Five reasons why ancestors used surnames as middle names

For several months this year I worked with the Grinling Gibbons Society on the tercentenary of illustrious 17th century carver Grinling Gibbons. I was already familiar with Gibbons’ incredible work but didn’t know where his unusual name came from. In fact, he was named Grinling after his mother, Elizabeth Grinling (though his mother’s family name was recorded as Grinling, Gorling, Grilling, and other variations). He also had a brother, Dingley Gibbons (chuckle) who was named after his grandmother’s family line. Grinling also named a son Grinling, but his namesake didn’t survive childhood.

In Grinling Gibbons’ case, surnames were used as first names. I only have one example of that in my family tree (a Hull butcher who probably endured a lifetime of teasing for his name: Flower Callis — after his grandmother Sarah Ann FLOWER). However, I have a wealth of ancestors who had surnames as middle names. It got me thinking about why these names were used, and how they were sometimes passed down multiple generations.

Naming traditions vary from country to country, but in England, having one or more middle names became increasingly common from the 19th century. According to the National Institute of Genealogy, ‘Middle names were chosen for a reason, not just on a whim, and this is important to bear in mind when elucidating relationships.’1

Drawing from my own family history, which is almost entirely in England, I’ve come up with five reasons for parents choosing surnames as middle names. And I’ve shared some examples of each from my family tree. Perhaps they will inspire you to think about where some of your ancestors’ middle names came from too!

1. Illegitimacy

One of the most common reasons for a child to be given a surname as a middle name was when the parents weren’t married. If a child had the same surname as his/her mother, and a middle name that looked like a surname, there’s a very good chance that the child’s middle name was the biological father’s surname. In some cases, the middle name of an illegitimate child may be the only clue, other than DNA, to the father’s identity.

Delia Raby Munday

The closest example of this to me was my paternal grandmother, whose birth name was registered as Delia Raby Munday in 1927. In Delia’s case, her father’s identity was included on her birth certificate — Walter Emmanuel RABY. My granny may have met her father as a toddler before she was sent home from Canada to England to be raised by an aunt and uncle. However, she had no memory of him and her mother and other family members refused to tell her anything about him. I’ve wondered how she felt about having this name throughout her 86 years of life — the surname of a man who had perhaps refused to have any responsibility for her and who remained a mystery to her.

The Skinner Maultbys

Hannah Maultby, a sister of my 3x great grandfather, had an illegitimate son, Sidney Skinner Maultby, in 1868. Hannah, only 18 years old, soon abandoned baby Sidney, leaving him to be raised by her recently widowed mother, and ran away with George SKINNER, the next door neighbour. The case of Maultby vs Skinner, a case of ‘seduction’, was heard at the Court of Common Pleas2, and is a story I plan to tell in a future blog post. Hannah had two more sons with George Skinner before marrying him. The first was Harry Maultby Skinner (b. 1868) and the second Herbert Oxenham Skinner (b. 1869). It seems that the format of the three illegitimate boys’ names moved increasingly towards the appearance of legitimacy, even without a legal marriage in place. However, while Harry and Herbert were raised by both of their parents along with several younger legitimate siblings, Hannah and George never took responsibility for their first child, Sidney Skinner Maultby.

Nevertheless, Sidney held on to the name Skinner. With illegitimacy, the line between middle and last names isn’t always clearcut, and the baptism of one of his daughters gave the surname as ‘Skinner Maultby’. However, the middle name ‘Skinner’ was officially registered with the births for three of his four sons, William, Harold and John, the youngest of whom, John Skinner Maultby (b. 1911), only died in 1997 — 131 years after Sidney’s birth. 

Fred Clark Homan aka William Taylor

My 2x great grandfather was registered at birth in 1863 as Fred Clark Homan, the son of Sarah Homan. However, no father’s name was included on his birth certificate. Sarah Homan was from Waddesdon, Bucks, where she was living in 1861. There were four ‘Clark’ males (excluding children) in the village in that census — a teenage boy, a married man about Sarah’s age, a married man in his mid forties and a man in his fifties. The man of a similar age, James Clark, seems the most likely to have been Fred’s father. However, this is only speculation. Whoever the father was, it doesn’t seem that he supported Sarah, who gave birth in Aylesbury workhouse. Fred (known in early life as Frederick) never used the name Clark in any other official records, and by adulthood had adopted the name William Taylor — but that’s another story! 

