Monday, April 29, 2013

N is for Names - Family History Through the Alphabet

Names always interest me, especially the unusual or uncommon ones, but I'm also interested in the ones that are handed down multiple times.  There are both among my ancestors. Some of our unusual names include the old-fashioned ones of Elvira, Beulah, Mabel, Arabella, and Keziah, which are all on my paternal ancestors' sides.  On my maternal side, we have names like Crusin/Cruson/Crewson, Sabra, Rena, and Zerelda.  Strangely enough, uncommon women's names are more prevalent than uncommon men's names. 

On My Paternal Side
Elvira Snair was named for her grandmother, Elvira Bartley Gerner.  Elvira Snair's mother was Lana Gerner Snair.  The younger Elvira was born in about 1904, the older Elvira in 1854.

Alonzo and Alfonzo Gerner were born in 1874.  Their nicknames were Lon and Fon (also spelled Fawn).  I sometimes wonder how their parents decided on these names which sound of Spanish origin to me.  In The Little House on the Prairie series of books, from about the same time period, there was a young man named Alonzo.  Perhaps these were popular names of the time.

Beulah Riss, born about 1919, was named for her aunt, Beulah Gerner Doyle, who died in 1913.  The younger Beulah's mother was Bessie Leota Gerner Riss, sister to Beulah Gerner.  Bessie cared for Beulah's half-orphan son, Lee, after Beulah died.  It was a kind way for Bessie to honor the memory of her sister.

Then there's a string of men named William Doyle in our family.  Andrew Doyle's father was William and Andrew named one of his sons William (born 1863).  Andrew and his son both emigrated from England in 1869-1870.  William, the one born in 1863, did not name any of his sons William but he has a grandson (through Gust Doyle) named William; and that William named his son William.  Oh, yes, the dates help!

Gus, Gust, August, and Augustine
The names Gus, Gust, August, and Augustine are abundant on both sides of my family.  On my father's side are his father, Gust Doyle.  In one census he is listed as August; other times he signed his name Gus.  My father insisted that his father's name was Gust so that's how I record it.  Gust Doyle could have been named for his mother's brother, Gus Froman.  Gust Doyle's cousin, Gust Proud, could also have been named for his uncle, the same Gus Froman.

On my mother's side there's Augustine Bickerstaff, who had a son named Augustine.  It's a good thing there are dates to differentiate between them.  I do not know if either of these men were called by nicknames.

On My Maternal Side
Crusin/Cruson/Crewson Bell and Rena and Sabra Bickerstaff are all names I've heard nowhere else but in our family.  Sabra was born in 1798.  Perhaps it was a common name then. 

Emma Nelson, born in 1845, named her son Edward Jesse Bickerstaff.  Emma died when Edward Jesse was about 7 years old.  He named his oldest daughter Emma.  I can only assume it was in honor of his mother.

Elizabeth is a common name but it seems unusual that so many in the same family would use the name without it being in honor of a mother or grandmother, an honor bestowed either by her husband or her children.  Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen had 15 children.  Two daughters' names included Elizabeth:  Hannah Elizabeth and Wilhelmina Elizabeth (which she reversed during WWI).  Hannah named one of her daughters Elizabeth Zerelda.  Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen's oldest son, Henry, named his oldest daughter Elizabeth; and one of Elizabeth Armitage Meinzen's younger sons, Jacob Meinzen, named his daughter Elizabeth.  It's not uncommon for daughters to be named for their mothers but to have three granddaughters named after their grandmother was a surprise to learn.  Was she much-loved, much-revered, or both?

Jacob Increase Meinzen and Lula Bernesa Meinzen had uncommon middle names.  Increase was, perhaps, bestowed with the hope of many descendants.  Unfortunately, Jacob was killed within four months of his only child's birth.  Where did Bernesa come from?  I had never heard it until this discovery.  It was the name of both mother and wife of Jesse James.  Strange, huh?

Perhaps our family's most unusual name is Zerelda.  She gets her own post.

Do you have any unusual names in your family?

This post is a contribution to the Family History Through the Alphabet challenge created and hosted by Alona Tester at Genealogy and History News.  Thanks, Alona.



  1. "Gust Doyle" -- man, if I were a fiction writer, I'd grab that name up for a character. A macho-man character - a cowboy - powerful patriarch - a politician - industry mogul.

    1. Hi, Wendy. I hadn't considered the name objectively until I read your comment. Hmmm. To think that his names brings such images to mind. He was a successful farmer and probably didn't have intentions to be more. Thanks for your comments.

  2. The name 'Elvira Snair' captures my imagination. Given that there are 26 women on my family tree who bear the name Maria (Mariah), called Mary, I very much appreciate interesting and unusual names. Thank you for sharing these.


    1. Thanks for visiting, Jennifer. It's hard to imagine having so many women with the same name. It must be hugely challenging. Yes, Elvira Snair is pretty unusual. I've noticed that there are some names that one just does not hear these days and I think Snair is one of them. Thanks for your comments.


I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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