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Nick Names

As is common today, lots of forenames have shortened forms or nicknames. However, in Ireland there are certain forms that will not be familiar to many modern readers so the table below is an attempt to list these.

NealeyCorneliousSee note #2
Liza Elizabeth

Names and spelling

In trying to read the names, one must realise the importance of the spelling. That is - not a lot at all! In the early 19th century, most of the population could not read or write, so their names were not spelled at all!

So the vicar, doing his rounds, would write down the name as he thought it should be spelled. Two instances will make this clear.


A very common name. It is the equivalent is modern Janet. Old Scottish text often seem to spell it as Jonet. Clearly in the Scot-Irish accent of the time it came out more close to Jennet.


Here is a name - or is it two names - that James Brown was in two minds - or was it one mind - about, In the early list (1796) he writes it Maryann. In the 1850 list it is unequivocally Mary Ann - ornate, capital A with a space.

In the interim lists, it starts to get a space and the 'a' gradually gets larger, whilst still being a lower case script a.

So - it it really one name or two? Does it matter?

It seems also that Marion (which is a later name) is a derivative.


Surnames and Christian names

In the middle ages, family names did not properly exist in Scotland. So a person called John might be differentiated by being 'John the baker' or John of the hill or John of the village where he lived. As the population increased, John the baker started to become John Baker and it is evident that many modern names derive from such a profession, Butcher, Baker, Cooper, Smith spring to mind.

Later, in the period on the visitation, surnames were being used, but there was also a strong tradition which defined the naming of children. Quite often, when a child was named after the tradition, the surname of the other family was used, rather than the forename, so many names are used as surnames and forenames. So we can get names like Archibald and Alexander used as surnames or forenames. Less common are Smyth, Gilmour, Torrens and lots more examples.


The name Nealy deserves special notice. There is an 1796, Family 157 (individual 767) is Ann Nealey, but it also appears that Neal, Nealy, Nealy or Neily was a shortened form of Cornelious, as also is Corn.

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There is some confusion, in my mind at least, about the Ann/Nancy/Agnes equivalence! Apparently Nancy comes about as an alternative to Ann via the childhood reference to Ann as Nan, which gradually changing to Nancy.

I have no explanation for the Agnes in the confusion as yet. I have an Agnes/Nancy in my on line (though not very well documented) 1905-1875 and have heard of the same duality in other lines. Clarification would be appreciated!

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© 2002-2008 Richard John Torrens
First published: 1st of January, 2002
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Last modified: Mon, 08 Jul 2024 09:14:02 BST