Harold Gayhart Bateman

Another illegitimate child in my family tree, Harold Gayhart Bateman, was born in Hamilton, Ontario in 1926. Harold was a year older than his mother’s cousin, my grandmother Delia, but unlike Delia, he was raised by his mother. I don’t know whether Harold knew his biological father, but I discovered by searching the Canadian census of 1921 that there was one Gayhart family in Hamilton at that time. The most likely candidate for his father was Vincent Anthony Gayhart, who would have been 20 in 1926.

So, why were illegitimate children sometimes given the father’s name as a middle name? Until 1926, an illegitimate child couldn’t be legitimised even if the parents later married. Therefore, if the couple were planning to marry, it could be a way to express their joint commitment and to give an air of legitimacy to the child. However, if the father was unwilling or unable to marry the mother, the mother might have hoped that using his surname would strengthen her claims for maintenance or parish settlement. Of course, the use of the name had no legal bearing and must also be treated with caution by family historians. Although it could provide a substantial clue, it may be that the mother was not truthful about the identity of the father, or wasn’t aware of the truth herself.

In one case, it seems that the illegitimate child himself, rather than the mother, chose to use the father’s name:

Thomas Maultby Green

My 5x great grandfather was known throughout life as Thomas Maultby, except in his marriage record in Soulbury, Bucks, 1813, which named him Thomas Maultby Green. All searches for the baptism of Thomas Maultby in about 1783 (his birth date based on his death certificate) had drawn a blank. So, was Maultby in fact his middle name, and was he illegitimate? Thomas died before the 1841 census, so I didn’t even know in which county he was born. Unfortunately, finding the right ‘Thomas Green’ would be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

However, after a stint running a bakery in Shrewsbury, Thomas Maultby and his family settled in Leighton Buzzard, Beds. And as it happens, a woman called Sarah Fosket, whose maiden name was Maultby, lived in the same town. Sarah was just two years younger than Thomas, and had been born and baptised in Wingrave, Bucks, where her father William Maultby was a farmer (and the only male Maultby for miles around). My hunch was that Thomas was also from Wingrave, and since the Wingrave parish records have not been digitised, I was excited to be able to examine the baptism register at Bucks Archives earlier this year. 

As I had hoped, I found a baptism for Thomas Green to Jane Green in 1783. William Maultby, who I am confident was Thomas’s father, had married a few months later, but not to Jane. The Greens were poor members of the Wingrave community, and I can understand why Thomas would have preferred to use the surname of his much more well-to-do father instead. Unfortunately, no bastardy records have survived for Wingrave, and William Maultby’s will makes no mention of Thomas. However, Thomas married into a good family (his wife was the daughter of a Gentleman) and started a successful baking business which continued for several generations. I believe that William must have acknowledged his son privately, and provided him (and hopefully his mother) with some financial support. Perhaps until his marriage, Thomas felt obligated to retain the name ‘Green’, but later had the confidence to consistently use the name Thomas Maultby.

2. Honouring Mothers

For a legitimate child, it seems that the most common reason for parents to use a surname as a middle name was to pay tribute to the mother, and therefore to her parents, family and ancestry, by using her maiden name. This became especially fashionable in the second half of the 19th century. A famous example is Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose middle name came from his mother, Sophia KINGDOM.

William Maultby Skinner & Charles Maultby Joyes

I’ve already shared the case of Hannah Maultby and her illegitimate sons. Hannah and George Skinner later used her maiden name as a middle name for another (legitimate) son, William Maultby Skinner, b.1877. Hannah later remarried to Walter Joyes and had two more sons; her last child was Charles Maultby Joyes, b. 1885.3 She seems to have been extremely proud of her family name. I wonder if she knew that her grandfather Thomas was in fact illegitimate, and that her birth name really should have been Hannah Green!

A Tip: Hints for Charles Maultby Joyes in named him ‘Charles Maultby Ryelands Joyes’ and ‘Charles Maultby Elkham Joyes’. In fact, these were transcription errors from Kelly’s Directories, and ‘Ryelands’ and ‘Elkham’ were places where he lived. So do check that a middle name that looks like a surname, especially if it only pops up in one source, isn’t just a transcription error!

Arthur Edwards Saword & William Gibson Saword

Arthur Edwards Saword (b. 1853) was the eldest son of Edward W.T. Saword (my husband’s 3x great grandfather) and Sarah Ann Gibson, so you’d be forgiven for assuming that his middle name was simply meant to be ‘Edward’. However, in fact, his middle name was the surname of his father’s first wife, Emma EDWARDS, who had died in 1849. Arthur was the first son born to Edward and Sarah, his second wife. As well as this being a touching way to honour his late wife, Edward may have wished to highlight the name of her family, as the Edwardses were a fairly distinguished dynasty of potters. However, Arthur didn’t use his middle name throughout his life, and his probate record notes that he was ‘SAWORD Arthur Edwards otherwise Arthur’.

