In a post on the Pharos Blog in May of last year, Are middle names just a fashion statement?, Helen Osborne commented on the use of second names in her family, and in English families historically, in general. She noted that the furthest back ancestor she could find in her family to have a second name was in 1744. She wondered about the origin of second names – when it became commonplace to give offspring a second name.
Middle names when used in the past were generally the mother’s or possibly a grandmother’s surname. Having such information is an important genealogical tool, as one can usually go a long way to identifying the families going further back.
For those of us who go by our second name, the question was of more than just passing interest.
A number of readers commented, using their own family history as illustrations, but only one person could find a member of their family further back – a relative born in 1711. Even that one was qualified as his background may have been Dutch. Second names appear to have been much more common in continental Europe than in the British Isles. No one had a person in their family tree born in the 17th century who was given a second name. One person offered the location of websites put together by Hugh Wallis, on which he gives second name indexes for many English and Scottish counties, all sourced from the International Genealogical Index (IGI) lists.
My own comments on the Pharos blog post were as follows:
The earliest I have is a 4th great-grandmother, Mary Collins Plier, born in 1754, in Cornwood parish, Devon. The baptism entry does not show the name of a father although she had a brother, James Collins, also with no father listed, indicating the father’s name might have been Collins.
1754 February 22 – entry in Cornwood parish baptism register for Mary Collins Plier, daughter of Rachael Plier.
1756 February 13 – entry in Cornwood parish baptism register for James Collins Plier, son of Rachel Plier.
Another 4th great-grandmother was baptized as Jane Treby Shepheard in 1769, also in Cornwood parish. None of her siblings had a second name and the name, Treby, does not appear with any other family member. Treby was the surname of a prominent land-owning family in the area. Jane Treby’s father, Nicholas Shepheard, was also a land owner, tax assessor, churchwarden and otherwise important individual in the community. He is listed in the Devon Freeholders lists between 1762 and 1783. He may have been a friend of the Treby family and was undoubtedly involved with them in both parish and business affairs.
1769 August 11 – entry in Cornwood parish baptism register for Jane Treby Shepard, daughter of Mr. Nicholas and Mrs. Mary Shepard
The early use of second names may have been more common in mainland Europe, as Helen commented. I have one family line that originated in Germany – surname Kettenring. The earliest individual found so far by family researchers is Hans Jacob Kettenring, born in Pflaz, Bayern, Germany, in 1595. Another line had the name of De Busk in Virginia with possible (unconfirmed) connections to France. A 4th great-granduncle, William Province De Bouse, born in 1744, is shown in the family tree.
In my work as a Devon Online Parish Clerk I have transcribed all of the parish records for Cornwood, Harford, Plympton St. Mary and Plympton St. Maurice parishes which gives me primary name data. In Cornwood only eight children, out of a total of 930, were baptized with a second name between 1685 and 1750. The earliest was in 1695. Four of them were base-born indicating the second names had something to do with the unnamed father. One was the child of a local baronet. In Harford, two of 124 children were baptized with a second name between 1699 and 1750. In Plympton St. Maurice, six of 1,720 children baptized had a second name, the earliest in 1729. In Plympton St. Mary parish, 5,578 children were baptized between 1602 and 1750. Twenty-one of them had a second name and, of these, four were base-born. Curiously, three children from different families, baptized between 1730 and 1736, all had the second name of Pearse. There is no explanation for the coincidence although the Pearce/Pearse family appears to have been important well back into the 1600s in the area.
As to Helen’s question about whether the use of a second name was fashionable, it seems more likely, at least early on, that it was used in acknowledgement of family connections or ancestors or as a sign of respect for other important people within the community.
I have no idea why my parents picked Wayne for my second name. According to the Behind the Name website, it reached its highest use in the mid-1940s, which fits me, so they may have been taken with the general popularity – although it only ever reached about 0.5% of names given to baby boys. It’s still a mystery!
All baptism images reproduced here are used with the kind permission of the rights holder, Plymouth and West Devon Record Office. Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program in England, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He has published a number of articles about various aspects of genealogy and is a past Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.