Copyright © Janice Tracy, Mississippi Memories

Sunday, July 27, 2008

How We Got Our Names

Locational Naming Conventions
In early England, one's surname was usually a locational name, pointing to the place where a man held his land or where he already lived. In the instance of the Branch family, that location was likely a spot in County Wiltshire, England. Early records of the name BRANCHE was recorded in Wiltshire in the year 1185. Other instances of similar names have been found when a Peter Branchett was documented as residing in County Somerset during the reign of Edward III (1327-1377) and when Edward Braunchett of Yorkshire was listed in the Yorkshire Poll Tax of 1379. In 1400, Thomas Braunche was documented as a resident of Lancashire. The family is of Normandic origin. According to James Branch Cabell, author of "Branches of Abingdon", "first mention of the BRANCH name in written history" occurred around 1118 in the Chronicle of John Brompton, when he listed the "names of the great men who crossed the sea with the conqueror, William the Vigorous." His entry is shown as "Braunz et Columber." Therefore, we know the surname of the current BRANCH family can be traced back to at least the twelfth century. Legend, however, claims the name can be traced back even earlier, and attempts have been made to link it to the Licinian family of old Rome.

Hereditary Naming Conventions
After the Norman conquest of 1066, a few individuals passed on hereditary surnames, but most of the population seemed to exist well without the use of more than one name. As the population grew, surnames that grew out of labels to distinguish a person's occupation or trade, became plentiful enough that another name was added to allow one individual to be distinguished from another. The hereditary principle of surname use for given names gained popularity as the population of the known world grew. Research indicates that by the 14th century, most of the population had acquired a second name.

The Patronymic System of Family Naming
Before I can continue with this story, I feel that an explanation is needed to explain the system of naming children prior to the mid-nineteenth century. During my research, I found that given names were repeated in families to a point that it became very confusing, and sometimes almost impossible, to determine the person of reference. The following information was taken from an article in "The Genealogical Helper - Magazine", Nov-Dec 1986, page 8, and it proved quite useful as I proceeded with unraveling the traditional naming system for sons and daughters of my ancestors.

First Son: Named for his paternal grandfather
Second son: Named for his maternal grandfather
Third son: Named for his father's paternal grandfather
Fourth son: Named for his mother's paternal grandfather
Fifth son: Named for his father's maternal grandfather
Sixth son: Named for his mother's maternal grandfather

First Daughter: Named for maternal grandmother
Second daughter: Named for paternal grandmother
Third daughter: Named for mother's maternal grandmother
Fourth daughter: Named for father's maternal grandmother
Fifth daughter: Named for mother's paternal grandmother
Sixth daughter: Named for father's paternal grandmother

As strange as the custom may seem today, it was also customary to name the next daughter or son born within a second marriage for the deceased husband or wife. If a father died before his child was born, a male child was often named for him. If a mother died in childbirth, the child, if it was a girl, was usually named for the mother. Another child was often named for a child who had died previously within the family.

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