What’s in a Name? Part 2.. The role of Scottish female naming traditions in the Fleming-Brown family tree.

In his book ,The Scottish Onomastic Child-naming Pattern, John Barrett Robb explains the original naming system of Scotland, the “ancestral pattern”, was not only used to commemorate a child’s ancestors but was adopted as partly as a genealogical device to keep track of one’s ancestors.  In his study, of naming patterns, he found in a small Scottish sample that the proportion of those following these traditions was virtually 100% with a minor variation within the pattern. 

John Barrett Robb notes that few families had as many as seven sons or seven daughters and few families could name many of their great grandparents and that from these naming patterns the pool of given names was small, the chances that the ancestral naming pattern continued after the seventh child was minimal.  With most families using the ancestral pattern having between 5-10 children, he outlines that ancestral patterns were followed for generations up until the 19th century when patterns started to change somewhat, particularly when families immigrated.

Holton and Winch in their book “Discover your Scottish Ancestry”, outlines that there are four main types of surnames; local names, relationship names, occupational names and nicknames.  There are some parallels with the work of Barrett Robb with similarities between the ancestral pattern and the relationship surname pattern.  They add that where families followed these patterns rigidly, duplication’s of names were evident.  One reason for these duplication’s was when a young child, usually younger than five years, became ill, a newborn was often also named that of the ill child to ensure that should that child pass away, the name was carried down to the next generation.  Of course, if both children lived to be adults, two children within the same family would have the same name. 

For daughters, John Barrett Robb, adds another ancestral pattern whereby middle names were taken from the mother or grandmother’s maiden name. Holton and Winch explain that the use of pet names and variations of names were used interchangeably with a given name.


The Fleming family and their ancestral naming pattern

Andrew Fleming was born on 9 February 1869 the illegitimate son of Jane Fleming, his wife Rachael Forrester Brown was the daughter of Robert Brown (1836 – 1882) and Rachael Forrester (1835 – 1914) and born on 2 August 1872.  Andrew and Rachael were married on 23 July 1891 and would go on to have 16 children.  

As a young girl growing up I was aware that my Nana Jean was born in Scotland and was one of many children in her family.  At the time, the family would say Nana was one of 13 children, which I found extraordinary!  I don’t recall any stories that my Nana told me about her family in Scotland or any that my Grandma or Mum past down to me.  It was because of this unknown that I ended up researching my Nana’s family history as one of my first and ongoing projects in my genealogy journey. 

When asked, my Mum could only recall a few names of Nana’s siblings and trawled through her emails to an email sent by a Scottish cousin that gave a list, that between the two of them they had come up with.  Other than this, little was known about Nana’s parents and siblings and those ancestors that came before them. It turned out not all the names on the list were useful in locating their registrations of birth and this is where the website What’s in a Name came in handy for finding out the variations of given names in Scotland.  

Unlike most families Rachael and Andrew would have 11 daughters and because the pool of names for daughters at that time was not big, the use of variations to given names emerged.  I soon found that the names that were on the list that Mum gave me were mostly pet names that the Scottish use as alternatives to a person’s given name.  Just to make it all a bit more complicated! 

My research soon confirmed that as I built the Fleming and Brown family tree I could see that they had named their children in accordance with the onomastic child-naming pattern and for daughters this was how names were derived:

The first daughter was named for her mother’s mother The second daughter was named for her father’s mother The third daughter was named for her mother’s father’s mother The fourth daughter was named for her father’s father’s mother The fifth daughter was named for her mother’s mother’s mother The sixth daughter was named for her father’s mother’s mother The seventh through tenth daughters were named for the mother’s four great-grandmothers The 11th through 14th daughters were named for their father’s four great-grandmothers

In addition to the tradition for given names, the family also gave the oldest daughter a middle name which was the maiden name of the mother (the use of the mother’s maiden names in the Fleming family will be in an upcoming edition to the series “What’s in a Name?”).


Following their marriage in 1891, Andrew and Rachael, welcomed their first born, a daughter, on 24 March 1892 and named her Rachael Forrester Fleming. The name Rachael given to commemorate her grandmother Rachael Forrester and her middle name Forrester being the maiden name of her mother.

Andrew Fleming, her father, was the illegitimate son of Jane Fleming (you can find out more about illegitimate children in a future post). In short, this means that Andrew was born out of wedlock and for whatever reason the father’s name was not recorded on the registration of birth. On the 10 September 1893, Rachael gave birth to their second daughter, Jane (also known as Jean/Gennie) and named after Andrew’s mother Jane Fleming (1872 – 1934).

The fourth child to Andrew and Rachael was a daughter, Christina Fleming, born on 7 June 1897. Christina was named after Rachael’s father, Robert Brown’s, mother Christina Kerr (1798 – 1888).

