Names & Nicknames
On this page I've listed a variety of nicknames, Biblical names, and some other exotic names that I've encountered in my genealogical research (primarily North Carolina and Virginia).
- Initials and Abbreviations. Look for your ancestors under all their possible nicknames, as well as abbreviations, middle names and initials. Thomas Jefferson Smith might be listed in various places as Thomas J. Smith, Thom. Smith, Jeff Smith, or T.J. Smith. His wife, Mary Frances Johnson Smith, might be called Mary F. Smith, Mary J. Smith, Frances, Polly, Franky, M.F. or F.M. Switching the order of first and middle names was common because people often used their middle name as their "regular" name.
- Strange Nicknames. Not all nicknames are obvious. For example, Polly, Patsy, Peggy, and Nancy are actually nicknames for Mary, Martha, Margaret, and Ann, respectively. Many other nicknames seem peculiar to us because the underlying names are virtually extinct. When was the last time you met a woman named Biddy (Obedience), Delphy (Philadelphia) or Senia (Asenath)? Or a man named Quillar (Aquilla), Lum (Columbus), Sell (Sylvanus) or Shade (Shadrach)? Finally, some of our most common nicknames were virtually unknown in previous eras. Cynthia was often shortened to "Sintha" but rarely to "Cindy." If you see "Sinda," think "Lucinda" or "Rosinda."
- Junior & Senior. Confusion over the use of "Jr." and "Sr." has caused many genealogists to make serious mistakes, misidentifying relationships and merging data on different individuals. Originally, the suffixes "Junior" (Junr., Jun., Jr.) and "Senior" (Senr., Sen., Sr.) were just descriptive nicknames used whenever there were two men in the community with the same name. John Smith, Jr., isn't necessarily the son of someone named John Smith. The older John Smith might have been his uncle, cousin, or completely unrelated. Moreover, John Smith Jr. would become known as John Sr. after the older John's death, and any younger John Smith in the area would now be John Jr.
- Misspelled Names. Spelling is very inconsistent in old records. Many names were spelled phoenetically, sometimes with strange results, like "Rauzy" for Rosa, "Tiller" for Tillie (Matilda), or "Luzanner" for Louisiana.