Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Name Game

Why did our ancestors have so many different variations on their names?  Since a very young age, I have known my full name and the correct spelling.  You probably have also.  But I see so many different names for the same people and families and, well, it's frustrating.

First, there is my great-great-grandmother, Lulu Dunn Wardlow.  I refer her to as Lulu, because that is the name on her gravestone.  However, I have seen her name spelled Eulala, Eulali, Ulalia, and Lula.  Someone told me I was wrong about her name but who's to say?

My great-grandmother, Rosa Ogden Davis, has been referred to as Thankful Rosa, Rozella, and Rosie. Again, she is referred to Rosa on her gravestone, so that is typically how I refer to her.

Ballein is problem name.  I have seen it written as Bowline and Bauline.  I can almost excuse this, though, since it is a somewhat unusual name.

Shaper is a problem for another reason.  It is pronounced the way it is written but, unfortunately, is similar to the more familiar name Shafer and the numerous variants of the same name (Schafer, Schaeffer, etc.) and, therefore, is easily misunderstood.  Same problem with Steward, which could be misinterpreted as Stewart.

When I was a kid and mispronounced my mom's maiden name, she always corrected me and told me the name was Donaldson, not Donalson.  Tell that to the census enumerators, who wrote it as Donaldson, Donalson, and Donelson!

Even common, simple names like Dudley (Dudly) and Davis (Davies) can be recorded incorrectly.

Then there are the name changes.  One family arrived in Ohio known as the Wardlaws and sometime in the early 19th century became known as the Wardlows.  Another family arrived in Camp Dennison, Ohio with the surname Preisch (sometimes written as Prisch to confuse matters), which was soon Anglicized to Price.

Don't even get me started on the issues with Ebenezer and Ulysses!  And I doubt I will ever know if my great-great grandmother's name was Lavinna or Lavina or Lavinia Patton (I call her Lavinna).

I suspect that this problem had a lot to do with illiteracy and semi-literacy among some of my ancestors.  On top of that, a lot of the census enumerators and recordkeepers of earlier eras were a little lacking when it came to spelling and penmanship.  Perhaps folks in the olden days just wanted to create a greater challenge for their descendants.

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