#118: GETTING geekED UP

118.1  Back in #24, I gave a blow-by-blow critique of a piece explaining cousins on a website called wiseGeek. In fact, I held it up as a perfect example of how NOT to do it. Apart from simple mistakes in calculating…which may or may not still be there, I haven’t checked…the basic premise was dead wrong, that being: Cousins aren’t reckoned from siblings, they’re reckoned from common ancestors. Well, the second part of that is true…you can reckon cousins from common great/grandparents, as well as from siblings and from previous cousins…it will all work out the same. The trouble with common grandparents is that sometimes it’s tricky…for example, 2 people can share 2 grandparents, yet not be 1st cousins…they can be double half-1st cousins. Using previous cousins is better: 2nd cousins are the offspring of 1st cousins, etc.

118.2  But the easiest and most surefire way to determine cousins is by looking for a pair of siblings, then working your way down thru their descendants…but this dumbGeek website actually says: “Cousins are not based on the relationship of a person’s parents to his or her siblings”…and of course nothing could be further from the truth.

118.3  Proof of what a poor job they do is the number of questions this site has generated…over 50 at last count…most of them rather straightforward, altho I’m not blaming the questioners…asking is the way you learn. I decided to answer each and every question here on Related How Again? ((formerly Genealogy For Baby Boomers)…with a complete explanation and a diagram…because they represent the real-life confusion people have these days in figuring kinship. At some point (you can check back and see where) I also started answering the questions right there on the wiseGEEK page…they won’t let you link to other websites, you see. It’s harder to do without charts, but there you go. And it’s time to get caught up…

chart 420.png

118.4  These first 3 questions ask the same thing: what does it mean if 2 people have grandparents who are siblings? Understanding that is the eureka! moment that opens you to a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of how our kinship system works. Thinking back, what were your first words? Probably mama and dada. At some point, you learned that the reason they were there in the first place was you “came” from them. And you had siblings, brothers and sisters who “came” from the same parents you did. And as you met other children, you saw that they had families like you did…but were children the only ones with mamas and dadas?

118.5  No, because you then came to understand that children grow to be adults, and when your parents themselves were children, they lived in the same kind of family arrangement as you…they had parents, you call them your grandparents…and they had brothers and sisters, your uncles and aunts. But now your parents’ siblings weren’t children anymore, they had their own families, exactly like your family…and that is the key to genealogy and kinship: the same basic patterns and relationships repeated over and over. And the children that “came” from your uncles and aunts were your cousins. This is pretty much what the “immediate family” is made of, and I daresay everyone understands it. It’s moving beyond this grouping that is not well understood…children of cousins, for example…and then there’s the family unit of your grandparents. 

118.6  It’s probably safe to say that right around the time you were checking into this world, your great grandparents were checking out…your memories of them, if any, are likely hazy. True, some people have living great great grandparents when they’re very young, but that’s not common. But let’s face it: what I’ve called the “immediate family” kept you pretty busy, so your thoughts seldom turned to the fact that your grandparents had the same family unit that you did…they had parents (your parents’ grandparents)…they had siblings (your parents’ uncles and aunts)…and those uncles and aunts had children (your parents’ cousins). And if you went further back…your grandparents had their own grandparents, and uncles and aunts, and cousins. The purpose of our kinship structure is to tie all those generations together with a uniform system of terms and relationships. Yes, we’re talking about 2nd, 3rd, 4th cousins, great grand uncles and nephews, and cousins removed.

118.7  So the 3 questioners in Chart 420 are taking that initial step: they know how their parents’ siblings relate to them, thru uncles, aunts, and 1st cousins…how about their grandparents’ siblings? The answer in each case is, the grandchildren of your grandparents’ siblings are your 2nd cousinsand away we go!

chart 421.png

118.8  Next, Chart 421 adds a new wrinkle: the grandparents in question are not full siblings, but half-siblings…they share one parent, but not both. What follows from half-siblings? Half-1st cousins, then, as here, half-2nd cousins. Some people think that’s slicing it too thin…cousins are cousins, siblings are siblings. That’s fine, but the fact remains that half-relations are only half as genetically related to you as full relations…and if you’re shopping for a spare kidney, who you gonna ask first? I’m just sayin’…

chart 422.png

118.9  The questioner in Chart 422 has it exactly right…your half-cousin’s child is your half-cousin once removed…put a “first” in there to be completely correct.

chart 423.png

118.10   I’ve found that many people enjoy knowing this stuff for the sake of knowing it…others have a more immediate concern: are we legal? Just as basic kinship relations are not well understood these days, what constitutes “incest” is also cloudy to many people…what does the law say, what does religion say, how far back does it go, and does “by marriage” count? The quick answer is: in the US, nothing beyond 1st cousin by blood (a genetic relationship of 1/8) is prohibited…and in half the states, you can marry your 1st cousin…as you can in virtually all of the rest of the world…and as people have done down thru history. In fact there was a time when it was preferred…and that preference still holds in many places today, altho it’s fallen out of social favor in Western culture…but still legal.

