M Thomas Apple Author Page

Science fiction, actual science, history, and personal ranting about life, the universe, and everything

What’s in a name? That which we call…

September 12, 2018
MThomas

rosebyanothernameOne thing I have struggled with while uncovering my family’s complicated past is the lack of consistency in naming conventions before the digital age.

In the Information Age, if you type in your name or ID with a single letter missing or out of place, your application gets rejected by whatever online program it is you’re trying to get access to. We all have numbers assigned to us—social security numbers, student numbers, worker numbers, case numbers, credit card numbers, you name it.

The past?

Thhppt. What’s a number? What’s a name? That which we would call a rose…

Nicknames abound

People use nicknames with the census takers. Helen becomes Ellen, Elle, or Emma. Beatrice becomes Betty, Bet, or Ebby. Middle names are used as first names. And then you get names first in Dutch, German, or French that a monolingual English census taker can’t figure out and so writes down what he thinks it sounds like.

Creative name taking. This process worked for both given and family names.

One ancestor, Thomas Bushell, who first came to Troy, New York, in around 1866 (a Famine Irish) is listed as Buschel, Boushel, Bushin, Bushell, and Bushel. His children are listed variously as Bushel, Bushell, Bushnel, Busnel, and Bussel. In fact, his son (William Joseph Bushell/Busnel/Bushnel/Bushnell) had his name changed several times over two decades before settling on Bushnell.

Emma Rescott (William’s wife) was French-Canadian-American; her French-Canadian father Horace Rescott was Morris, or Louis, or Lewis Rasicot, or Rustico, or Rassico, or Racico, or Riscot, or Rascott.

So what’s in a name?

As I’ve already said in a previous post, simply having a family name doesn’t necessarily mean the person is related to another with the same name. My family (“Bushnell”) is not related to Bushnells who made the first submarine (David Bushnell), Bushnell binoculars (David P. Bushnell, David’s descendant), or Atari (Nolan Bushnell, lapsed LDS Church member).

Likewise, first names are maddeningly simple in the past.

The Germans, the French, and the Irish

My German ancestors called all their sons Johannes or Jacob (the origin of the famous children’s song) and all their daughters Maria; my French ancestors called all their sons Jean, François, or Joseph and all their daughters Marie, and Irish called all their sons John, Thomas, and Joseph and all their daughters Susan and Mary (you can probably sense a religious pattern going on…). Search for “Susan O’Leary” and you’ll find literally thousands of women born at roughly the same time and place.

The Dutch

My Dutch ancestors are even more confusing. They didn’t bother with family names until Napoleon made them choose permanent family names after taking over their country in 1811. Before that, the Dutch simply used their father’s first name (a similar system was used throughout Northern Germanic and Celtic cultures for centuries).

So Jan’s son Willem would be Willem Janz and then William’s son Jan would be Jan Willemz. Trying figuring that out after a couple generations. After they came to the US, many adopted a kind of a surname, but the “van” or “de” doesn’t really help; van just means “from” and de just indicates a profession or characteristic. So everybody from a swampy area is called “van der poel” (Vanderpool) and everybody with blond hair is called “Dewitt” (Dutch wit means white, or blond. So “Wit blond ale” really means “blond blond ale.”)

The intercultural / interlingual reality

Still, while the names and dates can drive you crazy, they do show us how people from different language and cultural backgrounds interacted over time as their families “became” American. Misspellings tell us about pronunciation. Naming conventions tell us about customs and family heritage.

Family history gives a window into history. That’s a good reason to be interested in one’s own past. The past: it’s personal!

Leave a Reply

Required fields are marked *.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Blog at WordPress.com.
Last Flying Cow

Life and love along the way...

Rose English UK

Read-a-holic

History Myths Debunked

The Whole Truth and Nothing But the Truth

Alien Resort

A Website that is Actually a Story

Learning to write

Just your average PhD student using the internet to enhance their CV

Matt Feast Online-dot-Com

Are You Interested In Daily Passive Income Working From Home?

The Wee Writing Lassie

The Musings of a Writer / Freelance Editor in Training

spydersden

Curmudgeonly diatribes, insights, poems, photos, and other interesting and pertinent postings

Mr. Rhapsodist

Your Guide for SF&F Reviews and Reflections on Writing

Tips from Sharvi

Tips to make your daily life easier!

renegade7x

Natalia's space

karmenclair.wordpress.com/

Lifestyle blog dedicated to travel, food, nature and other ramblings

Everydayhero

life & travel / vida & viajes

Book by Book Publicity

Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Literary Awards - One Stop for All Your Publicity Needs

Science News

Daily science news, event and discoveries

%d bloggers like this: