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Scottish Naming Protocols

Operating under the assumption that parents had "always" selected names for their children by sitting around talking, looking through baby-name books, discarding names of people (including relatives) they didn't like - led me to an embarrassing introduction to my ancestors.  It allowed me to be surprised, even astounded, by something my progenitors found perfectly normal.  By what, in fact, was a powerful and compelling part of their heritage: the Scottish naming protocols.

They chose to honor their ancestors and kept their clan close by naming the: The same pattern was honored in naming the:

The tradition wasn't always followed, there were some variations, but the pattern was quite obvious in our family.

Furthermore, they didn't use middle names; so we have lots of relatives with identical names.   For example, there were 1,416 McLarens in the 1881 Census of Ontario, Canada.   More than 35% of the males were named John, James, Peter or David.  More than 35% of the females were named Mary, Margaret, Janet or Isabell.   My direct line ancestors happen to be first born sons, so from my father back to my 3rd great grandfather we have John, Peter, Peter, John and Peter.   A nightmare for the genealogist, but a powerful tradition for honoring those who precede us.

In 2002 my brother and I visited our Lanark cousin, David James McLaren.   Here you have David McLaren and his brother, James McLaren, visiting David James McLaren.   We noted that David James' father (whose parents were cousins) had a paternal and maternal grandfather with the same name:   Peter McLaren.   David James would shrug, undoubtedly wondering what our problem was, and note that they were called "Big Peter" and "Little Peter."   So, to his father and the rest of the family, they were "Big Grandpa" and "Little Grandpa."

The creation of "bynames" was the obvious counter for any confusion - so bynames were common.   They might reflect occupation (e.g. Blacksmith Peter), or location (Lanark Peter), or physical character (Big and Little Peter).   The point is: that's how people were named.   It wasn't confusing.   It was a way to honor and connect with ancestors; and it took me a while to accept and appreciate the tradition.

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This site, A McLaren Migration, is maintained by David J. McLaren.
Updated November 11, 2007
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