What's in a name?

    When you are researching records, think laterally about the name.  Here is what I mean:

    Maris - could be Morris, Moris, Meris, Marris, Merris, or transcription errors could make it Naris!
    Creativity is required when searching online - especially when it comes to surnames.

    A very large book of names of holocaust victims.

    Here are some reasons to consider:

    The country of origin: According to legends, China first initiated the custom of using surnames during the reign of Emperor Fu Xi (2852BC), but their use didn't begin in the European world until about the eleventh century, with some patronymic surnames in Scandinavia bestowed as late as the nineteenth century. Surnames, for the most part, evolved during the past eight hundred years to help distinguish one person from another as the world's population grew. The acquisition of surnames has been influenced by many factors, including social class, naming practices and patterns, and even unusual events. Look for patterns and customs for the country of origin of the name.

    In Russia for instance, it is quite common for the first of the father to be the middle name of their children, and their surname the same as their fathers surname.  This is not a problem except in many documents you will find the actual surname is dropped off and only the first name and fathers surname is used.  Women then change their last name but not their middle name, and were often known only by their first and middle name. Confusing!

    Immigration and Dictation - the further back you go in your research, the more you will find cases of ancestors who couldn't read and write.( I have several 'X' on marriage certificates).  Many didn't even know how their own names were spelled, only how to pronounce them.  This is particularly true of early convicts in Australia.  Therefore, when they gave their names to clerks, census enumerators, clergymen, or other officials, that person wrote the name the way that it sounded to him. Even if they did have the spelling memorised, the person recording the information may not have asked. 

    When I married my husband, he found the name registered at the NSW BDM was not the name he and his family had used! He was not who he thought he was. He had to spend a whole day having it changed and proving who he actually was.  This was because the person at Australian immigration had spelt it the 'English' way!  Being refuges from Ukraine they were not going to correct it at that point.
    Immigrants, upon arrival in a new country, often found that their name was difficult for others to spell or pronounce. Therefore, they often simplified the spelling or altered their names to relate them more closely to the language and pronunciations of their new country. Example: the German ALBRECHT becomes ALBRIGHT, or the Swedish JONSSON becomes JOHNSON, the Ukranian KERNOS became KIRNOS.

    Those from countries with alphabets other than Latin had to transliterate them, producing many variations on the same name. Example: the Ukranian surname ZHADKOWSKYI became ZADKOWSKI  

    Surname changes and modifications can sometimes be attributed to a desire to conceal nationality or religious orientation in fear of reprisal or discrimination. This motive constantly appears among the Jews, who often faced anti-Semitism. Example: the Jewish surname COHEN changed to COHN/KAHN or WOLFSHEIMER shortened to WOLF

    Letters within a surname were often confused due to verbal miscommunication or heavy accents. Example: depending upon the accents of both the person speaking the name and the person writing it down, KROEBER could become GROVER or CROWER 

    Many foreigners changed their names in some way to assimilate into their new country and culture. The most usual change of surname was to translate the meaning of their surname into the new language. Example: the Irish BREHONY became JUDGE 

    Immigration was sometimes prompted in one way or another by a desire to break with or escape the past. For some immigrants this included ridding themselves of anything, including their name, which reminded them of an unhappy life in the old country.  Example: Mexicans fleeing to America to escape the revolution

    People forced by governments to adopt surnames which were not a part of their culture or were not of their choosing would often shed themselves of such names at the first opportunity. Example: Armenians forced by the Turkish government to give up their traditional surnames and adopt new "Turkish" surnames would revert back to their original surnames, or some variation, upon emigration/escape from Turkey.

    Here are some tips for searching:

    Sound out the surname and then try to spell it phonetically. Ask friends and relatives to do the same, as different people may come up with different possibilities. Children are especially good at providing you with unbiased opinions since they tend to spell phonetically anyway. Use the Phonetic Substitutes Table at FamilySearch as a guide.  

    Silent Letters - Surnames that begin with a vowel may be found with a silent 'H' added to the front. The silent 'H' also can often be found hiding after the initial consonant.
    Example: AYRE, HEYR or CRISP, CHRISP
    Other silent letters such as 'E' and 'Y' may also come and go from the spelling of a particular surname.
    Example: MARK, MARKE
    Different Vowels -Search for the name spelled with different vowels, especially when the surname begins with a vowel. This happens most often when the substitute vowel will yield a similar pronunciation.
    Example: INGALLS, ENGELS
    Add or remove S - Even if your family usually spells your surname with an ending 'S,' you should always look under the singular version, and vice-versa. Surnames with and without an ending "S" often have different Soundex codes, so it is important to try both names or use a wildcard in place of the ending "S," where allowed, even when using Soundex search.
    Example: OWENS, OWEN
    Letter transpositions - especially common in transcribed records and compiled indexes, are another spelling error which may make it hard to find your ancestors. Look for transpositions that still create a recognizable surname.
    Example: CRISP, CRIPS
    Typing Errors - Typos are a fact of life in almost any transcription. Search for the name with double letters added or deleted.
    Example: FULLER, FULER
    Try the name with dropped letters.
    Example: KOTH, KOT

    And don't forget about adjacent letters on the keyboard.
    Example: JAPP, KAPP

    Add or Remove Suffixes or Superlatives -Try adding or removing prefixes, suffixes and superlatives to the base surname to come up with new surname possibilities. If wildcard search is allowed, then search for the root name followed by the wildcard character.

    Look for Commonly Misread Letters -Old handwriting is often a challenge to read. Use the Commonly Misread Letters Table at FamilySearch to find letters which were possibly substituted in the spelling of the name. 
    Irish names - Use a name converter when searching for Irish ancestors, as surnames changed over time with the changes in language.  Try this name search at Irish Roots Cafe for some assistance and usually a good long list of name derivations in Ireland.  You will have to be creative with Irish surnames.

    Did Your Ancestor Change His Name?

    This happened to me!  Read about it in one of earliest posts, I cant believe I'm not french!

    Think of ways your ancestor's name may have changed, and then look for his name under those spellings. If you suspect the name was anglicized, try using a dictionary to translate the surname back into the native language of your ancestor. 

    First Names

    When researching, remember that first names, or christian names remember they are often shortened.  Elizabeth becomes Liz, Lisa or Lizzie for instance.  Tip: ask friends if they can think of any nicknames.

    Try initials, shortened names, nicknames, swap the first and second names, and if all else fails, try a wildcard (*) search.

    Finally, remember that looking for records under these alternative surnames and spellings may help you to find records you have previously overlooked, and even lead you to new stories for your family tree.  Don't give up, keep trying.


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