Some people eat, sleep and chew gum, I do genealogy and write...

Monday, April 29, 2013

The Rule of Idem Sonans

Idem sonans (Latin: sounding the same) is a legal rule that provides that absolute accuracy in the spelling of names is not required to enforce a legal document. People cannot avoid contracts merely because their name is spelled incorrectly. Quoting from a Michigan State Bar Association Uniform Jury Instructions:
Differently spelled names are presumed to identify the same person if they sound alike, or if their sounds cannot be distinguished easily, or if common usage by corruption or abbreviation has made their pronunciation identical. 
If this is good enough for law, why isn't it good enough for some genealogical researchers? I am still getting people who are hung up in their research because the "Names aren't spelled the same." It is long past the time to move on from this position and realize that names can be spelled different ways.


  1. As I type this, I'm looking at two documents I have framed on my office wall. One is the 1870 New Jersey bar admission of my g-g-g-grandfather as "Thomas Applegate". The other is the 1887 Nebraska commission as a district court judge of the same g-g-g-grandfather, this time as "Thomas Appelget".

  2. Oh, yes. Very important. I'm currently working on a mystery involving a woman listed as "Mary Finley" in a mid-19th century record, so I'm looking for every possible variation including Finlay, Findlay, Findley, etc.

  3. And strangely enough the randomly generated words for posting that last comment were "Finlui concealed." That's not a variation I'd looked for!

  4. I have a Dutch notarial document that is signed by four brothers. The surname:

    van Erk
    van Erke
    van Herk
    van Herck

    I have never been hung up on spelling, as my maiden name was Haskin or Haskins (in earlier days).

  5. Campbell, Cole and Cunningham can be Kempel, Kohl and Konnigum if written by a Lutheran pastor in central NY. And who is to say what the "original" was without a ~lot~ of background work!