Edward and Sarah’s third and fourth sons, born in 1860, were twins, William and Walter. Their birth registrations didn’t include middle names but when William got married in 1888 he used the name William Gibson Saword.3 Unfortunately I haven’t found a baptism record, so I don’t know whether Edward and Sarah chose this name for him, or if he chose it for himself.

Ann Slatter Eaton

In places where families often intermarried, having surnames as middle names could lead to some unfortunate duplication. Ann Slatter Eaton, b. about 1785, was the daughter of Deodatus Eaton, a wine merchant, and Mary SLATTER. Her uncle was the Rev. John Slatter Eaton (though in his case I don’t know why he had the Slatter name). The Slatters were a prolific Oxford family, many of whom were freemen and had fingers in a lot of pies. Mary Slatter’s brother, William, even became Mayor in 1825. In 1814, Ann Slatter Eaton married (another) William Slatter (relation to Ann unknown), becoming Ann Slatter Slatter!5

However, going by the 1821 electoral register of Christ Church College, Oxford, it seems that repeated names in that era may have been perceived as a sign of good breeding (or in-breeding?!). You’ll find such delights as ‘Love Parry James Parry’, ‘Clinton James Fynes Clinton’, ‘Walker King King’ and ‘John Buller Yarde Buller’. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the more first and middle names you have that are surnames, especially when repeated, the higher your chances of having your own Wikipedia page. 😉 These repetitions among the landed class were usually due to inheritance reasons, as the ‘squierarchy’ often required surnames to be adopted or reinforced by beneficiaries. (for more plumped up names from this register see the end of this blog!)

Some other examples from my family tree, perpetuating the mother’s maternal name:

  • Robert Bakewell Muggleston (b. c1831) — son of Henry Muggleston and Pascha BAKEWELL
  • Henry Marshall Kirk (b. 1854) — my husband’s 2x great grandfather, the eldest son of George Frederick Kirk and Sarah Ann MARSHALL
  • Edward Bruce Gibson Lankford (b. 1863) and Leonard Gibson Lankford (b. 1879) — sons of my 3x great grandparents Alfred Lankford and Matilda GIBSON; akin to the Skinner Maultbys, Edward was born illegitimately, and Leonard legitimately.
  • Laura Priest Underwood (b. 1871) — daughter of my 3x great grandparents John Underwood and Hephzibah PRIEST
  • Marion Gifford Martin (b. 1909) — my husband’s great aunt, daughter of James Martin and Ida GIFFORD
  • Nora Saword Greenwood (b. 1909) – daughter of Robert Henry Greenwood and Sarah Cecile SAWORD
  • Winston Gifford Watts (b. 1911) — son of William Watts and Millicent GIFFORD

Anecdotally, it seems that the mother’s maiden name was most commonly given to first-born sons. I’d be interested to hear any other evidence for or against this observation.

Tip: If you have an ancestor with a surname as a middle name, and can’t find them in an index search, try searching with the middle name as the surname. They may have been either entered, or transcribed, incorrectly. Henry Marshall Kirk was enumerated as ‘Henry Marshall’ in the 1881 census, with all his family members also entered as ‘Marshall’.

3. Honouring Maternal Ancestors

Just as using the mother’s maiden name could both honour the child’s mother and call attention to the prestige of her family, using a grandmother’s or even great great grandmother’s name could be chosen for the same reasons. With the English patrilineal system of passing down only the father’s family name, this was one of the few ways in which the female lines could be acknowledged and celebrated. For genealogists, a mystery middle name can provide a fantastic clue to a maiden name of an earlier direct ancestor, and might be the key to helping you firmly establish the correct pedigree. However, as you’ll see from my experience, the reason behind a name might not be as straightforward as it seems …

Richard Towers Carr Kirk

The next youngest brother of George Marshall Kirk, Richard Towers Carr Kirk (b. 1860) was named after his grandmother Mary Ann CARR. However, the origin of ‘Towers’ is as yet unknown. Two middle names made this a very posh-sounding name for the son of a tailor! Sadly, Richard died as an infant. 

