Did you ever wonder how your ancestors came up with some of the names they gave their children? Many of the names are easy to figure out, as they were popular for the time or obviously bestowed on a newborn baby in honor of grandparents or other close relatives. Middle names weren’t commonly given in colonial times, unless the family was German. By the mid-1800s, lot of people had two given names, but sometimes there were a few surprises.
Here are a few examples in my family trees:
- David Harris Hicks – David was the son of Israel Hicks and Abigail Carlisle and was born in 1829 in Buctouche, New Brunswick, Canada. His other seven siblings didn’t seem to have middle names, except for his sister, Elida Ann. I have never found any clues as to Abigail Carlisle’s mother’s maiden name. I immediately wondered if David might have been named not only in honor of his grandmother’s surname, but maybe even for her father. What did I find? Well, if he was named for his maternal grandmother’s family, I found no evidence for or against the theory. However, there was a somewhat popular traveling minister in the area and I tend to think he was named for him.
- Elbridge Gerry Chadwick – The first time I came across this name, I wondered where anyone ever got the idea to saddle a baby with a name like that. Elbridge was the grandfather of my cousin Charles, who did so much to help with my family history research. His grandfather was born in 1833 in Tennants Harbor, Maine and Maine is the clue here. Elbridge Thomas Gerry (1744 in MA-1814) was the fifth vice president of the United States. It is from his name that we get the political term “gerrymandering,” a process to draw political districting lines to favor the party in power. There was also Elbridge Gerry, his grandson, born 1813 and died in 1886, served as a U.S. Congressman from Maine. The Gerry family were Democrats, so Charles’s grandfather’s name shows a definite preference in his political leanings.
- Emsley Harrison Brasher – E.H., as he was known, was born in 1841 in Christian County, Kentucky and died in 1886 in Hopkins County, Texas. He was Dave’s 2X great grandfather. There were Harrison families living in Christian County in 1840, but no Emsley Harrison and no Emsley surnamed families. In a broader search, I found some Emsley Harrisons born in England and North Carolina about the same time as E.H. Where did his parents get his name? There are no famous people and no family ties with either surname. I think they just liked it and wanted to name their son something unique. This from parents named Hampton and Altezara!
Do you have any ancestors who were given unusual names that you hoped were leads to ancestral lines? I’d love to hear your stories.