Genealogy: Finding nicknames in genealogy research

NicknamesBy Barry J. Ewell
As a genealogist you are going to regularly find family members who use their birth name, nick name, initials and variations thereof in all the documents you research. For example my father was named James Neil Ewell, but to his friends he was referred to as “Frip” which was listed in his obituary, news articles, gravestone, correspondence, and other records. If I didn’t know my dad and the story behind the nickname, I would have had difficulty associating the two names as being one individual.  Every one of my dad’s brothers had nicknames they used as their first name.  I regularly used these nicknames throughout life long association with them.  I didn’t know their real names until I was into my adult years.  Their names were:

  • Uncle Wimp (Arthur Ewell)
  • Uncle Bob (Robert Ewell)
  • Uncle Giggs (Lawrence Berry Ewell)
  • Uncle Kent/Ken/Stu (Kent Ewell)

My uncle Wimp was named after the Popeye cartoon character Wimpy because he liked to eat lots of hamburgers.  My dad named after a emotional hippo cartoon Fripolina because he was always whining as a child. At least those were the stories I was told.

Nick names can give us real difficulty especially when we are trying to establish the true size of the family, connect an individual (s) through the census or even associate different records to the same person.

Common names can have a variety of nicknames, for example:

  • Katherine with nicknames Kate, Kathy, Katie, Katy, Kay, Kit, Kitty
  • Michael with nicknames Micah, Michl, Mick, Mickey, Micky, Mike, Mischa

Nicknames were really hard for me as a beginning genealogist.  There was Fanny Ewell (Frances Ewell) and Polly Jones (Mary Jones) which gave me some difficulty figuring out who they even were.  Once I realized that people were using nicknames, I started searching for nicknames and their associated birth names to give me a better chance of associating the right person with the right documents in the same generation.

I have found it common for nicknames can be formed from the beginning and endings of words such as

  • Aggy from names starting “Ag”
  • Ed from names starting with “Edd”
  • Essy from names staring with “Es”
  • Field from names ending with “Field”
  • Issy from names ending with “Is”
  • Lee from names starting with “Le”
  • Lena from names ending with “Leen, Lima”
  • Lina from names ending with “Lena, Lina”
  • Lynn from names ending with “Lene, Lina, Lyn”

I have prepared four lists that focus on associating nicknames with proper names to assist in genealogy research.  The lists include hundreds of names from the last 200 years.  The lists are not inclusive, but will give you a good start to decipher names that were given to your ancestors by their family, friends and associates.  The lists are

  1. Female nicknames and their associated birth name. This lists the female nickname first followed by the common female name associated with the nickname.
  2. Male nicknames and their associated birth name. This lists the male nickname first and followed by the common names associated with the nickname.
  3. Female birth names and their associated nicknames. This lists the more common birth female name first and provides you possible nicknames that have been associated with the name.
  4. Male birth names and their associated nicknames. This lists the more common male birth name first and provides you possible nicknames that have been associated with the name.

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