Joseph Goldney Munday and Cecil Goldney Munday

The only two sons of Joseph Munday and Edith Everett were called Joseph Goldney Munday (b. 1905) and Cecil Goldney Munday (b. 1907). Joseph’s mother (the boys’ grandmother) was Sarah Ann GOLDNEY. The Goldneys were an ordinary working class family (Sarah Ann’s father George was a shoemaker turned brickmaker), so why did Joseph and Edith choose to give the Goldney name to both of their boys (and not Edith’s maiden name, for example)? 

Sarah Ann Munday née Goldney had tragically died in childbirth in 1880 when Joseph was a child, and although Joseph’s father (my 2x great grandfather, also called Joseph) quickly remarried, Sarah Ann’s widowed father, George Goldney, was the head of their household in 1881 at the Plume of Feathers Inn, Aylesbury, Bucks.4 I don’t know how long this arrangement lasted, but Joseph may have grown up under his grandfather’s watchful eye, or at least received a helping hand from him in their time of crisis. George Goldney passed away a decade after his daughter Sarah Ann, in 1898. Perhaps Joseph Munday named one of his sons after his mother, and one after his grandfather.

Thomas Bowen Maultby & Emily Langford Maultby

Thomas Bowen Maultby (b. 1869) was the first-born son of my 3x great grandparents Thomas Maultby and Eliza Randall, and Emily Langford Maultby (b. 1870) was their third daughter. The siblings were baptised on the same day at Newport Pagnell Independent Chapel. I long suspected that Bowen and Langford were family names, but only confirmed their origins several years after adding Thomas and Emily to my tree. 

Thomas Jr.’s middle name, Bowen, pays homage to his great grandmother, Anna Maria BOWEN (the wife of Thomas Maultby Green, who I’ve talked about already). The Bowens came from Shropshire, and Anna’s father was a Gentleman. Emily’s middle name, Langford came from her great great grandmother, Sarah LANGFORD, who was Anna Bowen’s mother. Spanning four generations, this is the largest generational gap that I’ve found between an inherited middle name and the ancestor who inspired it. 

Why was it important to Thomas and Eliza to use their ancestors’ names? My mum (the Maultby expert in our family), believes it’s because they were Nonconformists and didn’t have the established history that many families had within an Anglican church.

Ever since I started researching my family history I’ve wondered how much ordinary people in the past knew about their forebears, and the Maultby example suggests to me that they may have known more about their ancestry than most of us (at least before taking up family history as a hobby) know today. The Maultbys’ pride in their well-off Shropshire ancestors must also explain why in 1901, Eliza Maultby (Thomas Bowen Maultby’s widowed mother), lived in a house in Bedfordshire called ‘Bowen Villa’. (though perhaps Eliza was not aware that her own maternal grandfather was a Ronksley from Yorkshire — a member of the landed gentry with a family tree that has been traced back to the 12th century!) On the subject of house names, I recommend a read of genealogist Judith Bachelor’s blog about the significance of house names in your family history

George Benwell Prickett & Alice Benwell Hitchings

George Benwell Prickett (b. 1827) was the eldest son of James Prickett and Elizabeth Hitchings, and his cousin Alice Benwell Hitchings (b. 1830) was the youngest daughter of Dr. George Hitchings and Sophia Halse. Elizabeth and George Hitchings were both children of Sir Edward Hitchings and Lady Elizabeth Hitchings née BENWELL (Edward was knighted during a royal visit to Oxford while he was Mayor of the city). The Hitchings, Benwell and Halse families were of equal social status, but the Hitchings’ titles must have given their family name particularly caché. 

So why were George and Alice named after their grandmother Elizabeth Benwell? Could Elizabeth’s children have been hoping that their mother would remember their children especially fondly in her will? In fact, when Sir Hitchings had died in 1825, his will had stipulated that after his wife’s death, the value of their goods and property would be divided equally between all of the grandchildren. So, it could perhaps have simply been a way to pay their respects to their elderly mother. Or perhaps I was barking up the wrong branch of the tree. 

George Hitchings and Elizabeth Prickett née Hitchings also had wealthy and influential Benwell cousins, particularly Elizabeth Benwell, a spinster, and Thomas Benwell, a solicitor. When Elizabeth died in 1844 she left legacies to 20 people, including siblings, cousins, nieces, nephews, godchildren and friends. Her cousin George Hitchings was a beneficiary, but not George Benwell Prickett or Alice Benwell Hitchings. Nevertheless, she or Thomas could have been godparents or simply treasured friends. 

