Recording maiden names in genealogy

The so-called “genealogy standard” is to use birth names for everyone, even in cultures where it doesn’t make sense. The “encylopedic standard” makes more sense. As a mental shorthand, I think of it as “best known as”. For example: Cokayne [formerly Adams], George Edward (1825–1911), genealogist, born at 64 Russell Square, London, on 29 April 1825, … Read more

Maiden names and aliases

“In England, as well as in France and other continental nations, down to the seventeenth century, married women and widows not infrequently retained their maiden names, generally, however, with an alias ; and in certain parts of Scotland and Wales, such persons still sign by their maiden name in legal documents, even though described in them … Read more

Can People Have Names?

Yesterday’s post about names as performance got me to thinking. Somewhere on the periphery of memory I seemed to recall a paper about a medieval debate whether people can have names. And, sure enough, I found it: Rachel Anna Bauder. Naming Particulars: A Thirteenth-Century Debate on Whether Individuals Have Proper Names. PhD Dissertation, University of … Read more

Name Performance

Are names performative? That’s a new idea for me. I came across it while reading a book by Abu El-Haj about the politics of Israeli archeology: The author “specifies for the first time the relationship between national ideology, colonial settlement, and the production of historical knowledge. She analyzes particular instances of history, artifacts, and landscapes in … Read more

Naming Conventions

One of the canards of genealogy is that professional genealogists always prefer the earliest recorded name. The idea is that name is the most authentic. More or less true, but not quite, not always. William Shakespeare, for example. You think you know his name? His baptismal record, the earliest in a scant collection, calls him Gulielmus … Read more

Lost Alphabet Letters

In the modern Western world we use the Roman alphabet with 26 letters. Usually. The Swedes actually have 29 letters. What’s surprising to some folks is that we might have had more letters ourselves. Who thinks about what might have been? Except when you see an extract from an olde manuscript and spot a letter … Read more


How would it be if we all had double surnames, one from our paternal line and one from our maternal line. Sort of like the Spanish do, but modified slightly so the maternal surname really is a surname that passes along the maternal line and not just the mother’s paternal surname. That’s the idea thrown … Read more

Women’s Names among the Scots and Irish

Genealogists tend to make a hash of women’s names because they don’t know, or don’t acknowledge, the cultural rules that would have applied at a particular time and place. The names of pre-Modern women in Scotland and Ireland is a particularly difficult area. So often people tell me they just want a rule of thumb. … Read more