Justification for "Last Name at Birth" and "AKA" surnames.

+6 votes
I've been puzzling over how to implement WikiTree policy on surnames along with my own experience in the Surname Study. My question is about the acceptable use of AKA and LNAB.:

I have been studying the Beasley surname for many years. I have examined hundreds of lineage, many of them formally included in the study. I have studied migratory patterns and spelling changes within families over time. I have studied worldwide frequency and distribution of the name. I have gleaned sources including page-by-page examination of census records for poorly written or transcribed names.

First, AKA: There are hundreds of "deviant" spellings as defined by the Guild of One-Name Studies, that must be distinguished from legitimate "variant" spellings. In the Beasley study, Beasley is most common worldwide, followed by Beesley, and Beazley. In the US, my surname, Beezley is fourth, but it is fifth worldwide. In my opinion, it is a mistake to include deviant spellings as an AKA. I do think it is useful to note transcription errors along with specific sources. One could say that including deviant spellings would help in searches, but as it is, searches are cluttered with plenty of vague sound-alike or look-alike surnames.

Second LNAB: I believe it is said that a birth or baptismal record is the necessary cause for changing the LNAB. Often a true account of such record is not available and even then, mistakes are made. I've seen birth records with a spelling that no one in the family actually used. On the other hand, by examining large quantities of evidence in lineages, patterns of usage passed on from generation to generation and actual spelling shifts from one generation to another can be found. In my mind, where this broad study of lineages is available, it would be useful to change the LNAB based on these usage patterns.

It is possible, of course, to enter a "Current last name", suggesting that it was one way at birth and later changed. I think that would be useful when an actual spelling shift occurs from one generation to the next, but not so much when it was simply a correction of judgment.

I have resisted making changes to LNAB for Beasleys. I would not concern myself with any other surname but with Beasley, I consider myself an "expert". In fact, I would confidently claim I'm THE expert. In my work, I exercise care in all my judgments of sources and relationships.

Can broad expertise in the subject substitute for specific birth records? Am I justified in exercising my judgments about Beasley LNAB, of course, with individual statements for each change?
in Policy and Style by Douglas Beezley G2G6 Mach 3 (30.8k points)
edited by Douglas Beezley
After posting this, I was reminded that I asked a similar but very specific version of this question just two months ago and got an excellent and useful answer. https://www.wikitree.com/g2g/588536/advice-about-changing-a-birth-name

I'm embarrassed about forgetting stuff like this, but I hope you will forgive the new question as a usefully broader discussion.
I can see I'm going about this ars backward. I thought I had sufficiently looked for resources, but apparently not. While not withdrawing my discussion, I'm noting the following that I found and am about to review more closely:

Don't mind me... I'm having a conversation with myself.

I found a great answer in this discussion:

The last name at birth is most useful if it is a common way of spelling the name. Current Last Name is useful as a link to a spouse for a woman. Searching on names is something we do a lot. In general there was no standardization in spelling for a long time. I linked together one family tree where there were vowels that were i and e interchanged and letters that were both double and single. It made searching really hard. I particularly don't like when people put multiple variations in the same field for Last name at birth, that really messes up searching. Searching on both first and last names will get up a lot more hits than just the last name because they include spelling variations, sometimes too many. I vote for not expecting any definitive Last name at birth and putting in the spelling that will get you into the common variation in a search.
Two things.  Doug, I enjoyed your conversation with yourself.

Second.  I think it would be a mistake to use the most common variation in surnames.  It was not only that there were distinct generational variations in spelling.  Sometimes different branches spelled a name differently.  That would help to place descendants together.  Also, I have seen the surname spelled differently within the same document!  I do not think it is even as simple as deferring to the birth certificate or baptismal record either.  It should be more like the preponderance of evidence in determining the LNAB.  This is why we stress the importance of providing sources so that others can see how we came to our conclusions.
Oh, goody. I get to respond to a real "someone else" person.

My reference to "most common variation" actually means those variations that are and have been used in real life. I guess the idea I'm seeing more clearly in present and recent conversations is to base it on collective evidence to arrive at a reasonable conclusion, not to just change a rendering of a name because it is "more common". For example, I've mentioned the very most common spellings, but there are other real ones out there. There are real Beasly and Beesly families out there, but Beaseley or Beesely is not used in real life and to my knowledge, never has been.

As the least common of the most common, we have a Beezley FB group where we share common experiences. Everyone with this name automatically begins spelling when giving our name, because it will almost always come out Beasley. The funniest story is how often people see the name and create a phantom "r" to make it Breezley. Then I discovered there actually is a Breezley family... one single actual lineage, all related, going back to a widow Beasley born around 1800 whose sons started appearing as Breezley around 1840 and stuck with it. Yeah, I need to get that one onto WT.

John Beesely may have begged to differ (if that was the correct spelling). Barring other evidence at the moment, we would have to assume that his spelling was correct, wouldn't we?

2 Answers

+6 votes


Considering that spelling was such an inexact science in days past, the fundamental axiom of genealogy was

Spelling doesn’t count.

I guess, everywhere but here. ;)

by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (479k points)
+4 votes

Note: I started to jot down a response here and then saw your comment about another thread and provided answer. I went through the question, read the answer, only to realize it was actually me who responded to your original question. The thread is only about two months old, and I clearly forgot about it - so no worries if you feel like you repeated yourself - I didn't catch it either! I am also reusing the same examples!

First, AKA: For me, to 'deviate' from a name is to take on an alternate form (slight spelling difference) from the original. As an example, my ancestor Josef Volcik was born in Vsetin, Moravia where he married and had two children, also Volcik's. After the family migrated to the United States, Josef and his wife had two more children - but their surnames were spelled Wolcik. I won't go into the details of why the name changed, but I would consider this a derivative of the original surname - making them one in the same (to a certain extent - at least in my line).

A variant on the other hand (again, this is just my opinion), would be where the surname is one in which many people from a different culture would have trouble pronouncing, spelling, etc.; so a different (either acceptable or entirely made-up) form is used. For a native English speaker, trying to pronounce a name like Anwulichukwu can be quite a challenge, so the name may be shortened to "Ann" - which brings up a comic strip I ran across a while back:

This would also be the same for a person who goes by their middle name in place of their first name, etc. So, I would be of the opinion that AKA is suitable for variants, but not for derivatives (at least as I have described them here).

Second, LNAB: I agree wholeheartedly with your statement and it is very similar to what I posted on the original thread - so nothing further from me here.

It is possible, of course, to enter a "Current last name", suggesting that it was one way at birth and later changed. I think that would be useful when an actual spelling shift occurs from one generation to the next, but not so much when it was simply a correction of judgment.

I would venture to say that the current last name field should also be used for official/proven information. For instance, if the LNAB at birth (according to birth cert) was Wolcik, and later in life the name was officially changed to Volcik (to correct the spelling, etc.), then the Current last name would be changed to Volcik so there is no confusion.

by Steven Harris G2G6 Pilot (566k points)
Well said!

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