If I’d been working backwards from George or Alice, I would have felt very reassured to find supporting evidence in their names that Elizabeth Benwell was their grandmother. However, it does not necessarily mean that she was the specific person honoured by their names. Ultimately, I don’t need to know the exact reasons behind their names. But for me, it’s a reminder to look at my ancestors not in straight lines but within their multi-dimensional networks of family and friends. Which brings me to reason 4 …

4. Tipping the Hat to Other Important Connections

Although middle names can be particularly valuable clues to a biological father, or to the maiden name of a mother or other direct maternal ancestor, children could also be named after other family members, as well as godparents, benefactors, colleagues, or friends. Highlighting these relationships could express love, loyalty, gratitude, pride, or perhaps a hope for a future return on investment!

One famous example is Arthur Conan Doyle — ‘Conan’ being the surname of his godfather, Michael CONAN. Another interesting case is that of Alexander Graham Bell, who at ten years old asked his father if he could have a middle name like his brothers. The name ‘Graham’ was then chosen out of respect for a family friend, Alexander GRAHAM.

Edward William Turner Saword & Henry Turner Saword

Remember Edward Saword, who touchingly gave his first wife’s surname to his first son by his second wife? His full name was Edward William Turner Saword, and he was born in 1810, the only child of Edward William Saword and Sarah Benwell.

Two months after Edward was baptised, Sarah’s sister Mary Benwell married Thomas TURNER, a goldsmith, who was the Sheriff on Oxford’s city council. Although Thomas Turner was not quite a member of the family by the time of Edward’s christening, he was presumably already on close terms with the Benwell family. Thomas Turner had two sisters and a brother, any of whom could have also been family friends. His brother John Mathias Turner (pictured above) was a witness to Thomas and Mary’s marriage, and he may have been particularly highly regarded, as he was at that time a fellow of Christchurch College (his name appears alongside the many double-named MAs there in 1821). Any one (or more) of these Turner siblings could have been Edward’s godparent. 

Alternatively, it may have been their mother, Ann Turner, who provided the inspiration. Ann had managed to keep the family’s gold- and silver-smithing business afloat after the premature death of her husband (probably by suicide), and she had died in 1809, the year before Edward’s birth.

The Turner family continued to flourish. Thomas Turner was appointed as the King’s Consul to Ragusa, Dalmatia (Dubrovnik, Croatia — pictured at the top of this blog) and later to Panama. John Mathias Turner was a tutor to the future prime minister William Gladstone and went on to become Bishop of Calcutta.8 Tragically, both men died of illness while in their overseas posts, in the 1830s. Either or both of these eminent men could have inspired Edward William Turner Saword to pass on his middle name to his own son, Henry Turner Saword, in 1846. 

However, personal family letters also suggest that Edward may have had an affair with his first cousin, Emily Turner (Thomas and Mary’s daughter) — a less noble reason for him to favour the Turner name. Of course, Edward may simply have wished his child to have his own middle name. Whatever the reason for passing the name on for one more generation, Henry Turner Saword sadly didn’t survive his first year, and the middle name didn’t continue in the Saword family.

The Vlako Turners

This next example looks at an unusual middle name, which may have been a surname, and was proudly used in three generations. In the previous example I mentioned Thomas Turner, who was a Consul in Ragusa and Panama in the early 1800s. Thomas and his wife Mary apparently liked to give their children names with a local flavour. Their daughter, born in Venice in 1816, was named Marietta, and a son born in Dalmatia, Ragusa in 1826 was given the name William Vlako Turner. Vlako (or usually Vlatko) is a diminutive for the male name Vladimir (which means ‘peaceful ruler’) and it can be a first or last name. Thomas may have had a respected colleague in Dalmatia with that name, or perhaps it was inspired by one of several historical figures in the region.

A generation later, Marietta Turner and her husband followed fashion by giving her maiden name to their son, Alfred Turner Twyford-Jones, who then called his daughter Marietta. However, William Vlako Turner took the inherited middle-name idea to a whole new level!

William took Holy Orders in 1849 and in 1850 he married Emma Pitches. They had five children together, ALL of whom, male and female, had Vlako as a middle name:

  • Harriet Anne Vlako Turner (b. 1851)
  • Emma Vlako Turner (b. 1853)
  • Henry ‘Harry’ Vlako Smedley Turner (b. 1855)
  • Edith Vlako Turner (b. 1863)
  • Percy Vlako Turner (b. 1868)

As if that weren’t enough Vlako’s, the Rev. William Vlako Turner also gave his middle name to his wife! At first, I thought that the census entry for 1861, which listed her as ‘Emma Vlako Turner’ was an error. However, Emma had the middle name Vlako in every census of their married life except 1881, when she was a visitor far from home. She even used it in 1901, which was two years after her husband’s death. It seems that the family used ‘Vlako Turner’ almost as a surname, though births were registered as ‘Turner’ and it was never hyphenated.

