Names, like people, have lives of their own, which is why Lloyd Bockstruck’s new book about the serendipity and life’s choices that can alter our family names is must-reading for every researcher. Mr. Bockstruck, one of America’s foremost genealogists and the former genealogy librarian at the Dallas Public Library, has distilled the wisdom of a lifetime about the vagaries of names into this work. Eminently readable, The Name IS the Game is a collection of illustrations and cautionary tales that can help family historians surmount the obstacles or avert the pitfalls associated with naming practices throughout the centuries.
The book is divided into five chapters, and it engages the reader at the get-go. For instance, in the introductory first chapter Bockstruck relates a number of first-hand accounts that fostered his early fascination with names, such as his initial failure to find the tombstone of German great-aunt Barbara Baker (born Barbara Becker). The introduction’s high point is the incredible story of the peregrinating Scots colonist Ian Ferguson, whose name was recorded as Johann Feuerstein when he was among the Pennsylvania Palatine immigrants, and was later recorded as John Flint when he moved to Philadelphia. Two generations later, one of his grandsons, Peter Flint, moved to Louisiana, where he was recorded as Pierre a Fusil, only to end up as Peter Gunn when he settled in Texas after the Civil War.
“Chapter 2: Forenames” discusses the ancestral clues that are inherent in names. Did you know, for example, that the German forenames Franz and Xavier were predominantly used by Roman Catholics? Similarly, if the father of an unborn child died before the baby’s birth, the child might have been named Ichabod. And Doctor was often used as a nickname for the seventh son in a family because it was believed that a seventh son had an intuitive knowledge of the use of herbs.
The “Surname” section of the book (Chapter 3) is the longest, and it covers lots of territory. Topics include maiden names, spelling, surname misinterpretation, aliases, military influences, changes in language, dialects, surname abbreviations, and much more. Among the lessons learned by Mr. Bockstruck: (1) Database indexers have transformed the names Farmer into Turner, Martin into Mortin, and Warren into Warner, among others. (2) In Virginia records, the actual William Hastin has appeared as William Heaston and William Hasting; in New England, the Andros family is also recorded as Andrews; and runaway servant William Wyatt, after fleeing from Virginia to North Carolina, used the name John Murphey. (3) Interesting things happen when individuals shorten their names–John DeLong might later show up as John D. Long; William Arrowsmith might have become William A. Smith; and John Essman might have reverted to John S. Mann. The examples abound!
By the time the reader has consumed the two short final chapters, covering toponyms (place names) and change of name statutes respectively, he/she will be much more cognizant that a name change may be the actual cause of an ancestor’s “disappearance,” and, best of all, will possess the tools for finding the missing antecedent.