118.11  And with a deeper understanding of how genetics works, the risks associated with 1st cousins marrying are being re-examined, and generally found to be not nearly as dire as was once thought. 2nd cousins? 3rd cousins? Genetically, the danger is practically nil. There is even emerging evidence that 2nd or 3rd cousins might be preferable from a fertility standpoint…imagine that!  And by 4th or 5th cousins, you are as closely related as you would be to a random person off the street. I’m recalling actress Kyra Sedgwick freaking out when she discovered that she and her husband Kevin Bacon were 10th cousins…10th!! So in Chart 423, they ought not to give it a second thought…half-4th cousins are just 1/1024 related…100% genealogical relatives, virtually 0% genetic relatives.

chart 424.png

118.12  The biggest red flag in genealogy? Married. Because, the previous paragraph notwithstanding, people today don’t generally marry people to whom they are related. Or they may be related so far back that it would be almost impossible to find out. Current custom restricts whom we call “in-laws” pretty much to parents, children, siblings…you’re more likely to hear “my wife’s cousin” than “my cousin-in-law,” right? It’s also current custom to assume families connected by marriage are 2 steps away from incest…but that’s wrong! Thus in the case of Chart 424not related.

118.13  But what should immediately strike you here is the oddity of calling one’s father’s sister’s son your “uncle” instead of your “1st cousin.” My guess is either that they made a mistake in stating it…or else the aunt is much older than her brother, making her son closer in age to an uncle than to a cousin for the questioner.

chart 425.png

118.14  This theme continues with Chart 425…as you can see, I have given last names to the families involved to keep it all straight…and here’s my answer to the questioner…

118.15  You have your Aunt A…your girlfriend has her Uncle D…and these 2 individuals married siblings, B and C. Now you, 1, and 2 are collectively Adams cousins…yes, their last name is Baker, but Adams is the family thru which you are related. Likewise, your girlfriend is a Collins cousin to 3 and 4. And of course 1, 2, 3, and 4 are Baker cousins to each other. You’re not a Collins cousin…your girlfriend is not an Adams cousin…and neither of you are Baker cousins…so you and her are not related, despite the fact that you have cousins that are cousins to her cousins. 

118.16  Perhaps it would be easier to understand if you look at it from the point of view of those cousins 1, 2, 3, and 4. They are Baker cousins because they have parents who are Baker siblings. 1 and 2 have another set of cousins on the “other side,” their mother’s side, the Adams family. Their Baker cousins 3 and 4 aren’t connected to the Adamses…they have Collins cousins on their “other side.”  Unless you have a parent  who is an only child, we all have 2 sets of unrelated cousins “on each side.” And it just so happens that in this case, members of those 2 “other sides” are getting together…but again, there is no blood relationship between the Adams and the Collins sides. 

118.17  Next week, neither sleep nor hail or dead of night nor slop nor mush…etc.


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved



#117: Urgent Dispatches

117.1 Dear Stolf: I was reading #17: More Royals, about what the surname of the British Royals is and how it got that way…and I noticed a mistake. You say that when Victoria became Queen, she took the name of her husband Prince Albert’s hereditary family House, Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, as the new name of the Royal House…yet everyone says that she herself was the last member of the House of Hanover to reign as sovereign…and it was her son Edward VII who was the first sovereign of the House of S-C-G. See the discrepancy?  …from Buster in Budapest

117.2  Dear Buster: Yeah, I went back and read it over…and I did find a mistake, altho not what you mentioned. Albert’s House of S-C-G was actually a cadet branch (one founded by a son other than the eldest) of the older Germanic House of Wettin…I had it the other way around, with the 2 houses reversed, so that’s been fixed. And I also reworded several parts that while correct, could have been misleading. But no, there really isn’t a discrepancy…it all has to do with the precise meaning of the term “Royal House.” 

