Monday, March 31, 2008

Fun with names

I'm a name person. I love names. I can't really explain why. A person's name is an important part of who they are. Whether or not they like their name tells you something about them. How they use their name tells you something about them - nickname, first and middle name, initials? You can tell a lot about someone by the names they choose for others - their pets, their kids. When I was younger, I read a lot but I went through a phase where the books I would buy were baby name books. I wanted to know what names were out there and what they meant. I wanted to know baby naming trends, and I kept my own list of top ten boys and girls names for several years in a row. A lot of the names came and went. A few stayed the same. Half the fun of writing is figuring out what your characters' names are.

My name is very old-fashioned and very Irish: Mary Ellen. I remember not liking my name at some point when I was younger, but I don't know when that changed. All I know now is that I love my name. I think that because of my name I tend to identify strongly with my Irish heritage over my other ancestry a lot. And even as someone who enjoys being different and being independent, I like that I am the latest in a long line of Mary Ellen Gorrys - it makes me feel connected to them.

So that's the sincere fun with names. Now comes the part where by "fun" I mean "frustration, amusement, and annoyance."

My 4th great-grandmother, Eva Justina Christina Herner Dauch, is listed in a 1845 ship passenger manifest as Eva Dauch. In the 1870 census, she's Christiana Dowe. In her 1877 death listing in the Queens County Sentinel, she's again Eva J. Dauch, but I believe the copy of her death certificate in my grandmother's possession lists her as Mary Eva Dauch.

The Dauch name itself is lots of fun. Apparently, the correct pronunciation, at least on our line, of the name is "Dow," rhymes with "cow." And so, besides being found under Dauch in the census records, I have also found the family under Dowe, Dow, and for some reason, Tow.

A lot of the inconsistencies, like Gorry being spelled Gorey, Gory, Garry, and Gaurry among others, is because of illiteracy and just people's preference for one spelling over another. A lot comes from how a recorder (like a census taker) not part of the family hears the name when spelling it. At the genealogy conference I went to, one of the presenters showed a marriage certificate where someone's mother was supposed to be "Mary Enright," but where it was recorded as "Mary N. Wright."

Elmira Sprague Raynor also becomes Almira. Sophia Stegt Berg is also Soffiah (and sometimes Dorothea, which is her middle name, or the Americanized Dorothy). Nicknames and multiple names also add lots of fun. My great-great grandmother, Maria Eva Justina Dauch Berg, is Christina Dowe in the 1870 census. Luckily I am aware that she didn't like her name, changed it on her own, and eventually had it officially changed, because in every census after that she becomes Delia.

My great-grandmother Amelia Ellen Berg Raynor went by the nickname Millie. So in one census she's Amelia. In another she's Millie. In yet another, someone assumed Millie was a nickname for Mildred, so she's listed as Mildred. Her kids had fun switchable names, whereby Audrey Mildred is also known as Mildred Audrey and Carol Dorothy is sometimes Dorothy Carol. Luckily, Millie's sons are both listed by their real names in the census: Monroe and my grandfather, Clifford, but in real life, Clifford was called Dick and Monroe was called Bob. Go figure.

My great-grandmother Ellen Casey Cronin signed her marriage certificate as Nellie, and in the census her sisters can be found under both Margaret/Maggie and Genevieve/Jennie. Mary Tormey Gorry's sisters can be found as Margaret/Maggie, Anna/Annie, and Winifred (spelled lots of fun ways)/Winnie. Michael Gorry is sometimes Micheal Gorry, and sometimes Mike Gorry. Timothy Tormey is also Temothy/Themothy/Tim.

Despite all that, I still love names. Names provide clues about family connections. If someone names their son Joseph, it's possible his father's name was Joseph. If you think you've found a record for someone's mother being Barbara, see if there are a lot of other Barbara's floating around. That could be a sign you're going in the right direction. And the fluidity of names, even on official records, is just something to be aware of. If you can't find someone under one name, try another spelling. Try a nickname. Or try another name altogether. Be creative. Make educated guesses. Don't give up...and have fun! Laugh your way through the frustration!

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