Female Names in the Upper New River Valley of North Carolina, 1700's to about 1850
A Very Brief History of Names in England and America
Naming Conventions and Spelling in the Upper New River Valley
Short List of Names

Like today, most North Carolina children in the 18th and 19th centuries received at least two given names.  Sometimes, however, they had two or even three "middle" names.  For instance, one woman I know had a great aunt named Pheroby Theodosia Aldonia Kansas Caudill.  They called her Aunt Feb.  Another example I've encountered is Lucy Wadie Juanita Zettie Ann Andrews (b. 1893 in Grayson County, Virginia).  In her case, the names "Lucy" and "Wadie" seem to honor two of her aunts, "Juanita" was perhaps inspired by "John" (her father's name), and "Zettie Ann" (which she usually went by) might simply be an invention.

It seems to have been rather more common in those days for people to go by their middle name, or to vary the order of their names.  So, a woman might be "Mary F." in one census record, "Franky" in another, and  "F.M." on her gravestone.  In addition, married women often retained their father's last name as their middle name.  So, Mary Frances Smith, wife of Jones, might be appear in various records either as Mary F. Jones or Mary S. Jones, or for that matter, Frances S. Jones or any other combination.

Spelling is extremely inconsistent in these old records.  It is important to remember that formal rules of spelling are a relatively recent development in the English language.  Before the 20th century, people did not spell anything consistently, even their own names, assuming they could read and write at all.  Furthermore, most government records were prepared not by the individuals themselves but by census-takers, court clerks, and professional "scriveners."  They tended to spell unfamiliar names phonetically, sometimes with confusing results -- such as "Tinisee" for Tennessee, or "Lewizy" for Louisa.  (Click
here to see a list of spelling variations.)

At times, the strange spellings provide a nice insight into how people actually talked.  You can clearly hear the Appalachian accent in "Rauzymond" (Rosamond), "Marthy" (Martha),  "Louzanner" (Louisiana) and "Emer" (Emma). 

The combination of indifferent spelling and creative nicknames means that a given person's name might be recorded in a wide variety of ways over the course of their lives.  To find your ancestor Miranda, for example, you must be on the look out for references to Marinda, Maranda, Rinda, Renda, Rindy, Rena, Renia, Riny, Rennie, and Reney. 

A few general observations about spelling:

     For the "J" sound, G and J were interchangeable.  E.g., Jinny, Ginny; Jency, Gincey.

     For the "K" sound, K and C were interchangeable.  E.g., Keziah, Cissiah.

     For the "S" sound, C and S were interchangeable.  E.g., Cenia, Senia.

     For the "Z" sound, S and Z were interchangeable.  E.g., Rausy, Rauzy; Luisa, Luiza; Elisabeth,

     "I" was often used instead of "Y" in the middle of words.  E.g., Lidia, not Lydia; Cinthia, not
     Cynthia; Mira, not Myra.

     "F" and "PH" were interchangeable.  E.g., Pheraby, Feraby.

     Silent or unnecessary letters were often dropped.  E.g., Phebe, not Phoebe.

     Almost all vowels were interchangeable.  E.g., Senia, Sinia; Emaly, Emily; Malinda, Melinda;
     Emaline, Emeline, Emoline; Dorcas, Dorcus.    Note that Southern U.S. speakers typically switch
     the short "I" sound with the short "E" sound, as in the phrase, "put on that dress so I can pen the
     him."  This characteristic explains spellings like Marinda (Miranda), Emaly (Emily), Jinny (Jenny),
     and Alace (Alice).

     At the end of names, the letters E, IE, A, IA, Y, and EY were interchangeable.  E.g., Matilda,
     Matildy; Phebe, Pheba, Pheby; Cintha, Cinthia, Cinthy; Senie, Seney, Senia, Sena.

     A final "H" might or might not be used at the end of Bibilical names, e.g., Kizziah, Kizzia;
     Susannah, Susanna.  Conversely, a final "H" was often added to non-Biblical names, e.g.,
     Dianah, Matildah.

    "R" was sometimes placed at the end of words that end in "a," reflecting a trait of the   
     Appalachian dialect.  E.g., Louzanner (Louisiana), Prisciller (Priscilla), Emer (Emma), Lear
    (Leah), Lueller (Luella).
    <<Previous                                                                                                                                    Next>>
Copyright 2002 by Rebecca Moon