Scottish Traditional Naming Patterns, can they tell us about our ancestors?

You may have noted from looking into your own family trees, you have come across numerous people with the same or similar names which makes our research a little more complex. Part of the reason for this was in Scotland it was common to name children after relatives and ancestors.  It is helpful know that this usually followed traditional naming patterns which can therefore act as a guide.

The traditional naming patterns whilst not always adhered to for various reasons, were common practice in Scotland pre-20th century and can act as a guide to help us further our research.

Let us look first at the traditional naming patterns:

The traditional patterns used when naming boys were as follows:

  • The first son would be named after the father’s father (variation is after the mother’s father)
  • The second after the mother’s father (variation is the father’s father)
  • The third son would be named after the father
  • The fourth son would be named after the father’s oldest brother (variation is after the father’s paternal grandfather)
  • The fifth son would be named after the mother’s oldest brother (variation is after the mother’s paternal grandfather)

and for girls:

  • First daughter named after the mother’s mother (variation is after the father’s mother)
  • Second daughter named after the father’s mother
  • Third daughter named after the mother
  • Fourth daughter named after the mother’s oldest sister (variation is after the mother’s maternal grandmother)
  • Fifth daughter named after the father’s oldest sister (variation is after the father’s maternal grandmother)

Now lets put this into context with my line starting with my great-grandfather (1902) and see how much of this fits with the pattern or what it can tell us;

  1. Hugh Bain – Named after father’s father Hugh Bain (1840)
  2. John Bain – Named after mother’s father John Cameron (1832)
  3. James Bain – Named after fathers paternal grandfather James Bain (1811)
  4. Robert G Bain – Named after ??
  • In traditional naming if both the mothers and fathers side had the same forenames an alternative would have been used.
  • In our case this has probably happened with Robert G Bain as there were John, James and Hugh on both side and these were already used.
  • James Bain 1811 has a brother named Robert Bain.  Our Robert could he be named after him, which in turn would link to Robert Bain in previous generations.

Now on to the girls from this line;

  1. Catherine Bain – Named after mother’s grandmother Catherine MacMartin (1801) 
  2. Margaret Bain – Named after her mother’s sister Margaret Cameron 
  3. Euphemia Bain – Named after father’s mother Euphemia Grieve (1845) 
  4. Janet Bain – Named after mother’s sister Janet Cameron 
  5. Grace Bain – Named after mother’s sister Grace Cameron 
  6. Betsy Bain – Named after mother Betsy Isabella Cameron and grandmother Betsy Isabella Campbell 

The patters are slightly out of sync but follow the general rules mostly.  Where they don’t a reason for this usually duplicates names has been found.

On to the next generation, the generation of our John Bain (1865)

  1. James Bain (1863) – Named after his father’s father James Bain (1811) 
  2. John Bain (1865) – Named after his mother’s father John Grieve (1806) 
  3. Hugh Bain (1874) – Named after his father Hugh Bain (1840) 
  4. William Bain (1886) Named after his fathers oldest brother, William Bain (1841)

and the girls

  1. Euphemia Bain (1864) – Named after her mothers mother Euphemia Darg (1809) 
  2. Margaret Bain (1866) – Named after her father’s sister Margaret Bain (1848)  
  3. Johanna Bain (1868) – Named after mother’s sister Johanna Grieve (1843) 
  4. Agnes Bain (1887) – Named after mother’s sister Agnes Grieve (1828) 

Again whilst these don’t fit the exact naming patters i.e. there doesn’t appear to be anyone named after John Bain’s mother Betsy Isabella Campbell, there is a resemblance to the traditional pattern.

Going back another generation, this time our Hugh Bain (1840)

  1. Hugh Bain (1840)  – Named after his mother’s father Hugh McDonald 
  2. William Bain (1841) – Named after his father’s father William Bain 
  3. Alexander Bain (1843) – Named after his mother’s brother Alexander McDonald.
  4. Margaret Bain (1848) – Named after her mothers mother Margaret McIntosh. 
  5. James Bain (1850) – Named after his father James Bain (1811) 
  6. Walter Bain (1852) – Named after? 
  7. Isabella Bain (1855) – Named after? 

Another generation which followed a similar naming pattern, however there are a few new names I can’t place as yet and one from this line that after further review doesn’t fit at all, so Barbara has been taken off.

The last generation is our James Bain (1811), I don’t have enough info on the siblings to look into fully, however here is what I have.

  1. Robert (1797) – Named after ?? 
  2. Mary (1799) – Named after ?? 
  3. Amelia (1803) – Named after?? 
  4. Colin Bain (1805) – Named after mother’s brother / grandfather Colin Urquhart 
  5. Harry (1808) – Named after?? 
  6. James Bain (1811)  –  Named after mother’s father James Urquhart 
  7. William Bain (1814) – Named after father’s father William Bain

With this generation not enough is know about the ancestors or indeed whether this is the full group of siblings to confirm although the above are suggestions based on names from the tree.

Robert and Amelia appear on previous generations of other Bain lines so possibly there is a link here.  Colin has been introduced by the Urquhart line and not really carried on with our Bain line. Similarly Harry appears here for the first and rare occurrence in our line suggesting he may have been named after someone respected.

Can you see a pattern here?

Have you looked at the naming patterns within your line?  Do they follow a similar pattern?  Are you able to decipher anything from the patterns in your tree i.e. can it help move you back a generation in your research.

As far as I am aware whist traditional naming patterns were common they were not stuck to with all families and there are particular instances when this pattern would result in siblings ending up with the same name, meaning another out of pattern name was chosen.

Whilst I would not rely on this to confirm or deny my branch of the tree, it is useful to perhaps give pointers to possible ancestors and maybe the deciding factor between one line or another where other info is available.

Please do let me know your experience of Scottish Traditional Naming Patterns within your family.

 

 

 

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4 responses to “Scottish Traditional Naming Patterns, can they tell us about our ancestors?

  1. Although I will admit it is sometimes frustrating to figure out which Alexander or James or John is which, knowing that there is a method in this madness makes the whole thing a little easier when tracing family lines.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so excited to have found your blog. I envision spending lots of time here. 🙂 I’m descended from the Tulloch Bains (Baynes) and working on research for this line.

    Like

    • Hi Tina, please do get in touch I am happy to share any research or info I came across. The contact form comes to me email and I can reply this way. Thanks for stopping by. Victoria

      Like

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