117.3  Isn’t the Royal House simply the house to which the Royal Family belongs…monarch, monarch’s spouse, and their children? Not exactly, no. Strictly speaking, the Royal House is the house that the children…the heirs…belong to. And guess what…by tradition they belong to their father’s house! When the monarch is a hereditary King, no problem…he belongs to his father’s house, his children belong to his, all neat and tidy. When the monarch is a hereditary Queen, it’s more complicated.

117.4  In Victoria’s case, she was a Hanover for life…marriage didn’t change that…and during her reign, the monarchy could have been said to be in the hands of the House of Hanover. But her children were House of S-C-G, because their father was…which is why the monarchy switched to the House of S-C-G in 1901 when their son Edward VII succeeded Victoria…he was House of S-C-G, like this father…not house of Hanover, like his mother.


117.5  But as you can see above, when the occasion called for a putative surname, he was a Wettin. His surname and the name of the Royal House didn’t match because the Royal Family still didn’t have a surname in the modern legal sense. It was his son George V, Victoria’s grandson, who changed the name of his house from S-C-G to Windsor in response to Anti-German public sentiment during the First World War…and at the same time, for the first time, designated Windsor as the official Royal surname.

117.6  And if you wonder if I’m parsing all this correctly, consider what happened when Elizabeth II succeeded her father George VI, Victoria’s great grandson. She broke with tradition and decided that the Royal House would remain Windsor, her house…and her children would be surnamed Windsor. Phillip’s people expected that the Royal House would be Mountbatten, his surname, and were sorely disappointed to say the least. I refer you to Phillip’s famous complaint: “I am the only man in the country not allowed to give his name to his own children. I am nothing but a bloody amoeba.”

117.7  Phillip was mollified somewhat in 1960 when the Queen ruled that all of their descendants that did not hold a Royal title…that is, were not entitled to be called His/Her Royal Majesty…would belong to the House of Mountbatten-Windsor, which was thus established as a cadet branch of Phillip’s hereditary House of Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg, itself an offshoot of the House of Oldenburg. Now this change did not apply to Charles and his siblings…but in practice, they do use Mountbatten-Windsor when the formal need for a surname arises, and not Windsor, which remains their legal surname. If and when Charles ascends to the throne, there are several ways he could style the Royal House…going strictly by tradition, he could choose his father’s house…call it Mountbatten, Mountbatten-Windsor, Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glucksburg or even Oldenburg. But he could break with tradition as his mother did, and tab Windsor…it’s entirely His Royal Prerogative.

117.8  That having been said, I should mention that the official website of the British Monarchy is of the opinion that Charles will retain Windsor as the name of the Royal House…altho from what I can glean from the comments of Royal-watchers, the entire Royal Family considers themselves to be Mountbatten-Windsors, the Queen’s 1960 proclamation notwithstanding. It’s something that is endlessly debated amongst experts and amateurs alike…alongside the question of who exactly is entitled to be an HRM in the first place…and I guess that’s part of the fun of it…like baseball is to us Yanks.    

117.9  Dear Stolf: Why is it that your father’s brother is your uncle…and your uncle’s son is your cousin…but your father’s cousin is also your cousin. Aren’t the generations getting mixed up?  …from Auntie Maim, Thunderclap City KS

117.10  Dear Auntie: Right…and another way to look at it is: your father’s cousin is your cousin…but your father’s brother isn’t your brother, he’s your uncle, who’s also your cousin’s father. I suppose the bottom line is that people get the language they want…and in English, grouping a lot of people of different generations together as your “cousins” seems not to inconvenience enough people, hence it doesn’t change.

chart 418.png

117.11  Chart 418 shows our basic kinship terminology…brother and cousin are of your generation…father/uncle is one generation back…son/nephew is one generation forward…then grand and great are applied to father/uncle and son/nephew for further generations up and down. For your direct ancestors, direct descendants, and their siblings, it works out well.

chart 419.png

117.12  Chart 419 is what happens when everyone else in your tree gets labeled…they’re all some sort of “cousin”…thus, except for straight numbered cousins, like 1st, 2nd, 3rd,  the word “cousin” no longer means your generation. So why can’t you have brothers that are of other generations? Like, your father’s brother could be your brother once removed…your father’s uncle (your grand uncle or your grandfather’s brother) could be your brother twice removed.

