Saturday, 1 July 2017

Traditional Irish Naming Customs – a McGrane Case Study

Irish Naming Patterns

Families across Ireland often adhered to a specific naming convention when it came to choosing names for their children. These naming practices endured from at least the end of the eighteenth century until well into the twentieth century, and are often used by genealogists today, when searching for their ancestors' unknown lineages. In fact, traditional Irish naming customs are sometimes considered the place to start, especially if there’s little to go on.

Traditional Irish Naming Customs
First son named after his paternal grandfather
Second son named after his maternal grandfather
Third son named after his father
Fourth son named after his father's eldest brother
Fifth son named after his mother’s eldest brother

First daughter named after her maternal grandmother
Second daughter named after her paternal grandmother
Third daughter named after her mother
Fourth daughter named after her mother's eldest sister
Fifth daughter named after her father’s eldest sister

So, taking my McGrane family as an example, I thought I’d check out just how effective this tool may be.

My great-great-grandfather, Myles McGrane, was born in November 1830 and his wife, Margaret Doyle, in January 1831. Both were reared in Dublin city. They got married in the Church of Saints Michael and John in Dublin on 26 January 1851. Myles and Margaret lived smack bang at a time when our traditional naming practices were supposedly most prevalent, so they should make for an interesting case study.

Their parents’ and many of their siblings’ names are reasonably well documented (by standards for the time and place), so we can easily evaluate the results.

The twelve known children of Myles McGrane and Margaret Doyle were:

Child’s name
Date of baptism
Date of death
Margaret McGrane
Dec 1851
9 Dec 1930
John Laurence McGrane
Aug 1853
15 Mar 1854
Patrick McGrane
Feb 1855
21 Mar 1855
Francis Joseph McGrane
Apr 1856
18 Feb 1931
Catherine McGrane
Oct 1858
14 Jan 1860
Sarah Jane McGrane
Aug 1861
5 Jun 1927
Mary Anne McGrane
Jul 1863
2 Nov 1937
Catherine McGrane
Jul 1865
10 May 1912
Michael McGrane
Apr 1868
23 Dec 1929
Alice McGrane
Mar 1871
14 Feb 1927
Rosanna McGrane
Feb 1873
16 May 1879
Elizabeth McGrane
Jul 1878
21 Aug 1881

By applying the Irish naming pattern to the choice of children’s names, we would conclude Myles’ parents were John and Catherine, while Margaret’s were Patrick and Margaret.  We’d have been mostly wrong, except that Myles’ father was John. But, we would have received some very useful clues - the order of the grandmothers’ names was merely switched. It’s only Margaret's father who was completely overlooked.

My third great-grandparents were in fact John and Margaret McGrane, and Paul and Catherine Doyle.

No surviving child was named after Paul, or after Myles himself. Yes, there are some small gaps in the birth order, making it a tad feasible the names Paul and/or Myles were given to an infant that was born sickly, baptised at home, and whose name never made it into the baptism register. But, the especially important family names were usually repeated if the first child died – e.g. Catherine - and these names were not.

So, perhaps Paul Doyle was an unlikeable character, who they all wished they could forget. We don’t know much about him. He was a weaver or a dyer by trade. He died in January 1872, stated age seventy-two years, having suffered an accident of some sort. He survived the accident by eleven weeks, but did not receive any medical attention. 

It’s also possible Myles and Margaret just did not like either of these two names. Neither of them were particularly popular in Dublin then.

Margaret’s two brothers were John and Patrick, her sisters were Sarah Anne, Catherine, Mary and Ellen. Myles’ surviving brothers were Francis and Michael and he also had a sister called Alice. It’s easy to see these names being featured prominently among Myles and Margaret’s own children. I’m not sure where the names Rosanna and Elizabeth came from, possibly they were simply fashionable at the time.

So, while the traditional Irish naming customs were not followed exactly in the order specified, the names of most of the children’s grandparents, aunts and uncles are manifestly obvious. Naming practices therefore do provide important clues regarding what to look out for. 

And, during the search for ancestors, if you are lucky enough to identify more than one potential family, naming patterns will likely come in handy, when narrowing down the options, at least initially.

But, BEWARE, they are not sufficient to provide conclusive evidence as to any individual ancestor’s actual name.

………………
© Black Raven Genealogy

10 comments:

  1. Great post! I've often used the naming pattern to track family lines with success.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Me too, Ellie! but they rarely if ever exactly followed the specified order, it was usually far more hit and miss.

    ReplyDelete
  3. With many generations in my family using Michael and Patrick, it has been very interesting at times.. I think I'm on the way to sorting them all out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes Chris, sometimes it's near impossible to sort out all the first cousins into their respective families!

      Delete
  4. Great post, Dara. I've toyed with the naming customs for my Kirk/Quirke line to try and determine the likely name for my 6th great-grandfather. But I've run into some of the same challenges you encountered here. Still, there are helpful clues to be had. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! You can't really rely on it, but you disregard it at your peril.

      Delete
  5. Loved the info...now I want to check my Irish roots for naming patterns...thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, I'd love to know how it goes for you!

      Delete
  6. Darn... didn't really work for me. It sorta did between 2 wives in one generation.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You can't rely on it at all, Dianne, though there is something to it, especially in large Catholic families.

      Delete