Hidden Names: Indecisive and Tricky to Downright Confusing Ancestors

I remember well my husband and I spending hours pouring over a book of baby names throughout my pregnancy trying to decide on boy/girl options for the impending arrival of our little bundle of joy. OK, not so much him as me.

We were sure of our choices for a boy – William Patrick. Less so for a girl. Alice was the early favourite, although we were not entirely convinced. That was until our daughter arrived and within minutes we did a sudden about-turn to Amelia Grace. This was way before Amelia featured in the annual top 10 lists of baby names produced, so we were not swayed (or should that be put off?) by popular opinion. Then it was down to the Registry Office to make her official, like generations of parents before.

My well-thumbed book of Babies Names

But it’s not always that straightforward. What happens if you change your mind after the official form filling? If you decide after all it wasn’t the right choice? Perhaps the parent doing the registering put down the wrong name, or an “unagreed” one.

In my recent family history I’ve a couple of examples, with unofficial solutions. My grandma registered my dad’s birth. He has a Christian and middle name. Seemingly the Christian name was my grandma’s choice – her dad’s name, Patrick. My grandad wasn’t best pleased when he found out after the deed was done. As a compromise my dad has always gone by his middle name. Something that causes endless confusion when dealing with officialdom, the only time when he’s ever referred to as Patrick. But at least we know about it so it’s not an issue – though it might be for future family historians, seeking him under his every-day name!

And there was a bit of pay-back for my grandma’s trickery. Her next son was born on St Patrick’s day – but she’d already used the name!

I also have a maternal aunt. Looking for her in the GRO indexes is problematical. My grandpa registered her under the wrong name, apparently the name of a former girlfriend. Imagine explaining that one away. Unsurprisingly she’s never used that name, although it is remarkably similar to the one she goes by .

Mind you my grandpa has a tendency to mess up birth registration. To be honest I’m surprised my nana let him do it again after the example of my aunt. But she did. The result is my mum’s birth is registered on the wrong day – something she didn’t discover till getting a copy of her certificate when leaving school, much to her embarrassment. Now, like the queen, she has two birthdays. She chooses, from year to year, which is the most convenient date to celebrate.

I suppose it’s sometimes all too easy to forget when researching your family tree that these are not one-dimensional, generational paper-trail figures. They were real people, with emotions and feelings and lives just as rich, rounded and complex as ours today. So although I shouldn’t have been, it was somewhat of a shock to find even earlier examples when I delved into my family tree and bought those all-important birth certificates. But these were examples where the families concerned actually did something about it through official channels.

Permissible but unusual, you could change to the name registered for a child providing it was done within 12 months. There is a column on the birth certificate indicating “name entered after registration” catering for this eventuality. Normal procedure was that the Minister performing the baptism provided a certificate confirming the child’s baptismal name; if unbaptised, the mother or father signed a certificate. This had to be taken to the registrar or superintendant registrar and a fee paid. So not a light undertaking given the financial and time implications, not to say knowledge in the first place that this was an option.

I’ve discovered two examples in my direct line ancestry. The first is for my 2x great grandmother Kezia(h) Clough. Born in Drighlington on 21 October 1850 she was the 6th, and youngest, daughter of William and Mary Clough (née Burnett). On 12 November 1850 Mary registered the baby’s birth, signing with her mark. Her daughter’s registered name was Emma. However, there is an entry in the name-change column. In this case it indicates the alteration to Kesia (another variation). No date as to when the amendment took place. The baptismal register at St Peter’s, Birstall, shows the child was baptised with the name Kezia on 29 December 1850. So the decision was made relatively quickly.

I’ve no idea why the change of heart. Mary did have a sister named Keziah who died in 1837. But that was over 13 years before the birth of Emma/Kezia, and Mary had two other daughters born after her sister’s death. So ample opportunity to name a daughter after her sister, without an after-registration moment of enlightenment. The reason will forever be a mystery.

Kezia Clough’s Birth Certificate

You might have observed that I’ve alluded to the fact there are variant spellings of Kezia on official documents. Sometimes the alternative Keziah is used. Something else to consider in that elusive ancestor hunt.

The other example is my great grandad Jack Hill. Coincidentally he is the son of Kezia and her husband Joseph Hill. Jack was their third son. Born on on 10 December 1872, Joseph registered him on 13 December, under the name Herbert. The amendment column shows a post-registration change of name to John Herbert. Again nothing to indicate when the change was made. Some months after birth, on 25 May 1873, he was baptised John Herbert at Birstall St Peter’s. So another bit of naming confusion thrown into the ancestral search mix – the diminutive: Jack being a diminutive of John.

Once more no clues as to why the change. Perhaps it was an afterthought nod towards Kezia’s brother John, who died in 1871. Or, the theory I’m leaning towards, is Herbert’s name was too close to the name of his older brother Albert (Bert & Bert), something hinted at in that May baptismal entry where “John Albert” is scored out and replaced by “John Herbert“.

Jack Hill’s St Peter’s Birstall Baptismal Entry

So lots of creative Christian name considerations when on the trail of ancestors:

  • Diminutives, some obvious such as Elizabeth/Lizzie/Betty and Joseph/Joe. Some less so such as John/Jack, Pauline/Polly, Sarah/Sally (yes I have those);
  • Spelling variations;
  • Christian names dropped, and possibly forgotten over time, in favour of middle names; and
  • Names being used for no obvious reason at all, other than to frustrate family history researchers. For example Cissie used instead of the registered name of Sabina (yes, that’s one of mine too).

Sources:

  • GRO birth certificates
  • Baptismal register, St Peter’s Birstall

GRO Picture Credit: 
Extract from GRO birth register entry for Kesia (Emma) Clough: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance.

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3 responses to “Hidden Names: Indecisive and Tricky to Downright Confusing Ancestors

  1. Really interesting post. So hard to understand how he could use the name of an old girlfriend. Wow, no wonder genealogy is so hard!

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