117.13  What genealogists tend to forget I think is that in everyday speech, saying “my father’s 1st cousin” is clearer to most people than saying “my 1st cousin once removed ascending.” But then in real life, you have the advantage of centering all relatives via their relationship to YOU…”my this” and “my that.” In genealogy, you don’t generally have that luxury…you have to either say “A’s 1st cousin once removed ascending is B”…or “A and B are 1st cousins once removed.” Being more specific, you say “A is the 1st cousin of B’s father” or “B’s father’s 1st cousin is A.”

117.14  Another thing to bear in mind is that in everyday speech, you are likely talking about living people. The system allows for the possibility of “great great great great great great grandparents” and “cousins 8 times removed” but they aren’t often the topic of conversation. It’s the practical versus the theoretical. And when you think about it, the “removed” system that so many people find confusing is really just a specialized form of jargon used to standardize genealogical communication…and every field and endeavor has its jargon.

117.15  If you really don’t want to learn it, you can communicate just as well using everyday constructions like…”my grandfather’s 2nd cousin”…”my 1st cousin’s grandson”…etc. There’s obvious benefit in knowing the formal terms in our system of kinship, but you can do without them if you choose. Just don’t try to make them make “sense,” because they won’t….

117.16  …unless of course you’re speaking Spanish, where everyone of your father’s generation is an uncle…that is, your father’s 1st cousin is your 2nd uncle, your father’s 2nd cousin is your 3rd uncle…and similarly down the tree…your 1st cousin’s son is your 2nd nephew, your 2nd cousin’s son is your 3d nephew…and like that. Anyone who is called a cousin in Spanish really is your cousin…not your father’s or anybody else’s. 

117.17  And that’s the real secret: even if you don’t care to call people removed cousins, you can still understand what they are if somebody else says it…removed cousins are somebody else’s cousins…not yours. Next week…we address the real-life concerns of actual people…woo hoo!


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#116: Middle Ground

116.1 To sort of finish things off…as I was researching Presidential middle names (and aren’t you glad I didn’t do the Vice Presidents?…trust me, I was sorely tempted!) I came across some interesting genealogical connections that I thought worth diagraming. First was the statement that John Quincy Adams’ mother’s cousin married John Hancock.

116.2  Now I had come across this claim before, and had taken it at face value. But when you think about it, chances are great that “cousin” is being used here its loosest sense, that is, referring to a any blood relative who isn’t some degree of father/son or uncle/nephew. And that suspicion proved to be dead on.

  chart 415

116.3  Checking Chart 415, you can see that Daniel Quincy was the brother of Edmund II…his son Col. John is thus the 1st cousin of Edmund III…and Daniel’s granddaughter Elizabeth is 2nd cousin to Dorothy Quincy, who married John Hancock. Elizabeth is John Quincy Adams’ grandmother, making Dorothy 2nd cousin twice removed to him…and 2nd cousin once removed to his mother Abigail Smith. That was easy, nez pah?

116.4  Next we come to James Abram Garfield. He grew up in a town outside of Cleveland, Ohio…living on a farm next to that of his Uncle Amos Boynton…and I read on Uncle Wiki that “he and his Boynton cousins cherished their memories of childhood together.” Awwwww, that’s nice. But since I already knew from my Middle Name Project that his mother was a Ballou, not a Boynton, this called for further investigation.

chart 416

116.5  Sure enough, Uncle Amos was Garfield’s father’s half-brother…they had the same mother but different fathers. Bear in mind that back in the early 1800s, such kinship was almost always caused by the death of a spouse, not divorce, and that was they case here…Garfield’s grandfather Thomas was husband #1. And as an aside, I discovered that Uncle Amos’ grandfather Caleb Boynton Sr. lived for a time in Rowley, Mass…just a stone’s throw from where I grew up…and also in Madrid, NY up on the St. Lawrence River, just down the road from where I am living now…jeepers, as if this stuff weren’t gratifying enough…

116.6  So as a boy, James Abram Garfield frolicked and gamboled with his half-1st cousins, the Boyntons. But I have learned that once you have found what you thought you were looking for, it’s a good idea to keep reading…and so it turns out that the mothers of the half-1st cousins were themselves sisters! Thus Garfield and his Boynton half-1st cousins were in fact full Ballou cousins. And if you want to get technical about it, these half-1st cousins were actually Hill cousins, the surname of the sole grandparent they share…after all, none of the Garfields were Boyntons, nor were the Boyntons Garfields…they were related because they were all Hills…ha, ha, gotcha!

