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Using the Scottish Naming Process in Genealogy & 3 Sons called John

Updated: May 3, 2021

For centuries the Scots have followed a rather simple process of allocating given names to successive children and whilst this was not followed by all families it was widespread enough that a basic understanding of this process can help genealogists when hunting down Scottish ancestors.

Becoming familiar with these patterns will assist in identifying potential avenues of research, missing children and can reveal all sorts of clues about ancestors’ lives.

By the late 19th Century/Early 20th Century this process does start to break down and fade out of use so be careful after this time period.

These formulas come in handy when identifying potential members of the family however bear in mind that certain family circumstances could divert these patterns from the usual course.

For example, certain names may be duplicated in the same generation, this could be as a result of both grandfathers sharing a common Christian name that was then given to two children or it could hint at the death of an earlier child within the family as it was not uncommon for parents to name later children after dead siblings so as to carry on the naming pattern.

These can be helpful in helping identify your ancestors’ close relatives and can be of particular use when taking your research back a generation. It is worth taking the middle names of later ancestors into consideration as they are often the mother or grandmothers maiden name.

Of course, this is only a rough guide, no two families are the same and at times there is no rhyme or reason behind names given to your ancestors as there are plenty of families who did not care for tradition and they may have named children after a friend, minister etc.

Scottish Naming Pattern

· First son was named after his father's father

· Second son was named after his mother's father

· Third son was named after his father

· Fourth son would be named after the fathers oldest brother or alternatively the fathers paternal grandfather

· Fifth son would be named after mothers oldest brother or alternatively the mothers paternal grandfather

· First daughter was named for her mother's mother

named for her father's mother

· Third daughter was named after her mother

· Fourth daughter would be named after the mother’s oldest sister or alternatively the mother’s maternal grandmother

· Fifth daughter would be named after the father’s oldest sister or alternatively the father’s maternal grandmother

Naming patterns are an extremely useful tool when trying to locate your ancestors.

Using naming pattern rules, it is often possible to discount most of the possibilities, leaving an entry that may turn out to be the correct one.

They can, however, also create confusion when so many cousins have the same name and stay in the same area, so be VERY careful!

These are only general guidelines and since these were certainly not always followed by our ancestors, they do give researchers other avenues to follow


· Although these naming rules were not always applied (some families did adhere, whilst others “dabbled” and still others ignored it), it can still be helpful in determining the correct entry when confronting the lack of information in the OPR’s. It can also cause confusion when eight children of the same family in a small parish name their offspring according to convention! The use of these naming patterns gradually declined during the 19th/20th century.

· The application of naming patterns and the desire to ensure that a family forename continued through the generations, sometimes led to duplicate names within a family. For example, where a family wished to adhere strictly to the traditional naming pattern, and both grandfathers bore the same forename, that name might be given to more than child. If a child died young, parents might name a later child after the dead child. In unfortunate cases, the name may have been used more than once.

· Sometimes there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the naming: a child might be named after the minister, midwife, doctor, an employer, an influential person in the community or a close friend, who also might appear as a witness to the birth. Witnesses are not always given in OPR entries, but sometimes you will find their relationship to the child, e.g. “John Brown, Grandfather”, “Mrs Jane Spence, Fathers Sister”.

· The existence of a middle name can often be extremely helpful to the family historian. Parents might use the mother or a grandmother’s maiden name as a child’s middle name. However, do not assume that this name will appear in all subsequent records pertaining to that child. Consider also the possibility that a person might use his other middle name as their first name in later life and be recorded as such.

· In some cases you will find that the order is reversed with the first and second children, i.e. the First-born son being named after the Mother's father and the Second-born son after the Father's father.

· You will also find instances where a child is named 'out of pattern', after an Aunt or Uncle who died, or after another relative or friend of the parents.

These are only general guidelines and were certainly not always followed

Example: - The Wilson Family of New Monkland

Since I have carried out a lot of work in the parish of New Monkland in Lanarkshire you will find me using families I come across as examples from time to time.

Andrew Wilson was born in 1837 in the parish of New Monkland to John Wilson & Isabella Brown

He married in 1858 Janet Stevenson the daughter of Thomas Stevenson & Helen McGregor

They had the following Children: -

John - Born c1858 (the 1st John was named after the Fathers Father but died on 19th June 1861 aged 2 ½ years of disease of the brain)

Thomas S - Born c1860 (Named after the Mothers father)

Andrew - Born c1862 (Named after the Father, buried in the family plot he died aged 16 years in 1878)

John - Born c1865 (2nd John again named after the Fathers Father died on 7th February 1866 at 8 weeks old of Whooping Cough which he had suffered for 2 weeks and Bronchitis which he suffered for 5 days)

Helen - Born c1866 (Named after the Mothers Mother)

Alexander - Born c1868

Stevenson - Born c1870 (Christian name comes from Mothers Maiden Name)

John Brown - Born c1872 (3rd son called John died 1st July 1874 of Gastric Irritation which he had suffered for 5 Months)

Robert - Born c1875

James - Born c1877 (Buried in the family plot he died aged 30 years in 1906)

Isabella Brown - Born c1878 (Named after the Fathers Mother)

Jessie - Born c1882 (Named after the Mother)

The family grave sits in the Churchyard at New Monkland, the parents Andrew Wilson died in 1896 and Janet Stevenson in 1908

The Wilsons were an interesting family to use as an example of this process and more interestingly in looking at this family I even made contact with John a descendant of this family from New Zealand.


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