Family Names: What treasures are hiding in your family tree?
One of the greatest gifts you can give your child is an ancestral name, one that forms a strong link to his or her past, and more and more parents today are searching and researching their family trees to find names that have personal significance as well as style. And with genealogical websites like ancestry.com, it’s now possible to dig deeper into the roots of the tree to find forgotten nuggets, maybe an unusual middle name of a great-grandmother, or an interesting maiden name that could work as a first.
Using the name of a living or fondly remembered relative has the satisfying benefit of conveying the essence of that loved one, in the hope of bestowing their admirable qualities on your child. But even with a more distant forebear whom you might not have known, family stories of that person’s achievements can come alive again through the name, providing your child with an immediate and precious legacy.
I myself have not been able to trace my family history back more than a few generations, and for the most part the names reflect the Jewish immigrant experience: the expected Sarahs, Samuels (many), Sols and Sauls, Rachels, and Rebeccas, but there were a couple of more unusual, untranslated from the Yiddish, exceptions:
NAHOMA (called Nelly)
From my husband’s more mixed background (English/Guernsey French), we’ve found:
LOL (male, probably a nickname for LIONEL — in the days before laugh out loud)
I’ve used my father’s name Sam as the inspiration for daughter Chloe’s middle name Samantha, and Pam has incorporated one male ancestor of hers (a grandfather’s middle– Owen) and one of her husband’s (Leopold, which became the middle name of son Joe).
On the Name Talk forums you have already posted some wonderful family names of your own. (unicorngal put together a fascinating compendium a few months ago at https://nameberry.com/nametalk/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=2690&hilit=ancestor), including such gems as :
But I’m sure that’s just the tip of the iceberg (to further mix my metaphors), which led me to think of this as a perfect crowd-sourced blog topic.
So let’s hear your own favorites from your family tree. Have you incorporated them into your child’s name? Do you plan to in the future? Does you family have any particular naming traditions?
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on March 12th, 2010 at 3:20 am
This is my favorite topic! I have some crazy/amazing ones:
Orange Twiss (first and last)
Comfort Starr (first and last)
Experience Bliss (first and last)
Increase Wetmore (first and last)
Leocadia nn Lottie
Moses (about 150 years before Gwyneth used it!)
on March 12th, 2010 at 3:23 am
I left off the really ancient ones like Hermingarde and Bartherus and Dagobert.
Thanks, I went through all 19 pages of my tree to find the interesting ones! There are lot of Johns and Elizabeths and Marys mixed in.
on March 12th, 2010 at 3:32 am
My mother often commented that she regretted my name, because neither my first or middle was a family name, whereas my two brothers had family names for BOTH first and middle.
Both of my kids have FNs in the middle spot. DS is Ronan Edgar lastname. Edgar is also DH’s middle name, and it was originally a grandmother’s maiden name. DD is Beatrix Carol lastname. Carol after my mom. She was thrilled to pieces when I told her after Bea was born. So totally worth it. And the kids both have pride in having a name like Daddy/Mimi.
on March 12th, 2010 at 4:15 am
My grandmas are Della Marcine and Avis Amelia. I really would love to use Avis or Della someday. My mom’s grandma was Evamae (all together) which I think is lovely as well. I don’t have to go far back to find interesting possibilites for girls. Not as lucky with boys though, Leonard and Harold aren’t really my style.
on March 12th, 2010 at 4:59 am
Just a quick correction to the post:
Kalman is definitely Hungarian, NOT Yiddish for sure:
“Probably of Turkic origin, meaning “remainder”. This was the name of a 12th-century king of Hungary. It was also borne in the 13th-century by the first king of Galicia-Volhynia, who was also a member of the Hungarian Árpád royal family. This name has been frequently confused with Koloman.”
The Hungarian speling with accents is “KÁLMÁN”.
on March 12th, 2010 at 6:35 am
There are some good ones and some not so good ones in my family tree:
Juanita (we have no latin roots at all)
Minnie (sister to Major)
I also have uncles named Wayne and Bruce. I don’t think we’ll be recycling those quite yet.
on March 12th, 2010 at 8:29 am
My great grandmother’s full name (as on her baptismal certificate) was Erma Julia Christina Amalia Fredericka Minna Sievers. She named her children Leona Margaret Mathilda, Isabelle, Eleanor Anna Louise (my grandmother) and Milton Donald Bernard. Sadly, my husband has vetoed giving our future children as many names. He had a great-great grandma named Columbia, known as Lummie. He also has an aunt named Anstice.
Other names from my tree:
Solomon or Salomon
Theodore (on both sides)
Andreas (married to Salome)
on March 12th, 2010 at 8:42 am
Apologies, but I got curious and pulled out my family tree stuff and found more intriguing names.
