03 May 2012

What's in a name?

Have you ever asked yourself "What's in a name?"  It's an interesting question.  More often that, I find myself asking a variation of that question, like "What on earth were those parents thinking?" when I've run across a child with a name that will scar him/her for life or lead to him/her getting beat up. A lot.  Or why parents give their daughters' stripper names.  But I digress.

I've been giving the whole concept of "What's in a name" a lot of thought of late. I've gotten involved in a bit of genealogy, not my own, mind you.  What am I?  87 years old.  No.  Rather, I've jumped in to a project to help index names from all sorts of sources, like birth/death records, draft registrations, and census records, to make names searchable for the real genealogists - the 87 year olds.  I got involved in it here. This may sound a little squirelly but it's been fascinating.

I find myself getting lost in the stories that these names represent.  I've done records from the 1800's where I'll encounter a family where there's a widow as a head of household and she's got seven children under the age of eight.  I'll stop on her name, read the names of the children, and then begin to wonder what their lives must have been like.  I wonder how they got by, and frankly, how many of the children made it to their 10th birthday.  As I've indexed draft registrations for WWII, I've wondered what each man was thinking as he registered.  As I've indexed records from the 1940 US Census, I've gotten lost in the families of Louisiana, wondering what it must have been like to be a sharecropper then. The way I imagine it, it wasn't good.  Each of these names has a story.  It would be really cool to get to know them more.

Doing this has brought me a new level of respect for those who have gone before me.  We have it too easy.  Sure, we have challenges but we live in a time of such abundance.  Most of us really don't know from adversity.  We're lucky.  I wonder if in one hundred years or so, someone will be clawing through my family history and wonder what story my name tells.  I hope it's a good one.

1 comment:

Scott Hinrichs said...

I've been indexing for a while now. For the past couple of months I have concentrated mostly on Norwegian property tax and census records. I've done some German stuff too. I focused on those languages because I have some experience with them.

But I also have done Texas death records, some of which apparently had some interesting stories behind them. I wish I knew more about 52-year-old company executive that died with nine bullet holes in him.

Years ago I worked for a government agency where I saw lots of names on records. Most were rather average (as one might expect). But it seemed like there was an increasing tendency for parents to go for more exotic names or else common names spelled oddly. Some names were head scratchers that made me wonder how drunk or high the parents were when they coined the name. Some names made me think that some parents must hate their kids.