Thursday, July 5, 2018

Names and Their Many Variations

by Heather Murphy

When looking in records for your ancestors, knowing their name is vital.  Oftentimes, though, the same person can be recorded in documents with different names, whether a nickname of their given name, an Americanized version of their surname, or some other variation.  There are many books and online lists that can help you identify common name variations.

The FamilySearch Catalog can help find books about name variations.  Perform a subject search of the country and "names personal."  For instance, "United States names personal" or "Germany names personal." Pay particular attention to the following entries (though the country and number of items within the category will vary):
     United States - Names, Personal - Dictionaries ( 8 )
     United States - Names, Personal ( 79 )

A few examples from the above sections include:

  • Dictionary of First Names by Patrick Hanks, Kate Hardcastle, and Flavia Hodges, 2006.
  • Encyclopedia of American Family Names by H. Amanda Robb and Andrew Chesler, 1995.
  • Common Versions of American Names and Foreign Derivatives, Department of Immigration, 1961. This includes a chart of an English given name and then variations in Bulgarian, French, German, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Norwegian, Polish, Rumanian, Russian, Serb/Croatian, Swedish, Ukranian, Yiddish, and Spanish. digital version 
  • Guide to similar surnames : for use in the Adjutant-General's Office, War Department, 1920. digital version
  • A list of Christian names, their derivatives, nicknames and equivalents in several foreign languages : For use in the Adjutant General's Office, War Department, 1920.  digital version

If the book is not available in digital format, click the link to "view this catalog record in WorldCat for other possible copy locations."  The book may be available at a library closer than the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and may also be available for interlibrary loan.

Below are a few online sites that have name variation lists:

These online lists can be very long.  To easily find a name use the search feature of the web browser by pressing ctrl-F, and type in the name needed.

Names are important when searching for your ancestors, but often people do not appear in every record under the same name.  Knowing possible variations for surnames and nicknames for given names can help you better identify your ancestors.

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