- spelling variations
- name changes
- other words
If you think about it, the rules that I mentioned in my last post on this subject will clarify and regularize most of the these issues also. I will repeat the rules for convenience here:
- All names should be entered as they are spoken in whatever language they were originally given.
- All names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth with variations in notes or alternative name sections.
- Use normal (i.e. upper and lower case) transcriptions.
- Use all specific characters (now generally available in all computer operating systems) used in the original languages.
- Do not use Mr., Mrs. or other such designations, titles, etc. unless they were part of the name at the time of birth.
- Do not use abbreviations unless they were actually part of the name at birth.
Let's look at each of the above categories one-by-one:
In genealogy there are two main sources when we see names abbreviated. One of those consists of abbreviations used by the people entering names in original records. If you have done any research in original documents such as deeds, parish registers and such, you will very soon learn that early manuscripts contain a lot of "standard" abbreviations. Here is a link to a list of common English language genealogy abbreviations from RootsWeb.ancestry.com. It was also very common to abbreviate names. Here is another link to a GenealogyInTime Magazine list of common English name abbreviations.
Now, should we record the name as it is found in the original record or take artistic license and expand the abbreviation into its equivalent? You will note that my rule says that names should be recorded as they were given at the time of birth. What if the birth record has the name as an abbreviation? I think the rule still stands. You record what the original document says. For example, if the child's name was William and it was recorded as Wm. then your records should reflect what was in the record. Your notes and alternative names etc. can reflect the fact that Wm is a common abbreviation for William, but unless you find another record showing the name spelled out, you should not go beyond the original. Why is this? Suppose you record the name as William and someone else records the name as Wm? Are they automatically to be assumed to be the same person? This type of issue lies at the heart of many of the duplicates in online family trees and other places. Record the name as it is found in the original documents. Expand abbreviations in your notes but record the abbreviation until you find a source showing the full name.
The other source of abbreviations came from the limitations of handwritten genealogy forms and other forms. How many times have you tried to fill out a form to find out that the originator of the form did not leave enough room for you to fill in the entire name? Hence, the origin of many abbreviations. I will come back to this issue when I discuss place names.
The use of initials could be considered a sub-set of abbreviations except for one rather unique practice, that is giving children an initial for a name. I have an uncle whose name is Rollin C Tanner. The "C"doesn't stand for anything. His middle name is "C." This practice became fairly common during the major wars when soldiers in the United States were "required" to have a middle name. In other words, the Army would not accept the form with the middle initial left blank. In some cases, the Army would require the soldier to put "NMI" in the empty field or "No Middle Initial." Now, I have actually seen genealogists who have recorded the name of their ancestor with the middle name of NMI.
On the other hand, giving only initials for the names of an ancestor usually indicates a failure to do enough research. It is an easy, lazy practice. Unless you confirm that the baby was given the name with an initial at birth, I would suggest that all the single letter initials in your database are an open invitation to do some more research.
By now, you can probably predict my answer to the question of how to record nicknames. If the name was given at birth, it is not a nickname. If the child's name was Margaret and she was always called Maggie, Meg, Peg, Peggy or whatever, then record the name she was given at birth as the name and show Maggie as a nickname or variation with an exclamation in a note. If you never find a reference to her "real" name but only find her nickname recorded, then your records should reflect the name as it appears in the original source record, not your interpretation of the name.
This is a sore spot with me. The mark of an inexperienced and/or dogmatic genealogist is one who insists that their ancestors' names were spelled one way or another. It is not unusual to find ancestor's names spelled various different ways. Remember that the people who were recording the names often did not hear the name correctly or simply spelled the name the way they felt was right. Your ancestor may not even have known the "correct" way to spell his or her name. Here, more than any place else, the variations in spelling should be preserved in your database. Take the time to show all the variations as they appear in original records and explain where the variations come from. In some cases, family members will simply have to come to a consensus as to which spelling of the name to use. This is another major contributor to duplication in family trees. You might want to start with findmypast.com Name variations: tips & tricks.
I have very often had people become upset because their own name or the name of an ancestor was not capitalized properly. This issue is very closely related to spelling variations. In some cases, you simply must record all the variations and choose the one you like as the primary way to record information.
As you go back in time, you will undoubtedly run into scripts that are hard to read, an s that looks like an f and such. Even in Western European countries, the alphabets and characters used to record names and everything else vary from country to country. For example, here is the Danish alphabet from Wikepedia:
- A, a: /æːˀ/
- B, b: /b̥eːˀ/
- C, c: /sʰeːˀ/
- D, d: /d̥eːˀ/
- E, e: /eːˀ/
- F, f: /ef/
- G, g: /ɡ̊eːˀ/
- H, h: /hɔːˀ/
- I, i: /iˀ/
- J, j: /jʌð/
- K, k: /kʰɔːˀ/
- L, l: /el/
- M, m: /em/
- N, n: /en/
- O, o: /oːˀ/
- P, p: /pʰeːˀ/
- Q, q: /kʰuːˀ/
- R, r: /æːɐ/
- S, s: /esʰ/
- T, t: /tˢeːˀ/
- U, u: /uːˀ/
- V, v: /ʋeːˀ/
- W, w: /dʌb̥əlʋeːˀ/
- X, x: /eɡ̊sʰ/
- Y, y: /yːˀ/
- Z, z: /sʰeð/
- Æ, æ: /ɛːæˀ/
- Ø, ø: /øːˀ/
- Å, å: /ɔːˀ/
Notice the three letters at the end that are not part of our common English alphabet. In some cases words written with those letters are different than a word appearing with the alternate. Presently, all computer operating systems have the ability to reproduce the characters in all the different languages. I would suggest that genealogists start making this a priority and record the names of their Danish, Norwegian, German etc. ancestors as they were given at birth.
Names change. This is a fact of life. There are hundreds of reasons why people change their names, many of them trivial. Genealogists begin to find this issue almost immediately upon trying to research ancestors born in another country. Very often, the ancestor would adopt a new name, officially or very often, unofficially, when they moved to a country with a different language. Just remember the rule about recording the name at the time of birth and then recording name variations in notes or alternative names. I could write a book on this subject. but the rule usually sorts out the issue.
Titles should be recorded as titles. Almost all genealogy database programs today provide for a way that titles can be recorded separately from the names as given at birth. There is one issue, that is children who were actually given the name of captain, major, doctor or whatever at birth. If the ancestor's name is the same as a common title, then there should always be an explanation.
I am at the end of my list. What I find is genealogists who feel compelled to record occupation or other information in the name fields of their databases. If the word or words are not part of the name as given at birth, then don't record it as a name. Occupations should be recorded as occupations etc.
The inventiveness of genealogists can never be underestimated. I am sure that I will continue to find an amazing number of different words and spellings in name fields in the future. Maybe this will change? Never. Not as long as I make my own typographical errors.