chart 417  116.7  Finally, getting back to middle names, I mentioned that William Howard Taft’s middle name is tricky…it looks like a given name, but it’s actually the maiden name of his paternal grandmother. I wondered if any of his siblings got his mother’s maiden name, Torrey…none did, but in this family, surnames as middle names flew fast and furious, even including one of Taft’s half-brothers. Trouble is, going back several more generations beyond what I’ve included in Chart 417, I can’t put my finger on a Dutton for Taft’s brother Horace Dutton Taft…perhaps the milkman was a really close friend of the family… 😉 😉

116.8  Bulging mailbag gets our attention next week…but before we go….


Wicked Ballsy


For my final encore…I noticed that there were some prominent Founding Fathers that didn’t get the Middle Name Treatment last week, so I figured I’d give it a shot. Gen. Israel Putnam is a special favorite of mine, since I grew up in the Putnamville area of Danvers, Massachusetts…guess how it got that name? Gouverneur Morris owned land up where I live now, and 2 towns are named after him, Gouverneur and Morristown…he was actually born in New York City and lived most of his life in Pennsylvania. Surprise, surprise, Gouverneur was his mother’s maiden name, so for a middle game I gave him his paternal grandmother’s.

And I’ve even included the dreaded B*n*d*ct  *rn*ld…the interesting coincidence there is, the only monument in the US bearing his name (there are some in Britain) is in Danvers, commemorating a stopover on way to the Quebec campaign of 1775.


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#115: More in the Middle

115.1  Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Patrick Henry, John Hancock, Aaron Burr, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay…none of these Founding Fathers had middle names. 13 of the first 16 Presidents, and 26 of 43 overall didn’t have middle names…the last one without was Teddy Roosevelt. Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, only 3 had middle names: Francis Lightfoot Lee, Richard Henry Lee, and Robert Treat Paine.

115.2  Uncle Wiki lists an additional 140 individuals who can be considered Founding Fathers, and of these, only 10 had middle names…split evenly 4 and 4 between surnames and second Christian names. The 2 remaining are special cases. In the family of diplomat and jurist Robert R. Livingston, sons used their father’s first name as their middle name…his father was also named Robert, so he abbreviated that to simply an R.

115.3  Then there was Daniel of St. Thomas Jenifer of Maryland. Historians don’t know the origin of his unusual middle name “of St. Thomas,” but it was part of a curious custom in the Jenifer family…that of naming a son “Daniel” and one of this brothers “Daniel of St. Thomas”…this happened at least 4 times! One hopes that at the dinner table they were Dan and Tom…

115.4  Now our history is studded with gentlemen named Lee, and this was indeed one of the most prominent families in early Virginia…so I assayed a part of the family tree for the signatory brothers mentioned above, Francis Lightfoot Lee and Richard Henry Lee. As you can see in Chart 414, they were 1st cousins once removed to famous cavalryman Light Horse Harry Lee, and twice removed to Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. They had several other siblings that did not have middle names, but as they were born in the early 1700s, their family had begun doing this considerably before most people…as befits gentry, I suppose. Their mother was born in 1695, and given the surnames of both her parents.

chart 414

115.5   Also noteworthy is that Lightfoot is not the surname of a blood relative, but the husband of Francis’ father’s maternal aunt. The similarity between “Lightfoot” and “Light Horse” is pure coincidence…and neither individual should be confused with Sir Henry Lightfoot Boston, sometimes hyphenated, a prominent figure in the founding of Sierra Leone, and the descendant of freed Creole slaves from the West Indies.

115.6  And as an aside, a word of caution…while researching the Lee family, I found several mistakes on Uncle Wiki…a reminder for you to double, triple, and quadruple check this stuff. They also say that Francis Lightfoot Lee “married his cousin,” one Rebecca Plater Tayloe…then immediately clarify that with “2nd cousin once removed.” Waddya bet that’s a boo-boo, too? I’ll look into it, just not today. If you’re interested, here’s what I posted on the “Talk” pages…

uncle wiki

115.7  But as I did last time with the middle-name-less Presidents, I thought it might be a hoot to give those Founding Fathers I mentioned in 115.1 their mothers’ maiden names as middle names…and it was, to wit: Samuel Fifield Adams, Benjamin Folger Franklin, Thomas Cocke Paine, Patrick Winston Henry, John Thaxter Hancock, Aaron Edwards Burr, Alexander Fawcett Hamilton, and John Van Cortlandt Jay. Interesting assortment, wouldn’t you say? Can’t make this stuff up…


  115.8  Dear Stolf: Last week you ended by taking the Presidents whose middle name wasn’t their mother’s maiden name, and showing what they’d look like if it had been. BTW, you left out Harry Young Truman. But I got to thinking maybe the reason they didn’t was that another sibling got it first…sound reasonable?  …from Shorty in Bracketsburg

115.9  Dear Shorty: You’re right, I did miss Truman, thanx. And yes, the same thought occurred to me, by gum, and it turns out that in 5 of the 16 cases, that’s pretty much what happened.