And the Vlako name obsession continued … Out of what I interpret as courtesy to his father, as well as pride in his grandfather’s role in Ragusa, the Rev. Harry Vlako S. Turner gave the name ‘Vlako’ to his children, Ruby Vlako Turner (b. 1899) and Harry Percival Vlako Turner (b. 1905), AND to his wife Elizabeth!7 The Vlako Turners were all set for world domination. But in 1919, tragedy struck the family. Harry Jr., aged 14, attended school in the home of another clergyman, who had, one afternoon, fallen asleep in the garden after shooting at rooks and starlings, with his loaded gun at his side. Harry ran through the garden, tripped on the firearm and accidentally shot himself. It was a fatal accident. No more Turner descendants, or their wives, would be given the middle name Vlako again.

5. Inspired by Heroes and Happenings

I’ve looked a lot at different personal connections. But although it was much less common in the past than it is today, babies’ forenames could also be inspired by world events, celebrities, or just a word that their parents thought sounded nice!

Leslie Kitchener Wilkin 

Leslie Kitchener Wilkin was born on 23 September 1914. However, Leslie wasn’t named after a family member but after Field Marshall KITCHENER, who had been appointed Secretary of State for War at the outbreak of the conflict a few weeks before.

Jessamy Carsson researched ‘Battle Babies’ — with names inspired by war and peace from 1914 to 1939 — and found that 166 babies were given the first name ‘Kitchener’ from 1914-1919. (I encourage you to read the full fascinating blog post at TNA’s website.) It wasn’t possible to reliably analyse the number of babies who had been given ‘Kitchener’ as their middle name, but it must have been hundreds, perhaps even thousands more.

Joseph Melbourne Kirk

Joseph Melbourne Kirk was a brother of Richard Travers Carr and Henry Marshall Kirk, both of whom I mentioned earlier. He was born on 17 January 1862 in Hull, and his middle name is a mystery. The most likely source of ‘Melbourne’ is that it was a family name (a great grandmother?), as there were twenty Melbournes/Melbourns in Hull enumerated in the 1861 census. I’ll certainly be on the lookout for Melbournes while researching this line further back.

However, Hull newspapers in the weeks before Joseph’s birth carried stories of intrepid explorers in Melbourne, and also reported on a ship called the Melbourne that had been dispatched with brave soldiers from England to frozen Canada to help defend British territory against the Americans (during the upheaval of the Civil War). So, if no family connections can be found to his unusual middle name, perhaps these newspapers hold clues to his parents’ inspiration.

Joseph, a railway carriage cleaner, must have liked his middle name, or been proud of the person he was named after, because in 1883 he named his first son Melbourne Kirk. Unfortunately, like so many other babies, all of whose parents chose their names with high hopes and expectations, Melbourne died when he was just one year old.


Surnames as middle names can be very useful clues in tracing families forwards and backwards and I hope that my own examples spark some ideas of possible sources for middle names in your family. Many of my theories about why names were chosen are only speculation, and I pose as many questions as answers, but I believe that pondering the question of why a middle name was chosen can help us to get to know our ancestors better. I still have many more middle name puzzles to solve, such as Amelia Hatton, my husband’s great great grandmother, who never gave a middle name in life, but was registered as Amelia Seaman Hatton when she died.

And finally, there is one more very special person on my family tree who inherited a maiden name as a middle name. Inspired by my ancestors, I named my own son Stanley Wyatt Kirk, after my birth surname, WYATT. Since I and my children use my husband’s surname, and I have no brothers, or male Wyatt first or second cousins, I am the end of my Wyatt family line. This way, my surname continues as a personal name for another generation. We also chose ‘Wyatt’ because he was born in the United States, where it is more common as a first name. Two hundred years from now, I hope that my descendants will smile and nod when they realise that their ancestor Stanley’s middle name came from his mum, and possibly had a hint of the Wild West as well.

Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp (Wyatt Earp) was named after his father’s commanding officer, Captain Wyatt Berry Stap, who was himself named after his mother, Lucinda Berry.

