What First Names Say About Someone
Academic studies of first names reveal some interesting patterns that can be used to your advantage when searching for an ancestor. Here are some things to look out for:
Deliberate Misspelling of First Names – It is not uncommon to come across a first name on an official record (such as a birth, marriage or death record) that appears to be a misspelling. Such records were, however, usually carefully recorded by a government official who was a fluent writer and who was familiar with standardized spelling. The misspelling therefore may not be a misspelling at all. It may be how the parents wanted the name spelt.
A misspelling strongly suggests the parents had a low education level. Several academic studies have validated this fact by showing that working-class families tend to have more non-standard spelling variations for any given first name.
Using Nicknames as Formal Names – Another common issue is coming across what appear to be nicknames on official records. Examples would include recording Tommy instead of Thomas or Harry instead of Henry (or Harold). These are also usually not mistakes. Instead, it is what the parents wanted. Often, parents with a low education level simply did not know (or care) for example that Harry is a diminutive of Henry (or Harold).
Missing Middle Names – We have not been able to find any academic study that validates this particular issue, but it is one that we have witnessed firsthand – an official record with no middle name from a time/place where most people had middle names.
In this case, we strongly suspect the parents came from a working class background. The parents had simply not put any thought into giving their child more than one name. The fact that official records with a missing middle name often seem to coincide with unusually spelt first names or nicknames helps to reinforce this belief.