Scottish Naming Conventions — A Curse and a Blessing

52 in 52:  Week 4

Scottish Naming Conventions are the tradition of following a set pattern when naming children.  It was a way for early Scots to both preserve their heritage and honor their family members.  It went something like this:

For sons, the child was named after:

Firstborn son’s father’s father

Second born son’s mother’s father

Third born son’s father

Fourth born son’s father’s oldest brother

Five born son’s mother’s oldest brother


For daughters, the child was named after:

Firstborn daughter’s mother’s mother

Second born daughter’s father’s mother

Third born daughter’s mother

Fourth born daughter’s mother’s oldest sister

Fifth born daughter’s father’s oldest sister


There are variations where later sons and daughters were named after great-grandparents instead of parents’ siblings.  Another variation says that instead of the oldest sister or brother of the parent, a favored sibling was honored.

It can be a blessing to family researchers when you discover your ancestors adhered to a naming convention because it is a great way to confirm that you are tracking the correct family.  It can also provide clues to missing family members in previous generations.

The naming convention can also prove to be a curse, and that’s what this week’s blog is all about.  Too Many William Freelands!  (For my family members reading along, this is Catherine Gordon’s family, and bolded names are our direct ancestors.)

As I was going through my family tree in order to gather information for this post, I kept coming back to one of the William Harvie Freelands on the list.  Something didn’t add up.  I had him born in Carluke, Scotland, in 1862, but there were records of a William Harvie Freeland born in 1857 in Wisconsin attached to him.  It took me a couple of hours, but I finally straightened it out.  I had attached the records of an uncle (born in 1862) to his nephew (born in 1857).  Yes, you’re reading that correctly.  The uncle William Harvie was younger than his nephew William Harvie.  That happened a lot in these large families.  Older children had moved out of their parents’ homes, had married, and were having children of their own while their parents were still having children.

In a nutshell, the case of the William Harvie Freelands sums up my point.  It can get really confusing which child is which when there are so many similar names repeated through the generations.

Here’s a listing of one family followed through six generations.

Generation One:  William Freeland (I) and Margaret McFarland

Their children:  1. Jean, 2. William, 3. Ann, 4. John, 5. James, 6. Alexander, 7. Rebecca, 8. Hugh

Generation Two:  Tracking only child #2, William, from the above list of children.  We’ll call him “William II” just to keep him straight.  He married Mary McColl / McCall

Their children were twins William and Catherine

Again, tracking just twin William.  We’ll call him “William III” to keep him straight.

Generation Three:  William III married Elisabeth Harvie

Their children:  1. Emilia, 2. Marion, 3. Elisabeth, 4. William, 5. Elisabeth, 6. Alexander, 7. Catherine, 8. John, 9. James, 10. Hugh, 11. Marion, 12. Jane / Jean

Generations Four and Five:  Taking each of these children in order, we have the following:

  1. Emilia m. Daniel Templeton. Their children:  William, 2. Daniel, 3. Amelia, 4. William, 5.  Elizabeth, 6. John, 7. Mary
  2. Marion died young
  3. Elizabeth, died young
  4. William IV m. Janet Ferguson.  Their children: 1. William, 2. George, 3. Alexander, 4. Elizabeth, 5. William, 6. John, 7. Jane, 8. Amelia, 9. Janet, 10.  Grace, 11. William Harvie, 12.  Mary, 13.    (William IV and Janet’s children’s families will be followed in more detail below.)
  5. Elizabeth m. James Brodie. Their children:  James, 2. Elizabeth Harvie, 3. William, 4. Clementina, 6. John Alexander (married his cousin, Amelia*), 7.  Hugh Robert
  6. Alexander m. Margaret Wilson. Their children:  William Harvie, 2.  James Wilson, 3. Hugh Sloan, 4. Alexander, 5. Mary Jane, 6.  Elizabeth Harvie, 7.  Robert Wilson, 8.  John
  7. Catherine m. Adam Somerville. Their children:    Elizabeth, 2.  Adam, 3.  Agnes, 4.  Emily, 5.  Catherine, 6.  William, 7.  Marion,  8.  Margaret Jane
  8. John died unmarried at age 25.
  9. James died at age 16.
  10. Hugh m. Margaret Ross Forrest. Their children:  Agnes Brownlee, 2. William Hugh, 3. Elizabeth Harvie, 4. Mary Helen Forrest, 5. Amelia (married her cousin, John Alexander Brodie*), 6.  Robert Forrest
  11. Marion m. Hugh Sloan. No children
  12. Jane / Jean m. William Templeton. Their children:  Elizabeth,  2.  Susan,  3.  Daniel,  4.  Amelia, 5.  Jane

In this family, two sisters married two brothers, and two cousins married each other.

Generation Six:  In an attempt to make this less confusing, we’ll track just the children of William IV who married Janet Ferguson.  Their children’s families:

  1. William, died young
  2. George m. Helen Niddrie. Their children:  Isabella, 2.  William
  3. Alexander m. Annie McLachlan. No children.
  4. Elizabeth m. George Gordon. Their children:    Jessie Ferguson, 2.  William Freeland, 3.  Jean Freeland, 4.  George Ferguson, 5.  James A.
  5. William, died young
  6. John m. Mary Watson. Their children:    Mary, 2.  John
  7. Jane m. James Sanderson. Their children:  Janet Ferguson, 2. Elizabeth Edgar, 3.  Jessie Freeland
  8. Amelia m. William S. Parker. No children.
  9. Janet – She was still single in 1901
  10. Grace m. Harry (Henry) Gordon. Their children:    Grace Ferguson, 2. Emily Guild, 3. Catherine Freeland, 4.  Harry, Jr., 5. Malcolm
  11. William died young
  12. Mary m. David Gordon. Their children:    Adam William Freeland, 2. Louis Harry, 3.  William Freeland
  13. Catherine Smith m. Thomas Beattie. Their children: Jessie Ferguson, 2. James, 3. Catherine Margaret, 4. Harold William, 5. Lorean E.

Yes, just to keep it interesting, three of these sisters married men whose last names were Gordon!  Two of the Gordons were siblings and the third was unrelated.

In total, there are the following on this list:

10 William Freelands

2 William Templetons

2 William Brodies

3 William Gordons

5 Elizabeth Freelands

3 Elizabeth Templetons

4 John Freelands

3 John Brodies

4 Mary Freelands

2 Mary Templetons

3 Alexander Freelands

3 Emilia /Amelia Freelands

3 Emilia / Amelia Templetons

5 George Fergusons

2 Grace Freelands, 1 Grace Ferguson, 1 Grace Gordon, and 1 Grace Ferguson Gordon

In our modern world, people so badly want their children to have unique names, that they give them names that are made-up or bizarre, and even many of those names that could be considered less unusual are spelled in unconventional ways.  This trend makes it harder to understand entire families reusing the same names generation after generation.  Reminds me of that scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the father is introducing his extended family.  “…that’s Nick, Nick, Nick, Nick, and Nicky.”


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