What is the "right" surname to use

+4 votes
This started off as a fairly local question, but on thinking about it, it has a wider import to those of us lucky enough to get back to the earlier records.

I was looking to do some work on a family by the name of Franklin who lived in Wiltshire in the 15/1600s and found an unmerged match on the profile of one John Hitchcock who married into the family in 1614. Although it was obvious that the two profiles represented the same person, the process had been halted as the two different versions had different spellings of the surname - Hiscockes and Hitchcock. The person halting the merge had quite reasonably posed the question of what was the right name to use.

Checking contemporary records, neither is "right". In a will dated 1608 the name is variously Hichcocke and Hiscock. In another will dated 1623 it is both Hitchcooke and Hytchcooke.

My own view is that in the 16th century the spelling of a name depended more on the mood of the cleric doing the writing than it did on the opinion of the person being written about. On my own family tree website I default to using a standardised modern spelling (in this case Hitchcock), unless I have hard evidence of a permanent variation in the name in a particular branch of the family.

My question really is, is there a policy on wikitree on what to use for archaic spellings? not just for Hitchcocks, but I could pose the same question for the Franklin family that started me looking in that area who are variously Franklen and Frankling, or my own line of Kingsman who are often Kingesman and sometimes Kyngesman. I'm sure there are many more examples.

Your views would be much appreciated
WikiTree profile: John Hitchcock
in Policy and Style by Derrick Watson G2G6 Mach 3 (32.2k points)

1 Answer

0 votes
I'm about to run into the same problem - well, kind off, if i join.

If you got the sirname Miller (UK/US), and you got Müller (DE), Möller (SE), and Møller (DK - a letter you just don't have out in the world, well, you do, in DK, SE, NO, and Greenland being danish) - how do you write it? Can you use "forign" letters? Can you put down variations on the name (Like the "Hitchcock" and "Hiscock)?

You should use the spelling used in your country, in your case Møller. We aim to use the names that people themselves would have known and that would have been recognized in their own time and place (quoted from the Style Guide).

As for variations of names you can use the Other Names field.

This is a perennial issue in the various pre-1700 projects. You will find viewpoints ranging from LNAB purists who contend that each person's LNAB should be spelled exactly as it appears on the first record related to that person (no matter how absurd that spelling might be, and no matter that the children of one father will end up with 8 different LNABs) to surname standardizers who try to impose their family's modern spelling on all ancestors.

The standard that Helmut describes represents a mid-range position. Try to figure out what the best spelling was for that particular family in that time and place, recognizing that spellings may shift over time.

Whatever you choose, do try to record the various variant spellings in the "Other Last Names" field.

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