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Nicknames in Your Family Tree

Common Nicknames & Their Origins

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Old Family Birth and Death Register
Rebecca Grabill/E+/Getty Images
How many times have you run across a family in the census which looks like yours, but the names aren't quite right? Or you find what appears to be your great-grandpa's marriage license, except that it says he's married to someone named Martha, instead of your great-grandma Patsy? Our ancestors' seemingly changing names often leave us puzzled and frustrated, when in fact such apparent name changes are often just a result of the recording of an individual's nickname or middle name in the official records. Many of us are known by different names to our family, friends, and business associates - and it was no different for our ancestors.

Nicknames can sometimes be difficult to catch, however. "Kim" as a nickname for "Kimberly" is fairly straightforward, but "Polly" as a nickname for "Mary" and "Peggy" as a nickname for "Margaret" have tripped up many genealogists. Sometimes nicknames were formed by adding a "y" or "ey" to the end of a name or part of a name - i.e. "Johnny" for "John" or "Penny" for "Penelope." Other times the name was shortened in some manner - i.e. "Kate" for "Katherine." But sometimes it is just a matter of knowing which nicknames were commonly used in a particular time and place. That's why it is important, as a genealogist, to familiarize yourself with commonly used nicknames and their corresponding given names.

Do not forget, however, that what appears to be a nickname isn't always - many nicknames became so popular that they later came to be bestowed as given names. My father's name is Larry - which is not short for Lawrence as many might assume. And my great-grandmother really was baptized as "Effie," not Euphemia or Evelyn.

Next Page > Common Nicknames & Their Given Name Equivalents

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