The Scottish naming pattern

Mention of the Scottish naming pattern in a reply to a comment made me think it would be a good blog post. So here it is.

In Scotland, it was traditional to name children after particular relatives, in a set pattern:
First son named for father’s father
First daughter named for mother’s mother
Second son named for mother’s father
Second daughter named for father’s mother
Third son named for father
Third daughter named for mother

Thereafter, children were named after aunts, uncles and other assorted relatives. Sometimes they’d be named for someone who wasn’t a relative but was important to the family, such as an employer, a doctor, the minister of the kirk, etc.

If the person you were named after had the same surname as you, you didn’t get a middle name. If they had a different surname, you got their surname as your middle name.

This can be helpful in working out where a family belongs on the tree, but it wasn’t slavishly followed by everyone. It started going out of fashion towards the end of the 19th century, and if my family tree is anything to go by was well and truly out of fashion after WW1.

There are always anomalies, though. Now and again my Fraser ancestors named girls after male relatives, hence Williamina and Alexandrina. Sometimes they completely bucked the pattern and gave their children an unexpected name: I’ve yet to discover why Henrietta Susan Hutchison born in 1868, daughter of an Aberdeenshire crofter and tailor, was given a name that was so unusual for the time and place. And the two Sangster sisters who married and had children in the early 1800s must have been fans of their local doctor – hence Nathaniel Laurence Morgan and Nathaniel McWilliam being born within five years of each other.

You can have fun with this working out what you could have been called, or could have called your own children. I would have been Clara Green Strachan, so I’m not too unhappy my parents didn’t bother with it.

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10 responses to “The Scottish naming pattern

  1. Thanks Judy; I didn’t know about the middle naming convention. I have found the “rules” quite strictly adhered to in my own family and it’s been both a curse (trying to find the “right” David Ramsay!) and a clue (realising that I had must have had an extra great-uncle who’d died young, on the basis that the names of the known children were “wrong”).

  2. Yes, it’s both a curse and a blessing! The middle name rule may not have been used by everyone, but it was certainly followed by my own family, right down to my father’s generation.

  3. On my mother’s side, my grandfather and all the great-grandfathers as far as I have gone back were James Brown, none had a middle name. Now I know why.
    On my father’s side, it went Robert Smith, William Smith, Robert Smith, William Smith. I will need to look closer at the position they were in the family.
    I didn’t know those exact rules and that makes things interesting – and maybe easier for me.
    Thanks.

  4. Hope it helps with your research, Lynnie, though researching James Brown and Robert Smith can’t be easy. It would really help us genealogists if our ancestors could have been more creative when naming their offspring!

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  8. Very interesting and informative post,Judy ! I came through Su’s post and I so much enjoyed it !
    Doda

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