Archiver > BRETHREN > 2000-03 > 0952071874

From: Ida McCormick <>
Subject: Names [it's a matter of linguistics]
Date: Fri, 03 Mar 2000 00:24:34 -0800

Some responders in the "Names" thread indicated that Margaret and Rebecca
were the "same" or "used interchangeably" in the 1800s. That is not the
case. A more precise statement is probably that "Peggy was sometimes used
for Becky in the 1800s." The pronunciation of German Americans probably
lies at the root of this, since they may have pronounced Becky as Pecky,
and selected individuals may have Americanized it to Peggy. Then later
people assumed that since they were called Peggy, their real name "must be"

There was a tendency among German Americans named Veronika (nicknamed
Frony) to Americanize as Fanny, which was a very popular name in the
1800s. Although Fanny was a nickname for the saint's name Frances, Fanny
was often used as a name in its own right. The same thing happened to a
number of other nicknames, including Becky; that is, they were standalone
names especially in 1800s America.

We must distinguish between usage equivalents (or partial equivalents) and
real linguistic equivalents. It is very risky to leap to conclusions.
When recording a nickname form into a genealogical record, I add the
supposed "real" name in square brackets, which indicates it is my
interpolation and not something found in the source.

Foreign language pronunciations are but one of the factors at work in
variant name development. It was very common for people of non-English
background to Americanize both their first names and their last names to
similar-sounding English names that were not etymologically the same names
as in the Old Country. Before the 20th Century, the sound of the name was
usually more important to its owner than how it was spelled.

Other factors in nickname development include the fact the W, H and R are
not consonants. Hence,

William -> Bill
Robert -> Bob, Hob, Hop
Richard -> Dick, Hick, Hitch
Roger -> Dodge, Hodge

and many English surnames have been derived from them.

There's a whole category of nicknames that insert N or T in front of a
vowel, such as Ned or Ted for Edward.

Peggy, Polly and Patsy belong to the M-P linguistic pattern. M and P are
made with the lips and are some of the first sounds an infant makes:

Mary (sometimes Maria) -> Molly, Polly, Moll, Poll
Margaret -> Mog, Moggee, Pog, Poggee, Maggie, Meg, Meggie, Peg, Peggy
Martha -> Mattie, Pattie, Patsy

In the case of the Clara one responder mentioned who was called Polly, her
other given name was probably Mary or Maria. Among German families the
nickname was generally built upon the given name closest to the surname.

Sarah -> Sally (also Sadie) is another name in the R-L pattern.

Besides taking time period and user's ethnicity into consideration, it also
pays to consult good name dictionaries for variant names/nicknames and word
origins/meanings. Rebecca is from the Old Testament and may be from the
Aramaic language. Margaret is from the Greek and is found in the New
Testament as the "margarita [pearl] of great price," not as a person.
Margaret became a saint's name, thence popular in many language variations.

An old Webster's Collegiate Dictionary might answer a lot of questions
about traditional nicknames and variants, such as the many for Elizabeth.
Knowing Mother Goose rhymes also helps. <g>

There are nickname lists in books and on the web which can lead people
astray, especially by not defining the time period. (I was not able to
bring up the nickname web site listed by one responder in this thread; its
server is apparently not responding right now.)

My acid test for any book or web site on genealogical nicknames is whether
they misidentify Eli and Dan as nicknames. They are different Bible names
from Elijah, Elisha, Elihu, Elishama (etc.) and Daniel. Daniel Boone was
not Dan; he was Dan'l. The rule of thumb is that if the similar names
refer to different persons in the Bible, they were different people in

I have been lecturing on the linguistics of naming patterns, including
variant surnames and nicknames, since 1972. If anyone wants to take this
topic off list, I am interested.

--Ida Skarson McCormick, , Seattle
copyright 2000

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