The first official use of middle names began in the 12th century in Italy. The elite upper class started giving their children middle names after saints as a form of protection for the child. The naming convention soon spread to the lower classes in the country as well as throughout France and Spain.
In England, the naming convention that included a middle name started being used in the 1600s but was reserved for nobility by law. As many settlers of the New World came from England, early Americans traditionally only had a given name and a surname.
The aristocracy and wealthy families began using middle names in the 1700s. By the 1800s, the practice had spread to the middle class. By the early 1900s, middle names became so commonplace that nearly every child born had one.
Middle names originated in Europe and spread with European colonization and influence. Let’s look at some middle name traditions throughout the world.
In England, middle names could come from a deceased loved one as a way to preserve their legacy. Alternatively, an ancestor’s first name might be overused in the family as the first name for a child, so it’s given as a second name instead.
Middle names became especially common in England during World War II. The English suffered heavy losses, so they started giving middle names to their children after their loved ones who had died in the war.
The traditional naming convention in Scotland was to name a child after a parent or grandparent. A child was given a first name that described a physical characteristic and a family name as a last name. The middle name was a way to give a child a unique name that didn’t need to follow a traditional pattern.
There were strict naming conventions in Spain and countries colonized by the Spanish. For example, daughters were traditionally given the first name Maria, after the Virgin Mary. So, as most people have the same first names, they are usually referred to by their middle names instead.
Patronymic middle names, which are passed down from the father, are traditionally given to children in Russia. For females, the suffix -ovna or -evna is added to the father’s name and used as a middle name, while male middle names use the suffix -ovich or -evich. For example, if the father’s name was Igor, the daughter’s middle name could be Igorevna.
In most cultures, middle names were used as a way to carry on a deceased family member’s first name. For example, in some places, the mother’s maiden name is added to a child’s name as a middle name. So, a middle name can carry a lot of information about family members.
Let’s look at some ways to use a common middle name to trace your lineage.
Learning the meaning of your ancestor’s middle name can help you learn more about your family. You can start by asking family members – it’s possible that one of them has already done the research or created a family tree. Other resources to use could include websites like Ancestry, Forebears, Geneanet, and FamilySearch.
Many countries had set naming conventions for first and middle names, often as a way to preserve an ancestor’s name. In England, middle names often came from the first name of a deceased family member. In Scandinavia, a mother’s maiden name, or say, the first name of a grandfather, could be given as a middle name to a child.
If you have information about where your ancestor might have originated from, you could start from that time and work your way forward to yourself. Official records like obituaries and immigration lists are both good places to look. Land records could also hold information about an ancestor, as they typically included the names of neighbors.
Even if your ancestor had a common middle name, there may be a relative who doesn’t – you can then use that to narrow down your search. Another great way to trace your lineage is finding an uncommon surname and instead using that name to trace your lineage.
When people migrated, it was usually done with a group of people called a cluster. A person’s cluster could include people like spouses, close relatives, extended family, friends, neighbors, or business partners. If one of them had an uncommon name, you can use that instead in your research.
Search engines like Google are great tools to help us trace our lineage. However, if you only have a common name to go on, you can get millions of results. Luckily, there are certain symbols you can use to help limit those results. Let’s look at some examples of this using the name Mary Jones.
When typing Mary Jones into the Google search bar, it will search for the whole name, but also “Mary” and “Jones” individually. To make Google only show you results for the whole name, you can put it in quotations. Many official records list the last name first, so remember to include that as well.
Example: “Mary Jones”, “Jones, Mary”
We can use the plus sign (no space after) to lessen the results. This acts as the word “and”. When you add a search term using the plus sign, you will only see results that include that term. Good terms to add could include a residence, town, city, or year.
Example: “Mary Jones”, “Jones, Mary” +”New York”
Perhaps you don’t have any specific information to add, but you get many irrelevant results. This is where you can use the minus sign (no space after). Using the minus sign and a term will exclude those results.
For example, when searching for Mary Jones, we can see results for an author with the same name. However, the person we are looking for was not an author, so we can exclude that term using the minus sign.
Example: “Mary Jones”, “Jones, Mary” -author
Gather as much information as you can on your ancestor and enter it into the search bar. If you can find a year or a residence, enter it after the name using the plus sign. If you can’t find additional information to use in your search but know what your ancestor wasn’t, you can exclude those results by using the minus sign.
You might be in the National Archives if you acquired American citizenship. The Archives hold a wealth of information on American citizens dating back to the 1800s. Some of the records include ship passenger arrival lists and census, land, and military records. When a person requests to become a citizen, it’s recorded in the Archives in the federal naturalization records.
Yes, it’s very likely that a DNA test will help you find your ancestors. A DNA test can show you an incredible amount of information about your roots and also help you confirm information you have gathered for your family tree. It can even help connect you with new relatives. Websites like Ancestry can give you very detailed DNA test results.
You can create a family tree by downloading and printing out a family tree template from the internet or create one manually or digitally.
When you’ve found a family tree that you like, start by adding yourself, your siblings, your parents, and your grandparents. Then, you can add more family members, like spouses and extended family. A family tree acts as a record of your family, so you could add information like dates of birth and death, places of residence, and professions.