How widespread is re-use of given names in the UK?

+5 votes
My experience with birth records from western Scotland in the 1700's and 1800's suggests that if a child dies in infancy, often the next child of the same sex is given the identical name.  Most of my known cases (small sample size) seem to be for male children.  Is re-use of given names a local Scottish pattern, where given names come from a very short list, or is it more widespread in the UK and/or elsewhere?
in The Tree House by Alec MacCall G2G1 (1.3k points)
I didn't realize the practice was that widespread!  Thank you all!

Instances occurred in the USA of necronyms > A necronym (from the Greek words νεκρός, nekros, "dead" and ὄνομα ónoma, "name") is a reference to, or name of, a person who has died. Many cultures have taboos and traditions associated with referring to such a person.

> there's a great many more articles online from almost every possible viewpoint about necronyms 

My question raised some interesting links to related G2G questions, and I would like to direct people's attention to an excellent reference on Scottish "onomastic naming" (standard birth-order patterns of naming children after grandparents etc.).

That reference is found in answers to a question "Did they often give two siblings the same given name in the 18th and 19th centuries (Scotland)?" asked Sep 19, 2016 in Genealogy Help by Mary Cole.

Apparently the onomastic naming convention "required" the N-th son or daughter to have a certain name, which helps explain the practice of re-using names as well as duplicate names of living siblings.

From these answers and comments to my question, I get the impression that these ancestor-related naming patterns or conventions may have been widespread in ancient (and almost certainly pre-literate) times.
My experience from the North East of Scotland is that it has only happened when the first male child dies very soon after birth, sometimes days, weeks or at most a few months. Very often the mother gets pregnant very quickly and the next born if a male gets the same Christian name as the deceased sibling usually named after the paternal grandfather.
Reusing Given Names was also common in New England in the 1600's - until at least 1900.

My observations (no real proof) from my family in New England and upstate New York, was that if the first male died young, the next male born would also be named with the same name, and often it was the same as the father.

The survival of children starting in the 20th century changed a lot of those patterns, the kids just were not dying as the death rates plummeted.


8 Answers

+5 votes
One of my Gill ancestors, Laurence, was born in late 1759 at Norwich, Norfolk, England. He died very young. The next son in that family was born in 1761 and he was also named Laurence.
by Frank Gill G2G Astronaut (2.3m points)
+7 votes
I've seen it a fair few times from my family tree for both boys and girls. In one family Bette (1758-1763)'s next sister is Mary, then there is a younger sister Betty, who's twin is Dicky. Both Betty and Dicky die within a year, the next child is Richard.

My link to them was their brother Septimus - and I reasoned that he must have been the seventh child and hunted until I found all his siblings.
by Frances McCarthy G2G6 Mach 1 (18.4k points)
I recently had a Henry (1st), Henry (2nd), then Harry (guessing they were by now thinking "Henry" was an unlucky name).
I went back and looked at Septimus' siblings again - there were actually two sets of twins in his brothers and sisters.

He was the 7th boy, with James, Robert, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John before him. 4 gospels, so Septimus seems apt.
+6 votes
I have one ancestor who was the fourth daughter born of the same parents and given the name Jane. All the previous baby girls were called Jane and they all died young. The 4th girl managed to survive and grow up to get married.

They lived in Exeter, Devon!!
by Robynne Lozier G2G Astronaut (1.1m points)
I've seen this happen in Germany as well.
+6 votes
I think this happened quite a lot in England. My 4x great grandparents had two daughters named Jane and two sons named Joseph born between 1821 and 1839.
by Samantha Thomson G2G6 Pilot (182k points)
+6 votes
In north Germany you can find very often, that - if a child dies - the next child of the same sex get the same given name.

I some families that happened two or three times.

I have found also a few families where the second or third child got exact the same given name as the first child, although the first was still living.

In one case in Brandenburg a family had five male children, four of them died young and only the first one grew up. All five had the same given name.
by Dieter Lewerenz G2G Astronaut (2.6m points)
+4 votes
Most of my ancestors were from Scotland and there were many instances where a new child was named after an older sibling died young. This was to preserve a pattern that for family history's sake recorded ancestors when written records were not possible. the patterns usually as follows:

1st son after fathers father

2nd son after mothers father

3rd son after father

remaining sons after uncles or brothers.

Same pattern for girls.

I come from a long line of Catherine's, most 2nd daughters.

It is helpful when researching because if you know the siblings you can make a good guess what all the grandparents are named. My Burr family came from a certain area in Aberdeen where there are dozens of John's, James's, Andrew's, etc. all born around the same time. A real mess to sort out!
by Living Cam G2G2 (2.3k points)
+3 votes
This was rather common in the Netherlands. Not sure if the reason is the death as such, or the need to have a certain name within one family though (Flying Dutchmen, help!)

A "recent" example: sons of
by Michel Vorenhout G2G6 Pilot (266k points)
+3 votes
Over a period of 30+ years, I searched for every record of every Lynn or Linn in Scotland I could find born prior to 1900.  I have about a dozen families using necronyms, predominantly but not exclusively for sons.  I don't know about England, but in a cemetery here in the  U.S. I once found gravestones in a family plot consisting of the parents and four children, three of whom were girls with the same first name, all deceased by the age of eleven.  It was very sad, and I hoped the parents did not use the name a fourth time.

Having nothing to do with necronyms, it once was a custom among Germans to give every son, or every daughter, the same first name with a different middle name and then to call all but one of them by his or her middle name.  In two of my husband's German families, church registers of baptisms show the naming; and other documents including each father's will show the children being called by middle names.
by Loretta Layman G2G6 Mach 3 (37.2k points)
edited by Loretta Layman
One of my great-grandfather's sisters married a Gottlieb Heinrich Walter, who had a brother named Gottlieb Ephraim Walter, and sisters named Maria Lydia Walter, Maria Hannah Walter and Hannah Ernestine Walter.
Bob, that's the first I've seen Gottlieb used as the first name for multiple sons. Most commonly, it is Johann with Wilhelm also often being used, but I imagine almost any name might be used..

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