Naming Ways:Patterns of Descent



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Patterns of Descent

Source:Hatcher, 1989 is a highly useful work for genealogist, providing as it does considerable insight into cultural practices of our ancestors. Family patterns of descent of given names is one of the ideas that Hatcher presented that has found widespread favor among genealogists. Hatcher described the naming ways of four colonial American groups, noting the predominant patterns for the transmission of given names through the generation. He noted that among the Puritans of New England the first born male was usually named for the father, and the first born female for the mother, with the second born male named after the mother's father, and the second born female after the fathers mother, etc.

The following is a summary of his discussion of the descent of names within familes belonging to four colonial groups. [1]This sort of thing should be used with considerable caution. Hatcher gave only a few examples of each practice, and it is unclear just how widespread and consistent these patterns are. Yet many genealogists attach great significance to these "rules"....probably much more weight than they deserve. Among other things, these are not the only "rules" that were applied among people of British descent. A case has been made, for example, that among some segments of the British population given names were more likely to have been selected from godparents, than either paternal or maternal family line. Other cultureal groups, such as the Palatinate Germans, followed different naming ways altogether. Also, even if a particular family favored one particular naming tradition over another, that does not mean that they necessarily followed that rule. Hatcher's patterns of descent should probably be considered examples of "common practice" among person's of British descent (Scot, English, Irish) rather than "definitive rules".

Group/LocalityPageFirst Born Second BornThird Born
Son DauSon DauSon Dau
Quakers of Delaware Valleyp. 505MFFMFFMMFM
New England Puritans p. 96 FMMFFM
Anglican Virginia p. 308FFMMFM
Back Country p. 684 FFMMMFFMFM


  1. Hatcher is not entirely clear in some instances, and some liberties have been taken, particularly with the "Back Country" naming descent.