*Off-topic and just for fun bonus bombastic names from the 1821 University of Oxford Electoral Roll: ‘Granville Venables Vernon’, ‘Onesipherous Tyndall Bruce’, ‘Wadham Knatchbull’, ‘Bickham Sweet Escott’ and ‘Egerton Arden Baggott’. Plus, don’t miss Charles Dodgson, the father of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll (Lutwidge being the maiden name of his mother and grandmother).


  1. England Given Name Considerations (National Institute)
  2. Newspaper clipping about Maultby (Maltby) vs Skinner: Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper – Sunday 16 February 1868 (
  3. WW1 medal roll for Charles Maultby Joyes: The National Archives of the UK; Kew, Surrey, England; War Office and Air Ministry: Service Medal and Award Rolls, First World War. WO329; Ref: 1853 (
  4. Marriage of William Gibson Saword and Minnie James: Brecknockshire, Wales, Anglican Baptisms, Marriages and Burials, 1538-1994 (
  5. Marriage of Ann Slatter Eaton and William Slatter: London Metropolitan Archives; London, England; London Church of England Parish Registers; Reference Number: DL/T/092/005 (
  6. Goldney/Munday family in 1881 England Census: Class: RG11; Piece: 1472; Folio: 22; Page: 37; GSU roll: 1341356 (
  7. Vlako Turner family in 1911: The National Archives of the UK (TNA); Kew, Surrey, England; Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911 (
  8. Portrait of John Matthias Turner printed by Engelmann, Graf, Coindet & Co, after Daniel Maclise lithograph, circa 1827-1832, NPG D39452© National Portrait Gallery, London

11 thoughts on “Five reasons why ancestors used surnames as middle names

  1. This is an excellent outline. I have lots of grandmothers maiden names as middle names in my family. I also have middle names honouring friends as well as local gentry. My MIL’s middle name is the name of the midwife. Her birth followed that of a difficult twin birth where one died in uterus & the other 15 days later – she’s turning 90 next April! I’ve also seen middle names that pop up only in a death announcement- connecting to a distant but posh branch of the family. I too have several mysterious middle names that I haven’t been able to work out the connection.


    1. Thank you, Jenny. What an amazing story about your mother in law. I’ve also found some middle names that just pop up at the end of a life. Or only in a birth/baptism. I wonder if some people didn’t even know they had a middle name, and I think others must have just decided to add one in old age. I hope that some of your mysteries are solved in the future.


  2. Great post. I have one instance in my husband’s tree of his ancestor being named for a neighbor. In the 1830 census William WHEATON lived next door to Thomas LADD, thus we have Thomas Ladd WHEATON!


  3. We have a few in the family too. My grandfather’s middle name harked back to the surname of this GG Grandmother and one of my cousins still has the name as a middle name. My grandmother’s GG grandmother’s maiden name is still rattling around in the family also.
    My own second middle name isn’t a surname, (the first is after my late father) but it was the first name of my great grandfather which in turn harks back to an ancestor of ours who was a vice-admiral of the navy in the 16th century, athough the name only seems to crop up sporadically in the family rather than consistently through the generations.. Still, I’m claiming the history!


  4. Great examples. I certainly have a lot of examples of surnames as middle names in my tree. In Scotland it is a common practice to use family surnames as well as family forenames with their family naming conventions – plus a lot of married women in Scotland would still be known by their maiden names on records too.

    I have my maternal grandfather who had the middle name Fielding – which was his father’s mother’s maiden name. Also his uncle who sadly died aged 10, had been given the middle names of Nicholson Swift – and considering neither of his two brothers were given middle names it really stood out. Those names helped me later cement research into their father John Marshall’s parents as it turned out his parents were first cousins – John Marshall and Mary Gillings. I knew Mary’s mother was an Elizabeth Marshall but info about John Marshall was sketchy until I looked more into Elizabeth Marshall’s family and noticed her brother John b. 1763 had a son John b. 1795 and amongst his other children had a daughter Sophia who married William Nicholson and a daughter Jennet who married John Swift. Those two surnames were so seemingly significant to make John (b. 1832 son of John b. 1795) give his son the surnames of his two aunt’s husbands! William Nicholson was a very successful builder in Leeds so I can understand why they wanted to include his name but as for Swift – he wasn’t exactly particularly successful but perhaps they were just close. Who knows!

    My ex husband has two middle names which have been passed down the family to sons, his father, and grandfather have the same middle names and he also gave them to his son – one being Alexander, but the other is a surname of his grandfather’s mother – Baird.

