Use the Scottish naming pattern to help your research

Scottish Naming Pattern to help identify Scottish ancestors

(1-2 minutes read) Here are some hints and tips on how to use the Scottish naming pattern for your family history research.  For many centuries, many Scottish ancestors followed a traditional naming pattern to name their children. The Scottish naming pattern can be a good starting point for a line of inquiry when you hit a brick wall. However, remember not use it to prove your genealogy! Use it to help make genealogical links with your Scottish ancestry.

Here is how it works:

Scottish naming pattern for boys

  • The first son – named after his paternal grandfather
  • The second son – named after his maternal grandfather
  • The third son – usually named after his father
  • The subsequent son – could be named after an uncle or other family member

Scottish naming pattern for girls

  • The first daughter – named after her maternal grandmother
  • The second daughter – named after the paternal grandmother
  • The third daughter – named after her mother
  • The subsequent daughter – could be named after an aunt or other family member

Above all, this tradition was a general desire to make sure that a forename stayed in the family through the generations.  Although useful, it can also be confusing and frustrating when there were lots of duplications within a family. For example, a name might be given to more than one child if both grandfathers had the same name.  Or, first born male cousins living in the same parish of similar age may have the same name if they shared the same paternal grandfather. Or, if a child died young, the parents may choose to name a subsequent sibling after them. This could be the case if you have 3 generations of first-born John Campbell or Robert Smith! Do you have common forename in your family?

This old naming pattern became unfashionable by the late 19th century so be aware when looking for clues for more recent ancestors.  However, more recent ancestors sometimes used surnames as middle names.

Middle names

This is another genealogical clue when the mother’s or grandmother’s maiden surname was used as a middle name.  This also helped to keep the name in the family over many generations. You will generally find the use of surnames as a middle name from the 19th century.

Other names

It was not usual to step away from tradition and use a forename that belonged to a family friend or someone famous, a local minister or even the local laird (known as a heritor) to stay in favour. Not everyone followed tradition so be aware. However, the traditional Scottish naming pattern can help you identify your ancestor, particular when you are looking at two different generations.

ScotlandsPeople has a useful guide  on forenames and middle names giving guidance on how to search those names on their database.

Have you found a naming pattern in your Scottish ancestry? Let me know below in your comments or contact me if you want me to found information about your Scottish ancestry.


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2 thoughts on “Use the Scottish naming pattern to help your research”

  1. Hello.
    Thank you for your question/answer system.

    A naming pattern has appeared with my great grandfather (b. 1862). He was from Northern England & we think his paternal grandmother was Scottish background.

    Her maiden name was Allison, he was named after her surname (his first name was Allinson [a masculinised version of Allison]) & his middle name was Raywood, his mother’s maiden name.

    This is slightly different to the traditional Scottish naming system but it seems like that or a variation of that.
    My Scot friend said he suspects some Scottish naming system is happening here.

    What do you you think is happening here please?

    Kindest Regards,

  2. Hello
    Thank you for your interesting question. It was not uncommon to use mother’s maiden names as middle names. In fact it was quite common which is helpful for us to make links between generations. When these were given as a first name it was a symbol of remembrance if the relative had passed on. It was also common to name a child after another sibling who had recently died to remember them. Perhaps his grandmother was no longer alive when your great grandfather was born?

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