What Do I Think I’m Called?

I’ve been researching my family history for a good few years now. I’ve found skeletons and I’ve found mysteries.

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, or 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.

Strange thought.

What would your East Neuk name have been?

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9 Comments Add yours

  1. anglosvizzera says:

    I would’ve been Jennie. I have noticed a similar thing going on in those family members way back who lived up in Cumbria – it got even more confusing when sometimes cousins would stay in one another’s houses during the census so you never knew who was who!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a fascinating subject!! And different areas seem to have had different traditions. Here in West Yorkshire, it was normal for a son (not necessarily the first-born) to be given his mother’s maiden name as a first name. One of the previous inhabitants of East Riddlesden Hall, where I used to volunteer, was called Smith Waddington as a result!!


  3. Julie C says:

    Hi, I have found your blog via a link on MSE but I am really enjoying reading from ‘now’ backwards. As an East Neuk girl myself, I never knew about these naming traditions but you grow up with a huge respect for the the sea, for fishermen and the mines. My East Neuk name would have been Isabelle 😍


    1. Oh, that’s brilliant!! Have you come across the two blogs I wrote on The Price of Fish, about the loss of a fishing boat in 1900 (my Great Grandfather was on board) – use the search tool if you haven’t seen them yet. Where are you based? Are you still in Fife?


      1. Julie says:

        Yes, I loved those, very sad, blogs but that was the reality and I guess still is. No, no longer in Fife. I left for South West Gloucestershire in 1996, age 23. 5 years later I found myself in Saudi Arabia and made my way to Wales 10 years later, via South Africa and Fife. Really enjoying your blog journey. Jx


      2. A fellow nomad!! Born in Yorkshire, left aged 19 and finally got back here 30 years later!!


  4. Paula says:

    Lovely tradition. As the second daughter, I would have been Lillian.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is, isn’t it. It’s a fascinating subject. It was also traditional for the mother’s maiden name to be given as a middle name – and although my parents didn’t name me after my mother’s mother, they did give me my mother’s maiden name as a middle name. I now use it as my surname – https://middleagedfreeandsingle.com/2019/05/14/time-for-a-change/


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