Sunday, December 4, 2022

Exploring Namesakes


Somewhere deep in the tangled branches of my Tilson collateral lines, I ran across a descendant whose given names called to mind a popular singer of the 1950s. I had wondered whether this umpteenth-cousin had been named for a musician popular when he was born.

And why not? After all, my own mother was named after the given names of an actress popular in movies during the decade of my mother's birth. Patsy Ruth Miller had appeared in no less than eighteen films before my mom was born, and eight more films during the year of her namesake's birth. It was inevitable, when my mother finished high school, that her first goal would be to attend acting school and become an actress, herself.

I have seen several relatives in my family tree sporting names of past presidents. For instance, my tree has four men with the given names William Harrison, and one with the full name of America's ninth president, William Henry Harrison, "Old Tippecanoe." Considering Harrison served for only thirty one days after his 1841 inauguration, that's a significant number of namesakes. I sometimes wonder what inspires some parents to reach so deep into history for the names they choose.

It's not just presidents who claim so many namesakes among our family members. For instance, I took a look at my tree for any distant relatives with the given name of Benjamin Franklin. While the real Ben Franklin was never a president, he did figure prominently in politics of America's formative years, as well as being respected as a writer and scientist. No less than eight families in my tree chose to name their sons after this American icon.

And it wasn't just the star-studded among our country's best and brightest who can claim namesakes among my family's many branches. I was working on a collateral line last week, and discovered someone's marriage into a family with a name quite similar to Pascal. Though this in-law was most likely not of a French heritage, his surname's similarity was too tempting for this dad to pass up: he named one of his sons Blaise.

What a fascinating story it would be to discover why parents decided to name their child by a specific name. Who was important to these ancestors—and why? The answer to that question could paint another dynamic into the flat, two-dimensional sketch we often have of our ancestors. The names our ancestors chose for their children were important to them. In their own way, those namesakes bear witness to another facet of our family's past. 

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