The Scottish SIG is a Special Interest Group of the Ontario Genealogical Society

Scottish Naming Patterns

I have 37 Henry Fowlers in my tree. And I know there are others I haven't connected to my branches yet. That's part of the Scottish Naming Pattern. This can be a joy or a peeve. It can help you link ancestors to your surname. But it is also a struggle when you find a record and need to figure out who is who.

Here's how the Scottish Naming Pattern works:

  • First Born Son - named for the paternal grandfather
  • Second Born Son - named for the maternal grandfather
  • Third Son named for the father - unless he shares a name with one of the grandfathers
  • Fourth and subsequent sons were often named after father or mother's brothers

  • First Born Daughter - named for the maternal grandmother
  • Second Born Daughter - named for the paternal grandmother
  • Third Daughter - named for the mother - unless she shares a name with one of the grandmothers
  • Subsequent daughters were generally named for mother or father's sisters
  • In addition, if one of the first three children died, the next baby born of the same sex was given that name so that the name would live on for future generations. This became a bit of a conundrum for me when I was assisting a family looking for their roots in North Uist. This family had Donald MacDonald, then son Donald MacDonald who died at age 3, so the next born son was Donald MacDonald (so far, so good). This Donald did not die, but a subsequent son was also named Donald. This time, Donald John MacDonald. Both grandfathers were Donald and each had a living grandson named for him!

    Add to this the diminutives of names. For instance: Ellen, Helen, and Eleanor are often used interchangeably. For the most part, Ellen is the diminutive of Eleanor. Ellen is the common pronunciation of Helen. Nellie can also be the diminutive for Helen or Eleanor.

    Jean and Jane are often used interchangeably. This gets complicated when you have a daughter of each name. Janet is often also referred to as Jane but can also be Jennie or Jessie.

    Mary and Marion both often get referred to as May, Mamie or Maisie while Margaret usually goes by Peg or Peggy, but can also be referred to as Maggie or Meg.

    Catherine, Kathleen and Kate are generally one and the same.

    Isabel and Isabella are one and the same but may be also be known as Bella, Belle, Sibby or Tibbie.

    Elizabeth rarely is Elizabeth, usually being Betty or Bess, but perhaps also Beth, Lizzie, Elsie or Libby.

    For men, the diminutives are also readily used. John may be Ian, Iain, or Jock.

    George may be Jordy, Geordy or Dod.

    James may be Jamie, Jimmy or Hamish.

    It gets even better when every eldest son marries an eldest daughter: Henry marries a Margaret - they have a Henry and a Margaret - that Henry marries a Margaret or Margaret marries a Henry. That's when the "Auld Henry", "Wee Henry", “ Young Harry”, "Big Henry", “Oor Harry” and "Maggie’s Harry" all come into play. Easy Peasy keeping them all straight!

    Source: © C Woodcock 2011 ~

    Scottish Special Interest Group - Ontario Genealogical Society