Monday, 2 July 2018

If the name fits

There are many different ways in which our given names are decided. Some prospective parents spend months poring over books and magazine articles devoted to anthroponomy. Others wait for inspiration to strike after the birth: "As soon as I held her for the first time, I just knew she was a Marie".

The decision-making method of most interest to family historians is the practice of following a traditional naming pattern: "This is my fourth son, so he is named for my eldest brother". If you are researching a family who adopt this method and an expected name is "missing" from your search results, then you have a good idea of whom you are looking for.

The best known of these patterns are found in thousands of families within a particular culture now spread across the globe. Sometimes you may detect a pattern with limited applicability that proves equally useful in guiding your research.

Arthur Chandler, gamekeeper of Beckenham in Kent, and his wife Jane Taylor had a large family (at least by modern standards). Some online trees listed as many as 12 children for the couple. I was able to account for five of them in the civil registrations of birth and they were confirmed by the details of the 1851 Census. Pre-1837 baptismal records added four more documented children.


As I contemplated the list of known children and those yet to be found, a pattern in the names suddenly became glaringly apparent. Arthur and Jane had named their children Arthur, Asenath, Alfred, Andrew, Amelia, Antoinette, Amy, Angelina and Alice.

Might this explain my inability to find evidence for their purported siblings Joseph, Caroline and Bob?


It was a straight-forward task to establish that the births supposed to have occurred in 1851 (Caroline) and 1853 (Bob) did not involve Jane Chandler (or take place anywhere in England, for that matter). Perhaps these were added to the family by international "cuckoo" researchers dropping their ancestor into the nest of any UK family of the same name to establish their immigrant origins - a type of retrospective informal adoption?

The status of Joseph is more challenging. In the 1841 Census he is listed after Arthur and Janet with the surname "do", but without any indication of a family relationship (a feature not introduced until 1851). His stated age (15) would mean that he was born some years before the marriage of his putative "parents". Might he be an ex-nuptial child of Jane or a pre-nuptial child of the couple who was named by Jane's parents (and so missed receiving an A-name from Arthur)? On the other hand, Joseph might be a nephew or cousin of Arthur residing with them at the time of the census. I said that a naming pattern could guide your research not find all the answers!

In case you are wondering how the children felt about their names; Arthur junior had thirteen children (born in Surrey and then in New South Wales) and he named them Arthur, Amos, Alma, Andrew, Abraham ... you see the pattern. Young Alice (who came to Queensland) was a rebel with a not a single A-name among her five children despite (or perhaps, because of) the fact that their French father Gustave Collin also had the names Antoine and Alexandre.

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