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The Problem of Names - By Any Other Name


What name should you look for - what did people call your ancestors?

This seems like a silly question but it is a profound one. Our ancestors often used various names.

Did they use different given names (first names) during their lifetime?

It is important to know the various forms a name may have taken and the ways a given name may have been recorded. It may have been recorded in Latin in a church record. A person may have decided to use either the English or Gaelic version of their name at various times of their life. Many Irish used nickname versions of their given name. Then, of course, there is the possiblility that a person decided to use a middle name as their given name. If you are not aware of the possible variations, you may miss your ancestor as they were recorded in one source or another.

  • Language variations: English, Gaelic, Latin
    • Latin: Gulielmus = William; Jacobus = Jacob or James
    • Gaelic: Diarmaid, Darby or Dermot = Jeremiah or Jerome
    • See Martin's The Record Interpreter for English - Latin name equivalents.
  • Because Ireland was the destination for many immigrant groups over the ages, an Irish surname may be of Gaelic, Norman, Palatine, Huguenot, English or Scottish origin.
  • Nicknames: Kate = Catherine, Con = Cornelius, Lackey = Lawrence, Sarah = Cecilia, Bridget = Bedilia, Bedina, Bessy, Bess, Bessie, Biddy, Brenda, Breeda, Briddy, Birde, Brideen, Bridie, Cordelia, Dillei/Killy, Dina and Phidelia.
  • Male first names used interchangeabley:
    Alexander Alaster, Sandy
    Edward Edmond
    Florence Finian
    Gerald Garrett, Gerard, Garret
    Owen Eugene
    Hugh Hubert
    Moses Aidan
    Peter Pierce
    Ulysses Ulick
    Connor Cornelius
  • Female names used interchangeably:
    Bridget Bedilia, Delia, Bessy
    Gobinet Abigail, Deborah
    Johanna, Joanna Jane
    Julia Judith
    Julia Johanna
    Winifred Unity, Una, Uny
  • Irish equivalents for male English names:
    Bernard Bryan
    Daniel Dhonal
    Edmond Aimon, Eamon, Mon.
    Jeremiah Darby, Dermot, Diarmid, Diarmud
    John Shane
    James Shemus, Shamus
    Timothy Teigue, Thiag, Thigue, Theigue
    Michael Meehal, Meehall
    Patrick Paudrick, Phadrig
    Cornelius Nahor
    Philip Phelim
    William Laymeen, Leam
    Frances Phrinchas
    Denis Dinagha
    Dudley Dualtagh
  • Irish equivalents for female English names:
    Susan, Johanna Shovaun
    Bridget Brideen, Breeda
    Mary Maura, Maureen, Moira, Moya
    Maud Meav
    Mable Nabla
    Celia, Cecily, Cicely Shella, Sheelah
    Sophia Sawa
    Julia Sheela
  • Abbreviations applicable to both sexes:
    Abbreviations Male Female
    Joe Jospeh Jospehine, Johanna
    Phil Philip Philomena
    Fred Frederick Frederica
    Matty Matthew Matilda
    Memmie James Jemima
    Harry Henry Harriet
    Ally Aloysius Alice
  • Internet resource: Christian Names in Ireland by Jane Lyons
  • Commonly used naming patterns in families may be a clue:
    • First born son named after his father's father.
    • Second born son named after his mother's father.
    • Third born son named after his father.
    • Fourth born son maed after his father's oldest brother.
    • Fifth born son named after his father's 2nd oldest brother or his mother's oldest brother.
    • First born daughter named after her mother's mother.
    • Second born daughter named after her father's mother.
    • Third born daughter named after her mother.
    • Fourth born daughter namd after her mother's oldest sister.

Robert Matheson's Varieties and Synonymes of Surnaems and Christian Names in Ireland is a good source for finding name variations used around the end of the 19th century.

Did their surname or the spelling of it change?

There are many sources of variations in spelling of Irish names. Here are a few.

Keeping or dropping or incoporation of prefixes such as the O’, Mc, Mac, Fitz, etc.

Prefix Name With Prefix Incorporated
Fitz Harris FitzHarris Freeharry
Mac or Mc Ginness McGuiness McGuiness
D', De or DeLA Hunt De La Hunt Delahunt
Le Fevre Le Fevre Lefevre
Mac with Li    

Macklehattan Mackelmoyle


Return of the O' for Sullivan to O'Sullivan

Year Percentage using the prefex O'
1866 4
1890 13
1914 20
1944 69
1972 ~70


First letter substitutions, like:

A and E Allison Ellison
C and G Cannon Gannon
C and K Carr Kerr
C and Q Cuddihy Quiddihy
F and Ph Fair Phair
F and V Farrelly Varrelly
G and J Gervis Jervis
G and K Gilfoyle Kilfoyle
P and W Phelan Whelan
Q and T Quigg Twigg
Q and W Quinton Winton

Initial letter dropped: Ahearn = Hearn, Whammond = Hammond

Initial letter doubled: French = Ffrench, Folliott = Ffolliott


Changes in the second letter:

A change to e Bagley Begley
A changed to o Laughlin Loughlin
E changed to i Nesbitt Nisbett
E changed to o Dealhunty Dolohunty
O changed to u Molloy Mulloy
U changed to i Mulligan Milligan
A droped Eagan Egan
I dropped Aiken Aken


Second and third letters changed:

A changed to ea Daly Dealy
Ai changed to ea Kain Kean
Au changed to a Maunsell Mansell
Ei changed to ea Reid Read
Eo changed to oug Keogh Kough
I changed to ui Gilmartin Guilmartin
O changed to oo Gogarty Googarty
O changed to ou Rorke Rourke
U changed to ou Burke Bourke
E and I transposed Reilly, Neill Rielly, Niell


Intermediate letter changes:

C befor k dropped Skackleton Shakleton
P after m dropped Thompson Thomson
Consonats repeated Methews Mettews
FF substituted for v Rafferty Raverty
S and z substituted Fraser Frazer
Sylables interchanable: oh, ohg, ough Doherty, Dogheny Dougherty, Dougheny
Syllables ommitted Donnellan, Farrelly Dolan, Farley
Syllables contracted Corcoran, Fennelly Cochrane, Finaly


Interchangeable terminals:

ie for y Beattie Beatty
ies for is Davies Davis
ce for se Boyce Boyse
x for cks Rennix Rennicks
y for ey Mahony Manoney


Droped terminal consonants or vowels:

d Boland Bonal
s Burgess Burges
t lamont Lamon
gh McWahaugh McWha
e Sloane Sloan


Contractions or abbreviations:

Free Freeman
Neazor Bovenizor
Pender Penrgast
Pendy Pendeville
Roy McElroy and Royston
Turk Turkington


Some resources for learning more about Irish names and name variations:

Realize variations affect Soundex code.
Surname distribution can be helpful (look up in Griffith’s Householders Index).
A good source for surname variations is Varieties and Synonymes of Surnames and Christian Names in Ireland.
What is considered to be the foremost authority on Irish surnames is Edward MacLysaght's The Surnames of Ireland.
John Grenham's article Origin of Irish Surnames may be of interest.


Finding Maiden Names – Places to Look

  • Marriage records
  • Social Security application
  • Death record
  • Children's death records
  • Obits: person, children, spouse, siblings
  • Church records
  • Divorce records
  • Widow’s war pension
  • Local histories
  • Missing Friends column in the Boston Pilot 1831-1921.
  • Insurance records
  • Genealogy of husband’s line