But sometimes it’s the ordinary things that are the most interesting. The things that continued for generations, that no-one particularly thought about at the time. The things people accepted as normal.
On my mother’s side, my family pretty much lived in two villages in the East Neuk of Fife for as far back as I’ve been able to trace. And for as far back as I’ve been able to trace, they named their children according to what seems to have been a very strict naming tradition. It feels odd to us now – but it wouldn’t have felt odd at the time.
It went like this –
The first son was named after the father’s father.
The second son was named after the mother’s father.
The third son was named after the father.
The first daughter was named after the mother’s mother.
The second daughter was named after the father’s mother.
The third daughter was named after the mother.
It was so predictable that, from a genealogy point of view, if you know the names of the children you can work out, with about 90% accuracy, what the names of the grandparents will be.
Names would only get out of order if a child died – their name would then often be given to a later child. It also didn’t work if, say, the mother’s father and the father’s father both had the same name. And if there had been a major falling out, a name might be skipped. But almost entirely, for generation after generation, this is how children’s names were chosen.
It means you ended up with lots of people in the same family with the same name, which would have been confusing. To get round this, they would use variations on a theme – so Elizabeth might become Lizzie, or Lizbeth, of Elspeth – but the tradition would continue.
My cousin and I were the first people in the family not to be named in this way. My mother and her sister both married men who weren’t locals, and they both moved away. I guess there wasn’t the same pressure to follow convention. Also, this was the 60s, and people were looking forward, not back.
Of course, if we’d been named according to the conventions, we’d have both had the same name, as we were both first girls – and my mother’s mother and my cousin’s mother’s mother were the same person – Elizabeth.
What would your East Neuk name have been?
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