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Traditional Scottish Naming Patterns

Alex Cox
28 November 2016

The Scots have for many centuries followed a relatively simple set of rules when assigning given names to their successive children. While these traditional naming patters were not followed by all families, they were widespread enough that a basic understanding of can come in handy when hunting for Scottish ancestors.

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The Scots have for many centuries followed a relatively simple set of rules when assigning given names to their successive children. While these traditional naming patters were not followed by all families, they were widespread enough that a basic understanding of them can come in handy when hunting for Scottish ancestors.

Being familiar with these patterns will allow you to make genealogical inferences, identify potential new avenues of research and reveal all sorts of clues about the lives of your ancestors.

By the latter part of the nineteenth century, these patterns began to break down and fade out of use so be cautious when using them to identify more recent ancestors.

The traditional patterns used when naming boys were as follows:

and for girls:

These formulas may come in handy when identifying potential members of your ancestor's immediate family. However, it's always worth bearing in mind that certain family circumstances could divert these patterns from their usual course. For example, you may find that certain given names were duplicated within the same generation. This could be the result of both grandfathers sharing a common name that was then given to two children, or, it could hint at the death of an earlier child within the family as it was not uncommon for parent's to name later children after dead siblings.

To make matters even more complicated, there was yet another set of patterns that used the names of ancestors rather than the parent's siblings. This "ancestral pattern" was outlined by U.S. family historian, John B Robb, in his 2012 paper; "The Scottish Onomastic Child-naming Pattern". According to Robb, the pattern for boys was as follows:

and for girls:

As the patterns described earlier can help when identifying your ancestor's close relatives, the ancestral pattern can be of particular use when taking your research back a generation. It is also worth taking the middle names of later ancestors into consideration as they were often the mother or grandmother's maiden name.

Of course, these patterns should only be used as a rough reference guide as no two families are exactly the same. In many cases there will be no rhyme or reason behind the names chosen for your ancestors as there were plenty of families who didn't care one bit about such traditions and their child could have been named after a dear friend, a celebrated public figure or even a popular local minister.