When looking through census returns online – and particularly when doing searches – be aware that names are not always correctly spelled. Sometimes – to save space or time – the enumerator used abbreviations (see examples at the bottom).
When a child’s details are given, it is often the shorter or pet name that is entered – for example Lizzie, Betty or Beth; when the same person is a grown woman, she may then refere to herself as Elizabeth.
On some occasions, the enumerator may mis-hear the name; if members of the family were illiterate, they have no means of checking the spelling – so proceed with caution.
In most families prior to the 19th century, children were only given a single Christian name, although multiple names slowly worked their way down the social structure. Multiple names started to become common among the middle and upper classes in the mid-nineteenth century.
In the vast majority of cases a child was named after a relative, and most families would include a son with the same name as the father, and another with the same name as the paternal grandfather (if different). This can lead to very confusing situations as the following idealised example, with three sons per generation, will show:
Let us assume that a Robert has three sons, the first called Robert (after his father), Charles (after his grandfather) and James. These children all grow up and marry and have the following children as follows:
Robert 2 has Robert (after his father) and Charles and James (after his uncles)
Charles has Charles (after his father), Robert (after his grandfather) and James (after his uncle).
James has James (after his father), Robert (after his grandfather) and Charles (after his uncle).
This results in a generation with three Roberts, three Charles, and three James all of about the same age and when they marry, the next generation will include nine Roberts, nine Charles and nine James – again all of about the same age; and, as many girls were called Elizabeth or Mary, so there may well be identically-named couples of about the same age.
Commonly Used Name Abbreviations:
|Alex/Alexr – Alexander||Jonth – Jonathon|
|Bernd – Bernard||Jos – Joseph|
|Chas – Charles||Josh – Joshua/Joseph|
|Dy/Do – Dorothy||Marg – Margaret (not Mary)|
|Edw – Edward||Mart – Martha (not Margaret)|
|Eliz – Elizabeth (not to be confused with Eliza)||Mattw – Matthew|
|Em – Emma/Emily||My – Mary|
|Fredk – Frederick||Ric/Richd – Richard|
|Geo – George||Saml – Samuel|
|Hon – Honour||Ste – Stephen|
|Hum/Humy – Humphrey||Tam – Tamsin/Thomasin|
|Jas – James||Xian – Christian|
|Jno – John||Xpr – Christopher|