115.10  William Henry Harrison didn’t get Bassett because his older brother Carlton Bassett Harrison beat him to it. Likewise, James Abram Garfield had an older brother who died at age 2, James Ballou Garfield, and also an older sister Mehitabel Ballou Garfield. Stephen Grover Cleveland was the 5th of 9 sibs, the first 2 being Anna Neal Cleveland and William Neal Cleveland. 

 115.11 Now this wasn’t the case with David Dwight Eisenhower…he was the 3rd of 7 sons, but it was the youngest, Milton Stover Eisenhower, who got their mother’s maiden name. You may have heard that there that were only 6 brothers…they generally leave out #5, Paul Dawson Eisenhower, who died of diphtheria in 1895, 2 months shy of his first birthday. Oddly enough, some genealogies list 2 additional Eisenhower siblings…Morris and Paula…I suspect the latter is actually “Paul A.” which is sometimes erroneously given for “Paul Dawson.” But census records reflect just the 6 sons, Paul having been born and died between the 1890 and the 1900 census. 

115.12  Finally we come to George Walker Bush. His sister Dorothy also got Walker…brothers Neil and Marvin both got their mother’s maiden name Pierce. And ole Jeb, he’s John Ellis Bush, named after Alexander Ellis, who married his Aunt Nancy Walker Bush, third child and only daughter of grandpa Prescott Bush. Go figure.

115.13  Next week, we’ll wrap up middle names for a while with a couple of interesting Presidential genealogical snapshots…till then, peace out…

Wicked Ballsy

ikes speia

Speaking of the Eisenhowers, Ike and Mamie did give her maiden name of Doud to both their sons…Doud Dwight “Icky” Eisenhower, who died of scarlet fever in 1921 at age 3…and John Sheldon Doud Eisenhower, father of Dwight David Eisenhower II, who married Julie Nixon.

As to the nickname Ike, friends originally bestowed it upon older brother Edgar…who eventually became Big Ike when David was christened Little Ike. Interestingly enough, they both graduated from Abilene High School in Kansas in 1909, altho Big was a year and 9 months older than Little. And both were older than their classmates…Little was a year behind, having repeated his freshman year due to a severe leg injury…and Big dropped out in the 8th grade, then returned to finish high school…no wonder he was the football star!


Copyright © 2013 Mark John Astolfi, All Rights Reserved


#114: Stuck in the Middle

114.1  Dear Stolf: On my daughter’s history test, she was asked what was George Washington’s middle name. Wouldn’t you say that was a trick question?  …from Abigail van der Loewnhoake, Caffeineville, WI   PS: She got it right, but still…

114.2  Dear Abigail: I’d call it a tricky question…but a trick question implies a certain degree of deceit or at least ambiguity, and this one has a definite, legitimate answer, as your daughter knows: George Washington didn’t have a middle name. Not surprisingly, since in this day, most people in the English-speaking world didn’t either.

114.3   It’s off point, I know, but I’ve always been interested in obscure opposites…like, do you know the opposite of retrograde? For the record, it’s prograde…look it up. Surname actually has a seldom heard opposite, forename…a similar construction to afternoon and forenoon. You have family names versus given or Christian names. And the opposite of first name used be be second name, since people only had 2…today of course it’s last name. Here’s the skinny on the name stuck in the middle…

114.4  Historians estimate that in the Colonies in the 1600s, only about one of every thousand babies born was given more than one Christian name…a mere 0.1%. By the the 1700s, that number had risen 30-fold to a whopping 3%. Middle names became increasing common among the upper classes in the first half of the 1800s, and after the Civil War, the custom caught on with the population at large. By 1900, virtually everyone born in the US had 3 names…and sure enough, the World War I enlistment form is said to be the first federal paperwork to provide a space for “middle name.”

114.5  There is no precise agreement as to why this happened. Emulating your “betters” certainly played a part in it…altho to my mind, the obvious explanation for fads…especially those that become permanent parts of a culture…is that people like them, or at least find them useful. In the case of middle names, increasing population, together with limited mobility, resulted in many extended family members with duplicate names, and middle names would then distinguish one from another.