Mary Fleming was the fourth daughter born to Andrew and Rachael on 22 April 1899. As Andrew was an illegitimate child and his father was unknown, the first deviation from the ancestral naming pattern occurred, with Mary being named after Rachael’s grandmother, Mary Candlish (1800 – 1880.

Rachael would give birth to their fifth daughter, Elizabeth Fleming, on 28 February 1901. The second deviation from the ancestral pattern occurred in the naming of Elizabeth, because the name of Andrew’s grandmother was named Jean Learmonth, the alternative name of their second born daughter. Therefore, Elizabeth was given to their fifth daughter, named after Andrew’s, great grandmother, Elizabeth Jeffrey.

On 8 April 1903, Margaret was born, the sixth daughter of Andrew and Rachel. Margaret was named after her father’s fourth great grandmother, Margaret Scot, born about 1721 who married to James Fleming.

Rachael gave birth to their seventh daughter, Janet, on 14 October 1906. Janet was named after her mother’s second great grandmother, Janet Morres who was born in about 1772 and who married to John Forrester.

On the 29 February 1908, Rachael gave birth to twin daughters, Jemima and Joan. As the eighth and ninth daughters born in the Fleming family, it appears that the ancestral naming pattern was not used, with neither names being found in the ancestors that came before them. Sadly, both Jemima and Joan died as infants, the former on 15 March 1908 and the later on 15 November 1908.

Rachael gave birth to her tenth daughter, Isabella, on 28 May 1914. It seems that the ancestral pattern continued with Isabella’s birth who was named after her father’s fifth great grandmother Isobel Mitchel who was born in about 1620 and who married Patrick Scot.

On the 9 May 1917, Rachael gave birth to her youngest child, a daughter named Jessie. Jessie, at that time, was not a traditional Scottish name, however research shows that it can be used as a pet name for Janet, a name previously given to an older sister.


Researching the ancestral naming pattern using my Fleming-Brown ancestors has been an enormous task and with a few challenges. Apart from Rachael and Andrew having 10 daughters (plus sons) tracing back through their ancestors was not as easy as the ancestral naming pattern suggests. This was particularly harder as Andrew was registered at birth as a illegitimate child. For the Fleming – Brown family, like Scotland at that time, only had a small range of names to choose from and there were overlaps in the names of their ancestors and may be the reason that pet names were used for the younger daughters.

Lessons that may be helpful in your journey to build your Scottish family tree….

The wealth of records in Scotland was valuable in tracing the ancestors of Andrew Fleming and Rachael Forrester Brown, some of the lessons to come from building this tree and researching the ancestral naming pattern used by the family for generations, includes:

  • By reviewing previous families in the family tree and their naming patterns of children, I was able to make inferences about what Andrew and Rachael may have named their daughters when I was locating their registrations of birth
  • I was mindful that for a family having ten daughters it would not have been possible to name all girls under the traditional ancestral pattern, so researching pet names was useful and provided alternative names to search for
  • Researching through the ancestors of the Andrew and Rachael was, while time consuming, was also a rewarding experience in gaining a greater knowledge of these ancestors and finding that records dating back as earlier as the 1620’s were available

References

Barrett Robb, John, (2017), The Scottish Onomastic Child-naming Pattern, John Barrett Robb, p. 2 – 3

Holton, Graham S., and Winch, Jack, (2009), Discover your Scottish Ancestry – Internet and Traditional Resources, Edinburgh University Press, p. 114 – 116

Registration of Birth, Andrew Fleming, 9 February 1869, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Rachael Forrester Brown, 2 August 1872, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Marriage, Andrew Fleming to Rachael Forrester Brown, 2 June 1891, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Rachael Forrester Fleming, 24 March 1892, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Jane Fleming, 10 September 1893, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Christina Fleming, 7 June 1897, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Mary Fleming, 22 April 1899, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Elizabeth Fleming, 28 February 1901, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Margaret Fleming, 8 April 1903, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Janet Fleming, 14 October 1906, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Jemima Fleming, 29 February 1908, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Death, Jemima Fleming, 15 March 1908, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Joan Fleming, 29 February 1908, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Death, Joan Fleming, 15 November 1908, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Isabella Fleming, 28 May 1914, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

Registration of Birth, Jessie Fleming, 28 May 1914, Bathgate, Scotland, ScotlandsPeople, Edinburgh, Scotland. Copy in possession of author.

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ancestordetective

With a love of genealogy and research, I started my blog Ancestor Detective. My passion for this field continues to grow and I am starting to pursue a part time career in delving into the lives of other peoples ancestors.

3 thoughts on “What’s in a Name? Part 2.. The role of Scottish female naming traditions in the Fleming-Brown family tree.”

  1. I love naming patterns! But they can also be a challenge when someone (widow/widower) marries a second time (as happened with my German and Irish ancestors). Do they start the naming pattern over from scratch with the second spouse? What if children from the first spouse already have some of the names? It’s the nuances that keep the genealogy research process interesting.

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