What’s in a name?

Isaac William Davey (b.1821) - signature on his Will & Testament

When I was born my parents decided to name me ‘Marianne‘ after the Leonard Cohen song: ‘So long Marianne’.

Two weeks later Bob Dylan came out with the song  ‘To  Ramona’, liking that better, they changed their minds and started to call me Ramona.  (Unfortunately I could only find a cover version by David Gray but he does a pretty good job, as does Sinead Lohan).

I had already gone down in the records as Marianne and therefore that is still my official name. I did look into changing it legally once, but at the time it would have cost me £200 which I couldn’t afford.

Tip: Remember I have been called by my nickname all my life, not many people know Marianne is my real name. This means our ancestors could have too!

For me, personally, I love it when people have chosen their childs name for a great reason, other than just because it is pretty. It makes it so much more meaningful!

My son was named in memory and after his father’s father, Joseph. I have discussed his name with him and he loves the idea that it is a very old name and that Jesus’ father was called Joseph. His middle name is his father’s ‘James‘.

I named my daughter Ruby Grace. Her middle name is in memory of my grandmother (my mother’s mother). Her first name is because I love the colour red and her birthstone is a Ruby. My daughter was born with red hair (which I was delighted with) but caused concern that she may be called ‘Ruby Redhead’. Which brings me to nick names that you want to avoid. Think carefully about what their initials may spell out!


When I named my daughter I thought I was being clever and had chosen a name that was rare. I enjoyed being the only Ramona at school and at college. Little did I know that a year down the line her name would be listed in the Top 10 most popular names! She is now known as ‘Ruby D’ at preschool alongside Ruby M and all the other Ruby’s there!

The funny thing is that before she was born you would have hardly heard the name Ruby unless you were talking about someone from 80 years ago. Names go in and out of fashion.

My mother was born in the 1950’s. Her name ‘Susan‘ is hardly ever heard of and hasn’t come back into fashion yet, just give it time.

My grandmother, born in 1927, hated her name ‘Grace‘. As children we would all  call her by her name to be cheeky and irritate her. Nearly a hundred years since her birth and the name is spreading like wildfire!

The use of surnames is relatively new in history and gradually came into existance to help differentiate one individual from another. Before that everyone usually just had one first name.  Over the centuries there have been many reasons why people have been given the name they were given.

  • their name gave you an indication as to what job or profession they did eg: smith
  • their name has been passed down the family eg: from father to first son
  • their name comes from the King or Queen reigning at that time

King Albert reigned from 1819 to 1861. I have 2 ancestors named after him during that period in time. My great grandfather was named George during King George 5th reign. Can you see any patterns like that in your tree?

When researching our families we often have a list of questions we wished we had asked while our relations were alive. Where they got their name from is one of them.

So I have put a few of these questions out to you to consider:

  • What is your name ?
  • Is this a typical name of the year you were born?
  • Who chose the name – mum or dad?
  • Do you know why you were given the name?
  • Were you named after a family member, favourite song, favourite singer or movie star?

I look forward to hearing some of your responses. You might even surprise yourself and realise that you don’t actually know the answers to these questions. Therefore, today is as good as any, start asking!

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