114.6  Early on, most middle names were family surnames…mother’s and grandmothers’ were especially popular. This was seen as a way to honor and preserve distinguished lineages. In the first part of the 1800s, 75% of middle names were pedigree-related. By the time middle names were the norm, this custom had faded, altho it is still occasionally done even today. As a small personal example, when I graduated from the 8th grade of a Catholic grammar school in 1965, of the 82 students listed on our program, all but 2 had middle names that were also given names. I remember asking Thomas Poor G. about his odd middle name, and it was indeed his mother’s maiden name. I don’t remember asking Jeremy Carr L., but I think it’s safe to assume.

114.7  And even this tiny sample bears out the tendency to give surnames as middle names to boys and rarely to girls, altho this did happen occasionally. A patriarchal thing I guess…or should we say patrilineal? And this trend ran in parallel with the use of surnames as given names, even when there was no middle name. After all, “Christian name” means what it says…one from the Bible, the name of a saint, or something related…like Dolores, Spanish for “sorrows,” as in the Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin.  The trend of giving no Christian name at all, but rather the surname of an ancestor as the sole forename, again started with the aristocracy and was limited mostly to boys.

114.8  The custom of giving surnames to girls as first names began in the American South…in the 1935 movie “The Little Colonel,” Shirley Temple portrays a moppet whose name is Lloyd Sherman….and Lionel Barrymore is her grandfather, Col. Lloyd. In fact, Shirley itself is a surname…she could have very well been named Temple Shirley!  This explains how such surnames as Lynn, Leslie, Joyce, Vivian, Hollis, Beverly, Ashley, Allison, Tracy, Stacy, and Dale began as boy’s names, and eventually migrated, thanks to that Southern influence, to become almost exclusively girl’s names. And this happened pretty much in our lifetime…recall that Maury Povich’s father was a popular sportswriter, Shirley Povich.

114.9  All this is born out by the genealogy, admittedly incomplete, I put together for Samuel Colt. Generation 1 begins in 1625. The earliest middle name I have is Generation 4…James D. Colt, born in 1740, brother of Samuel’s grandfather Benjamin…his is variously given as Danielson or Dennison. Generation 5, starting about 1770, has just a smattering of middle names. About half of Generation 6 (1790) has them…about three quarters do in Generation 7 (1820)…and remember, the Colts were a well-to-do family, thus presumably ahead of the curve. Samuel Colt was Generation 6…none of his siblings nor his wife had one…all 4 of his children did.

114.10  And it’s worth noting that in the course of your genealogical research, middle names that appear to be surnames are a valuable, altho not infallible, clue to further ancestral lines and their interconnections. For example, I see several Colts who married Spencers and Seldens…and when I find “Elizabeth Selden Spencer,” we’re off the to races!  

 chart 412

114.11  As to the Presidents, Chart 412  gives a chronological summary. Of the first 16 Presidents, Washington to Lincoln, only 3 had middle names: John Quincy Adams (6), William Henry Harrison (9), and James Knox Polk (11). The last President without a middle name was Teddy Roosevelt (26)…and in the time between him and Lincoln, we see the trend accelerating. Still, only 8 of the first 25 Presidents had one…after which, for the POTUS anyway, it becomes the rule.

114.12  But look here: 3 Presidents are generally listed as if they had only one given name…but this is because they used their middle name as their first name, and in analyzing Presidential names, we will consider them as they were born:  Stephen Grover Cleveland, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, and John Calvin Coolidge. (Trivia question: What is Paul McCartney’s middle name? Answer: Paul…first name: James. He titled an album with his complete name …how considerate!)

114.13  And among the middle name Presidents, there are several special cases. Bill Clinton’s original last name was Blythe, but he retained the same first and middle names, William Jefferson. On the other hand, President #38 had 2 full names…he was born Leslie Lynch King Jr., and at age 3 became Gerald Rudolff Ford Jr., after this step-father, altho he was never formally adopted. He didn’t change his name legally until he was 22, choosing the more conventional spelled of “Rudolph.”

