The Scots have for many centuries followed a relatively simple set of rules when assigning given names to their successive children. While these traditional naming patters were not followed by all families, they were widespread enough that a basic understanding of can come in handy when hunting for Scottish ancestors.

The Scots have for many centuries followed a relatively simple set of rules when assigning given names to their successive children. While these traditional naming patters were not followed by all families, they were widespread enough that a basic understanding of them can come in handy when hunting for Scottish ancestors.

Being familiar with these patterns will allow you to make genealogical inferences, identify potential new avenues of research and reveal all sorts of clues about the lives of your ancestors.

By the latter part of the nineteenth century, these patterns began to break down and fade out of use so be cautious when using them to identify more recent ancestors.

The traditional patterns used when naming boys were as follows:

  • The first son would be named after the father's father (variation is after the mother's father)
  • The second after the mother's father (variation is the father's father)
  • The third son would be named after the father
  • The fourth son would be named after the father's oldest brother (variation is after the father's paternal grandfather)
  • The fifth son would be named after the mother's oldest brother (variation is after the mother's paternal grandfather)

and for girls:

  • First daughter named after the mother's mother (variation is after the father's mother)
  • Second daughter named after the father's mother
  • Third daughter named after the mother
  • Fourth daughter named after the mother's oldest sister (variation is after the mother's maternal grandmother)
  • Fifth daughter named after the father's oldest sister (variation is after the father's maternal grandmother)

These formulas may come in handy when identifying potential members of your ancestor's immediate family. However, it's always worth bearing in mind that certain family circumstances could divert these patterns from their usual course. For example, you may find that certain given names were duplicated within the same generation. This could be the result of both grandfathers sharing a common name that was then given to two children, or, it could hint at the death of an earlier child within the family as it was not uncommon for parent's to name later children after dead siblings.

To make matters even more complicated, there was yet another set of patterns that used the names of ancestors rather than the parent's siblings. This "ancestral pattern" was outlined by U.S. family historian, John B Robb, in his 2012 paper; "The Scottish Onomastic Child-naming Pattern". According to Robb, the pattern for boys was as follows:

  • The first son was named for his father's father.
  • The second son was named for his mother's father.
  • The third son was named for his father's father's father.
  • The fourth son was named for his mother's mother's father.
  • The fifth son was named for his father's mother's father.
  • The sixth son was named for his mother's father's father.
  • The seventh through tenth sons were named for their father's four great-grandfathers.
  • The eleventh through fourteenth sons were named for their mother's four great-grandfathers.

and for girls:

  • The first daughter was named for her mother's mother.
  • The second daughter was named for her father's mother.
  • The third daughter was named for her mother's father's mother.
  • The fourth daughter was named for her father's father's mother.
  • The fifth daughter was named for her mother's mother's mother.
  • The sixth daughter was named for her father's mother's mother.
  • The seventh through tenth daughters were named for their mother's four great-grandmothers.
  • The eleventh through fourteenth daughters were named for their father's four great-grandmothers.

As the patterns described earlier can help when identifying your ancestor's close relatives, the ancestral pattern can be of particular use when taking your research back a generation. It is also worth taking the middle names of later ancestors into consideration as they were often the mother or grandmother's maiden name.

Of course, these patterns should only be used as a rough reference guide as no two families are exactly the same. In many cases there will be no rhyme or reason behind the names chosen for your ancestors as there were plenty of families who didn't care one bit about such traditions and their child could have been named after a dear friend, a celebrated public figure or even a popular local minister.