From my husband’s family (mix of Slovak, German, English, Scots, Alsatian, etc)
Emilie, Edmunda, Pearl, Dorothea, Sylvia Eugenia
Mathias, Jan, Edwin
and more from my side (German, Norwegian, and British mutt)
Christi, Juliana, Alvina, Marthe, Kari, Barbroe, Ragnild, Marithe, Agothe, Gjertine
Ferdinand, Nils, Ole (of course), Peder, Erich, Anders, Isach, Ivers
on March 12th, 2010 at 10:03 am
What a nice blog! I love family names, and I’m always thinking about which ones to pair up with names I love! I am going to use Alan, my uncle, for Henry’s mn, and if I have another boy, I am going to use my great-great-grandfather’s name, Leander. I am going to call him Leo, one of my favorite names.
On the girls’ side:
Pearl, Louise, Winnie Belle (Winifred), Jean(ne), Aurelia, Asenath, Beatrice (mn), Jane (mn), and Matilda…
We also have some strange ones, like Speedy (!!), Zepheniah, Evfield, Levinia, and Peleg. =)
on March 12th, 2010 at 11:29 am
All of our 9 children were given at least one family name. Those names are mostly of close family members who were living at the time the child was named, with one exception: Duncan. We named our last son James Duncan, liking the name Duncan because it was a surname in my father’s family from his maternal grandmother Blanche Duncan.
Dad sometimes spoke of the Duncan family, fondly remembering his Aunt Jennie and Aunt Kit (Scottish pronunciation of Kate, her real name). I knew the the family was from Canada, but nothing else about them until several years ago when I was working on our family genealogy. The father John Fisher Duncan emigrated from Aberdeen, Scotland to Quebec, Canada, at about age 9. He and his wife Matilda Elvira Metcalf (born in Canada) had eight children, mostly girls, between 1854 and 1876:
Frank J. (?)
Maud Mary Melissa
I like the sibling names in this family, and had I known them all earlier might have used one or two for my children. I’ve learned that neither Duncan son had children, so it seems doubly meaningful that the name is now carried as the middle name of one of my sons.
My great-grandmother Blanche gave her two daughters three names from her family:
Ethel Maud (1895) – my grandmother
Mabel Edith (1905)
One aspect of genealogy that fascinates me is figuring out how this ancestor or that may have been given his/her name. It seems that Blanche wanted her children’s names to match. Her only son, born 2 years after Ethel, was named Edward: Ethel and Edward. When a second daughter came along 8 years later, she again used family names, matched the ‘el’ endings of the first names and gave them reverse initials – EM and ME. Perhaps I inherited my fascination with names from Blanche!
on March 12th, 2010 at 11:42 am
Lola Marie- my middle name was for her and I always thought she sounded like such a sassy lady
lots of interesting boy names:
on March 12th, 2010 at 12:34 pm
I love looking at the family tree to get some name inspirations! Some of my favorites:
on March 12th, 2010 at 12:39 pm
I am not into honoring through names for my own kids, but would consider doing so for my grandpa (Glen Julian) or if I happened to love a name off the family tree (like my grandmother’s Eleanor Marion, even though she only ever went by Peg). Some other names off of my tree:
Most of the names are not unusual: Anna, William, George, Nathaniel, Lucy, Julia, etc.
on March 12th, 2010 at 2:15 pm
My grandmother’s name was Anastasia, which she hated, but I now think it is just beautiful. Other girls’ names on my side of the family (Russian and French):
Every girl on my side of the family has given their daughter the first name or middle name of Catherine, spelled in different ways–which I think is a great naming tradition–one that I hope my daughter, Emily Catherine, passes on!
on March 12th, 2010 at 2:15 pm
I don’t think I have any weird ones.
Catherine (Went by Katherine though)
Henry (Yes Henry)
Glendean Travis (FN and MN)
(Catherine, Gussie, Geraldine and Mattie Del were all sisters)
Lowell Venice (FN and MN. Also my father’s name)
(Not to many)
on March 12th, 2010 at 2:26 pm
Thanks for the research on Kalman. I actually did know that it wasn’t a Yiddish name, and it was a mistake to lump it in with the others.
on March 12th, 2010 at 4:56 pm
Alianore Le Strange (first and last)
Honor Grenville (first and last)
Temple (nn Tempie)
Warham Horsmanden (first and last)
on March 12th, 2010 at 5:50 pm
on March 12th, 2010 at 6:04 pm
I have Irish ancestry so lots of my ancestors are unusually named!
George Sutton – this sounds so manly to me!
Adelina – MY ABSOLUTE FAVE!