114.14  President #18 was born Hiram Ulysses Grant…he was mistakenly nominated for admission to West Point as “Ulysses S. Grant” and he adopted that name for the rest of his life. As a cadet, he was nicknamed “Sam”…from U.S or Uncle Sam. Accordingly, he would say that the “S” didn’t stand for anything, altho in later life he would attribute it to his mother, Hannah Simpson. For our purposes, we will go with his birth name, as we will for President #34, David Dwight Eisenhower.

chart 413

114.15  Then we have Harry S Truman…note the lack of a period after the “S”. This was done deliberately by his parents so as not to play favorites between his grandfathers, Chart 413.  As you can see, Shipp had a long history as a surname on his father’s side. Solomon was his mother’s father’s given name…and it appears to be unique to him…I find no other Solomons going back 3 generations, back to when the name Young was spelled Jung. Now obviously “Truman” came from his father’s family…but his mother’s side was also represented by “Harry,” which was in honor of her brother Harrison. So they split the difference with the “S”. Why they didn’t name him Harry Solomon Shipp Truman is my question, unless it was so delicate a situation that which “S” name came first would have made a difference. Surely they could have legitimately “grouped” the given names and the surnames together, as I have done…but then again, maybe not… 😉 😉  And to further muddy the waters, he generally, but not always, signed it WITH a period…

114.16  But we are now prepared to analyze the middle names of the 26 Presidents that had them…both because I find it damned interesting and it’s my blog…and also because…tah-dah!… we will end by giving a middle name to each of those who didn’t have one. And of those 26, only 9 had a middle name that was their mother’s maiden name…perhaps that seems low, but it illustrates the trend away from the custom. (Well, 10 actually if you count Grant, which I don’t.) These would be: James Knox Polk, Rutherford Birchard Hayes, Thomas Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, Richard Milhaus Nixon, Ronald Wilson Reagan, and George Herbert Walker Bush. 

114.17  In Bush’s case, he was named after his mother Dorothy Walker’s father, George Herbert Walker, but I think he still properly belongs in this group. Likewise, 3 others of these were not so much given their mother’s maiden name for a middle name, as they were named after someone on their mother’s side…in Polk’s case, his grandfather James Knox…with Wilson, his grandfather Thomas Woodrow…and with Roosevelt, his mother’s uncle Franklin Hughes Delano.

114.18  Now you might wonder if among the other 17, any had middle names that were still surnames from further back in their lineage. The answer is just 3…and one is tricky, since “Howard” looks like a given name but was actually William Howard Taft’s paternal grandmother’s maiden name. John Quincy was John Quincy Adams‘ mother’s grandfather…and Leslie Lynch King Jr.’s great grandfather was named Lynch King, and “Lynch” sure sounds like somebody’s surname, but that trail is long cold, on the net anyway. In addition, Stephen Grover Cleveland was named for Stephen Grover, the first pastor of the church where his father was then pastor.

114.19  The one that’s got me stumped is Herbert Clark Hoover…again, “Clark” sounds like a surname, and it was also his father’s middle name…Jesse Clark Hoover. Going back 3 generations on both sides from Jesse, I find Burkhart, Coate, Coppock, Davis, Embree, Fouts, Graeff, Haskett, Lowe, Waymire, Yount…but no Clark. Back even further we have Bassett, Bigland, Chaplin, Chichester, Duncalf, Grafton, Hicks, Hill, Hoag, Huber = Hoover, Humphrey, Lester, Minshall, Moore, Overton, Saunders, Smith, Spragg, Symonds, Willson [sic], Young…there’s gotta be a Clark hiding somewhere, but for the life of me I can’t find him.

114.20  But Jessie Clark Hoover had a brother named Davis Hoover, after their mother Mary Davis, so that’s something anyway. At any rate, here’s the first batch of newly minted middle name Presidents…and yeah, George Ball Washington…


114.21  In this second group there are 2 points of interest. Millard Fillmore’s mother’s maiden name was Millard…so I chose Wood, his paternal grandmother’s maiden name.


And Uncle Wiki says that Franklin Pierce is sometimes referred to as “Franklin K. Pierce.” You know, I have to admit that rings a bell… and the “K” certainly hints at Kendrick…but by all accounts he was not given a middle name at birth, nor did he use one or sign his name with one. True, his picture turns up when you do a Google image search on “Franklin K. Pierce”…but then it does also when you try “Franklin J. Pierce”…LOL…

Wicked Ballsy

fake middddle

Just for the fun of it, I’ve listed the Presidents whose middle names weren’t their mother’s maiden name…and what they’d look like if they were. Fair warning: we’re not done with this list! Uh-oh. What uh-oh? It’s all good…as you’ll see if you check back next week… 


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