    Another ex of mine – they also passed down a family surname of Forbes through their male line after a William Forbes who had been a preacher. His wife Mary Bryce Buchanan (note both of them were Scottish but moved down to England) her family name should really have just been Bryce but her family added on the Buchanan in order to inherit from a woman who was the end of her family line and stipulated that a certain Thomas Bryce – a close friend could inherit as long as he changed his name to Bryce Buchanan – which he duly did.

    I do have an odd middle name in my husband’s tree which I am yet to get to the bottom of – his great grandmother was called Mary Elizabeth Fanny Casulear Lock. The name Casulear has been spelled a couple of different ways on records, Casulear on her baptism in 1884 although her birth is registered just as Mary Elizabeth Lock, and her death and burial have it spelled Cashula. Not yet seen what it is down as on her marriage certificate as need to order that, or potentially whether she gave her full name when registering births of children but it is still quite an odd one! One day I might get to the bottom of it!


    1. Thanks, Alex. You’ve got some fascinating examples in your family (and partners’ families). I must say I think the Scottish naming convention (and other cultures that keep the maternal name) is much more egalitarian than the English one.

      I sketched out your Nicholson Swift example as I’m a visual person. I think I have misunderstood the relationships though as I seem to have John Nicholson Swift Marshall named after his aunts, not after his father’s aunts. Anyway, John must have really respected his brothers in law/uncles, and I think it’s likely that they were godfathers. Did they leave something to John in their wills?

      I have a client currently who has numerous examples in his tree of men changing their surnames as a condition of inheritance, like your Bryce Buchanan example. It makes the paper trail very confusing at times.

      The Casulear name is really interesting. I don’t think it’s a biblical name. And it doesn’t sound like a surname either. A casula is a priest’s outer robes (chasuble). Could that be connected somehow? How intriguing!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The John Nicholson Swift Marshall detail is confusing due the amount of John Marshall’s involved!

        So with more detail it might help:

        John Nicholson Swift Marshall b. 1874 d. 1885 son of John Marshall b. 1832 and Mary Fielding b. 1842

        John Marshall b. 1832 son of John Marshall b. 1795 and Mary Gillings b. 1802 (John and Mary were first cousins)

        John Marshall b. 1795 son of John Marshall b. 1763 and Sophia Senior b. 1771.

        John and Sophia also had:
        Jennet Marshall b. 1802 – married John Swift
        Sophia Marshall b. 1807 – married William Nicholson

        (and for the cousin marriage connection – John Marshall b. 1763 was the son of Edward Marshall b. 1738 and Sarah Hattersley b. 1738 and they also had a daughter Elizabeth Marshall b. 1777 who married John Gillings and it was their daughter Mary b. 1802 who married her cousin John b. 1795!)

        So the Swift and Nicholson relations where John Nicholson Swift’s father’s aunts. The Swift family remained in Cawthorne near Barnsley in Yorkshire and the Nicholson family were in the Headingly/Leeds area of Yorkshire, whereas my Marshall line had moved to Ashton under Lyne in Lancashire and then into nearby Hyde, Cheshire.

        Jennet Marshall/Swift died in 1869 and her husband John had died in 1845, and Sophia Marshall/Nicholson died in 1878 with her husband William dying the following year. So from the Nicholson side they died after John N S Marshall was born. I have not see much evidence of there being much crossover in their lives. Sophia didn’t leave a will but Jennet did – but as she died before John was born unlikely anything was left to him but at some point I will order it in case of anything mentioned for any nephews or other relations!

        I have also recently ordered the marriage certificate for Elizabeth Mary Fanny Casulear Lock to see what spelling is given for her odd middle name as that would be the first time on an official record I have seen where she would have given that information herself given that the first time was her parents giving it on her baptism and the only other record I have seen it on is her death certificate – which was information given by one of her children (and the burial record uses the same information from the death certificate.) So I will be interested to see if there is any other spelling variation. Not seeing much connection to priest robes though – her father was a Barber/Hairdresser. One day I might find the answer!!


  5. I have a mind boggling case in my ancestry research. One of my ancestors, John Winterbottom is named as such in all documents aside one, his second marriage certificate in which he gives the name John Wolfinden Winterbottom. I am still stratching my head as to why. I am having difficulty tracing his parents, one Alice Wolfinden married a Winterbottom and had children of his age, but there is no baptism record for him.


    1. Hi Ashley. It’s possible that Alice Wolfinden is his mother but that he was born/baptised before she married Mr Winterbottom. Later, whether or not Mr Winterbottom was his biological father, he would have taken the surname for respectability. Does this sound plausible? It’s such an unusual combination of surnames that it’s very likely they are connected.


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