Great Blog – I went and did some research because of this 🙂
on March 12th, 2010 at 6:59 pm
I don’t know many family names off the top of my head — my grandmother has worked long and hard at researching our genealogy though, and I’m very thankful for that!
One that I always thought was interesting was a sister to my great grandmother: Goldie– from an entirely Lutheran Swedish family!
I know most of my ancestors had very long and tongue-twisting names — usually at least 3 first names and 2 last. The most peculiar thing to me is the fact that most of them went by one of their middle names, or by an entirely different name altogether! I know that made tracking them down a little harder! (Apparently you didn’t need to give your full “official” name on early censuses and some of my ancestors switched back and forth).
Of my more immediate family, my French/German/Norwegian grandmother and her siblings had very interesting names:
LaVon (F) (my grandmother, who went by her middle name, Joan)
On my other (Swedish) side, it’s a bit more mundane.
Leonard (goes by Lenny)
Now I want to contact my grandmother and look through some of her lists! 🙂
on March 12th, 2010 at 7:42 pm
My great grandmother was Roxanna Iris (went by Iris). Her family was Swiss. Her brothers and sisters were
Alberto Deaz (they weren’t twins)
Elberto Vernon (again, not twins)
Fannie Fern (went by Fern)
Octavia Venus (Tavie) I like this one!
Last two were a little underwhelming I guess! Their father and mother were Joseph and Cordelia.
on March 12th, 2010 at 7:55 pm
I love seeing the variety of names here! Going as far back as I can on each side (1600-1800s) here are some of the more interesting family names,
Gersh/Hershel (nn Harry)
Lewis & Louis
Onesiphorous (nn Oney)
Khaya (nn Ida)
Levsha (nn Lila)
Candilla nn Della
Adaline nn Addie
Christianna (nn Ann)
We don’t have any particular naming traditions in our family but I would like to pass on at least one family name to each of my future children.
on March 12th, 2010 at 10:14 pm
I started a topic on this a while back, so for my family names it might be easier to just visit this link 😉 http://nameberry.com/nametalk/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=7067&hilit=SOPHRONIA
Great blog! I love family names 🙂
Charlotte Vera Said
on March 13th, 2010 at 1:26 pm
Sadly, I don’t have a copy of any of my family trees here — I’ll have to see if I can acquire some from my father. I do know that Constantine is a family name on my dad’s side, as is Egon, Thorston, and Olga.
on March 13th, 2010 at 2:56 pm
Everybody has such great family trees! Sadly my family has reused a few names to the point where we have a pretty small list of interesting options.
My sister and I were each given one of our grandmothers maiden names as MNs (mine is also my mothers). Had DS been a girl, he would have ended up with Lapham as a MN as well, but instead he inherited my father’s, Gordon.
Maxine (LOVE this)
Mary Day (both FN)
on March 13th, 2010 at 5:32 pm
i had a third great uncle named Diva…
on March 14th, 2010 at 5:22 am
Our family tree is full of Sarahs, Alices, Edwards and Johns, but I’ve found a few gems I really like.
They include Delphine, Lulu, Isabella, Emely and Clara for girls, Charlie, Irving, Hugh and Yardley for boys (:
on March 14th, 2010 at 3:20 pm
I love family names, and plan to use a few for my kids (one on the way).
I’ve got a lot of the normal:
Katharine (my first, named after my grandmother)
My favorites of the not-as-normal:
Elmina (absolutely my #1)
Margery (spelled like that, yes)
I’m the third Katharine in a row… I would use it as a middle, but I don’t think I’ll continue the line if I have a daughter.
Rachel Allison Said
on March 14th, 2010 at 5:03 pm
Very fascinating post, and Lol as a nickname is just too funny!!!
on March 15th, 2010 at 12:04 am
I have a few strange ones in my family tree:
Chloe Dell (Chloe pronounced like KLO–one syllable)
Cathryn Lynn nn Cathy
Naomi (pronounced Naoma)
Nanny (yes, her name)
Aytcha (pronounced like the letter H)
Oll Robert nn PeeWee
on March 22nd, 2010 at 8:57 pm
I love looking at old names in my family tree. I know that my name Sarah Joann is taken from a few of my ancestors. Sarah is used by many women through out my genealogy and Joann was given to me because on my father’s side the name Joanne is spelled Joan and on my mother’s side it is Johanne so they decided to call me Joann. My sister Erin Marie was given Marie because the name Mary is passed on to the eldest female in every family. My sister Bridget Alexandra got Bridget from ancestors as well.
My family tree is teeming with strange and unusual names compiled from Irish, French, Polish and a hodge podge of other countries.
My favorite name has to be my Grandfather’s name Ephraim Aloysius and I would love to use the name Ephraim for some future child.
