Who’s Your Father, Then?

If you are researching your Scottish ancestry, you may have noticed as you read through the various records that there is a repetition of given (or first) names generation after generation. That’s because most Scots adhered fairly strictly to Scottish Naming Patterns. Here’s how it works:

  • First born son – named after Father’s father
  • Second born son – named after Mother’s father
  • Third born son – named after Father (unless he has one of the first two names)
  • Subsequent sons – named after Father or Mother’s brothers
  • First born daughter – named after Mother’s mother
  • Second born daughter – named after Father’s mother
  • Third born daughter – named after Mother (unless she shares one of the first two names)
  • Subsequent daughters – named after Mother or Father’s sisters

Other things to note are that if a child died before reaching adulthood, then the next child born of the same sex would be given that name. Pay attention to this if you find you have two or three children, born to the same set of parents, who all seem to share the same first name.

As well, if a new minister was in place, often (although not always), the first baby that was baptized by him would be given his name in some form – first name, middle name, variation of his name. The same thing went for the district nurse at her first delivery in the village.

While this seems confusing, it can actually work to your advantage in knowing which family is yours. If you see a name outside of the pattern, you may want to do some extra checking with other records to make sure you have the correct family.

Generally, you will see mother or grandmother’s maiden names used as middle names. This also helps you to keep the children lined up with the correct parents.

Even once Scots emigrated to North America, they seemed to continue with this naming pattern at least for awhile.

scottish naming patters


7 thoughts on “Who’s Your Father, Then?”

  1. What if your ancestor has two recurring male names like “Robert Duncan”? What could the middle name stand for? I don’t think it would be the mother’s maiden name…

  2. Duncan may be another grandfather, a brother, a brother-in-law, a close family friend. It could be a middle name of a close male – any of the preceding people. Or it actually could have been a maiden name for a mother or grandmother.

  3. This is awesome to know! I’m working my way through Scottish ancestors, and like you mentioned, I found one with a name that just didn’t fit – and I’m still trying to figure out why. :) Thank you!

  4. Most welcome, Angie. Most people have an “ah-ha” moment once they see learn about this pattern. The name that didn’t fit may have been named after someone close to the family that was very important to them in some way – providing something to them – money, land, support. Have a look at the witnesses on their marriage records or the witnesses to baptisms to see if the name pops up.
    Best of luck!

  5. My Father – John Docherty Graham.
    My grand Father William Glasgow
    Grandmother Isabelle Graham.
    Great great gran mother Isabelle Docherty.

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