Wednesday, August 6, 2008

What's In a Name?

Before I proceed with a post on Lucinda Ellen Niccum, I thought I would comment on naming conventions.

One of the techniques that we genealogists use is the study of the names that keep reappearing in family lines. Depending on the ethnic origin of the people in question, you can sometimes follow an established pattern for the ways that parents named their children to help you determine relationships.

For instance, one of the common patterns goes something like this:

1st son named for the father's father
2nd son named for the mother's father
3rd son named for the father
4th son named for the father's oldest brother
5th son named for the father's 2nd oldest brother or mother's oldest brother

1st daughter named for the mother's mother
2nd daughter named for the father's mother
3rd daughter named for the mother
4th daughter named for the mother's oldest sister
5th daughter named for the mother's 2nd oldest sister or father's oldest sister

Of course this is only a rough rule of thumb and the traditions do vary from culture to culture. Sometimes you will find that the parents follow the pattern religiously for a few of their children and then come up with a name from out in left field and you can never figure out where they found it. But, sometimes you get lucky and it helps you narrow down which children belong to which parents when there are multiple folks in the county by the same name. Or, you can end up with a real mess when everybody in a family uses the traditional naming conventions and you have a half dozen John Masons running around of the approximate same age. This is what we genealogists call fun.

I myself am named for my mother's mother Lucy, which falls right into the pattern. At the time I was born, however, another Lucy was very much in the limelight with a popular television show. As a result, Mother did not want me called Lucy. She came up with the alternative Lucinda, which accomplished paying tribute to her mother and keeping me from being associated with a dingy redhead. Then she promptly nicknamed me Cindy so I wouldn't be nicknamed Lucy anyway.

When my brother came along, they chose David because they just liked the name. Considering my grandfathers were Arthur and Horace, it was probably better they did not follow tradition but went their own way. Not that there's anything wrong with those names, but I don't think little brother would make a good Arthur or Horace. They did, however, give him my father's middle name, so they did make some concession to tradition.

As I'm sure most people feel at some point, I wasn't all that fond of my name when I was young. I really liked another family name, Amanda, but that was a name in my father's line and I guess it didn't appeal to my mother. The name was still available when my cousin came along a few years later, so she got to inherit that particular honor. I found out years later that they almost named me April, another name I like very much, but that was turned down for fear I would be nicknamed "Ape" when I got to school. It wasn't until I was an adult that I learned to appreciate my old-fashioned name, not only for its beauty but for the fact that there aren't that many Lucindas running around.

But getting back to Lucinda Ellen Niccum. Family legend gave her name as Lucy Ellen Niccum and everything I found for a long time verified that fact. But one day, in my early days of chasing census records, I found Lucy with her parents and made a startling discovery. In 1850 she is listed as Lucinda E. I can remember clearly sitting in the Texas State Library, looking at that microfilm screen and discovering that I shared a name with a great-great-grandmother. It felt like an electric connection had tied me into the past in a twinkling of an eye.

I am happy that I was named for my grandmother, a truly special woman. I am also happy that I share a name with another ancestress in my father's line. It makes me feel like I am tied to both of these women in a special way.

Where they got my middle name, I haven't a clue.


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