Here are a few names from my recent family tree:
Some last names in the tree:
There are many other stranger ones, but I only have the very recent one available to me.
on March 25th, 2010 at 10:23 pm
Love family names!
Lucyra Betsy Allyn (my favorite!),
Adeline Ulricka Kvamme (my great gramma).
I’d love to use some family names of old, and my first baby is on the way, so I’ll have to decide soon!
on June 11th, 2010 at 6:42 pm
Doesn’t really help me. My grandparents going back many years are Hanna, Emma, Elizabeth, Ann, Mary, Ruth, Margaret, Catherine.
on June 11th, 2010 at 6:42 pm
I wanted to add, even going back to the 1600’s..they are names like Thomas and Mary.
on September 28th, 2010 at 4:23 pm
I just came across this post. There are some interesting names in my family tree that I just found out about as I’ve been studying my ancestry.
I love Elinor and have started to like Josephine. Ophelia is a wonderful name, but I wouldn’t use it as a first name. I can’t warm up to Winifred, or Florence, though.
I love Ambrose, Miles, and Noel, but Emil – not so much. Interestingly my ancestor Noel was not born at Christmas time, and neither was his son, also Noel.
on March 27th, 2011 at 10:37 am
The only ones I can think of are Beatrice, Constantine, Lillian, and Marion. I wish my parents had named me and my brother Beatrice and Constantine. Nicknames Bebe and Tino sound great together, as well as the longer forms. (I think my bro is more of a Gus, though.) Lillian is lovely. I can’t use Marion because she was not such a good person, according to my mother.
on October 3rd, 2011 at 10:12 pm
I love this topic! Family history is so entwined with names and I can’t wait to have kids to name them! Here are some gems from my family tree. Just FYI, I am English, Swedish, Polish and Dutch:
Minnie- How adorable!
Ethel- I love this one
Honoria- Old fashioned and beautiful
Olive (before it was hip)
Charlotta (more interesting with an A at the end)
Benigna (Polish relative)
Ada (my absolute favorite and top runner for a girl if I’m lucky enough to have one)
Jacoba (one of my Dutch ancestors)
Cajsa (Dutch again– all unique names)
on March 2nd, 2012 at 12:02 am
I have some interesting names in my family tree too! Among them are
These names are priceless! I love learning about my ancestors.
on November 21st, 2013 at 4:12 pm
I have a few odd names in my family and I believe some have the Polish, French, or German spelling
Arthinnie(sister to Arthur)
But there are other Elizabeths, Felixes, Roberts, and Anns
on November 4th, 2015 at 11:31 pm
I just love reading these!
Most of my ancestors have several versions of their names so it’s difficult to keep track: An eastern European version / Yiddish version . Hebrew version / American version after they immigrated / for some a Cuban version if they went there. For example, my maternal great-grandmother was born Sonia in Russia, called Sosia in Yiddish, and Sarah in Hebrew, and the same when she moved to Cuba. Her husband was Leon in Russian (which worked in Cuba, too), Ariel in Hebrew, and Arieh in Yiddish. Also: Meir, Soybil/(Sabina?), Deborah (Devoira in Yiddish and Devorah in Hebrew), Wolf, and Hena Leah (Hendel and Hanna).
Ben Zion (renamed after he survived an illness. I don’t know his original name.)
Alter- Means “old”. Named this as wishful thinking because he was a sickly child. These last three died in the Holocaust. Alter stayed behind with his aging parents while my grandfather and great-Aunt escaped to Cuba. I’ve always wanted to name a child after him for this reason.
Esther went to Cuba and had her children there: Manya, Hilda, and Griselle.
Rafael (Refuel in Yiddish) – my grandfather. In Cuba had my mom Mayra (named after Meir) and Silvia (named after Soybil/(Sabina?).
Dad’s side from Ukraine and Romania. Everyone has 2-3 names but I don’t know them all:
-Philip (Pesach) and Sara from Russia (area is now Ukraine). These were the names they reported at Ellis Island.
-Esther and Louis (I think this had been Americanized already) and their 7 children:
Ruth (my grandma)
James (Yonkel in Yiddish- We called him Uncle Yunkie)
Rosaline (Rifkah in Hebrew, Rivka Yiddish – We called her Rivvie)
Everyone in our family is named after a relative who has already passed away. It’s taboo for us to name a child after someone who is still alive. We basically just borrow the first letter and use the Hebrew named to really honor them. For example, I am Ashley named for Arieh, so my Hebrew name is Arielle. My sister is Sharon named for Sara. My brother is Philip named for Philip and both have the Hebrew name Pesach.
My significant other’s family are English, Irish, and Scots-Irish:
Donald Junior (“Donjer”)
Edward, Jr. (“Red-Ed”)
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