and maintain, with input from our users. The same database is used for forename and surname variants, since many names can be used as both a forename and a surname.

Name variants and abbreviated names

In particular, we have been updating over 470,000 database entries for the forenames that occur most often in our indexed historic records, including parish registers and census returns. Approximately one hundred forename entries now include known variant forms. This should be especially helpful for returning results that include abbreviated versions of common names, such as Thos for Thomas or Agn for Agnes, since these types of abbreviations would not necessarily appear in the results for searches run using other options like ‘Fuzzy Matching’ or ‘Phonetic Matching’.

To take some specific examples of names that will be easier to find as a result of this data improvement work, the Church of Scotland registers of deaths and burials contain over 28,500 instances of the name Alexander being rendered as 'Alexr', and over 18,400 instances of William in the abbreviated form 'Wm'. There are over 8,600 entries for Robert given as 'Robt' and another 3,047 as 'Rot'. Margaret has been rendered as 'Margt' in the OPR deaths and burials no fewer than 39,000 times and as 'Mgt' a further 118 times, while the former version also appears in the census records from 1841 to 1911 over 26,000 times.

Search tips and more information about names

One thing to bear in mind about searching for forenames is that the person who did the indexing might have been unsure whether a person in a record was male or female, especially if the name was abbreviated. If your search results aren’t what you were looking for, try selecting the 'Both' button under 'Gender' and searching again.’Further information about the different search options available on the site can be found in our guides to forenames and surnames. We are also planning a larger exercise to edit and improve the surname variants database.

Census entry from Greenock, 1841, with the forename variant 'Margt'

Census entry from Greenock, 1841, with the forename variant 'Margt'
Crown copyright, National Records of Scotland, 1841 Census, 564/1/5

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