Naming Practices among the Yancey Family
By Dennis J Yancey

Naming of children:
Some time back, in reviewing the names of my siblings and I – I noted that our parents had given all of us an "original" first name – in other words a name which had not been used by direct ancestors and/or close relatives. Names like Gail, Scott, Terrell, Dennis, Neal, Julie were all names not used, until that time by close members of my family (although most of us were given middle names which were names of grandparents, or other ancestors). I noted that I myself, had also done this, without thinking about it, with my children.

Naming practices are an interesting subject, and I thought I would do a little research on naming practices amongst the early Yanceys of America. The naming of children in early America was usually much more significant then it is today – and adherence to various "un-written" rules about naming children – was surprisingly consistent in earlier generations. People rarely gave their children a name because it "sounded cute" or because it was an "original" name. On the contrary, most often children were named for close family members – most often direct ancestors (parents, grandparents).

Analysis of given names among the early Yancey family:
An analysis was done of the given names of the first few generations of Yanceys in America. Among the first three generations of the Charles Yancey branch of the family (Hanover/Louisa County branch) the following names are the most common (in order of greatest use) -- For men: Robert, John, Charles, *Joel, James, William, Richard, *Jechonias, *Thornton, Thomas – For women: Mary, Elizabeth, Ann/Nancy, Sarah, Jane, *Susannah, Rebecca, Martha, Keziah, Frances. Among the first three generations of the Lewis Davis Yancey branch (Culpeper branch) these names are the most common: -- For Men: William, Robert, Thomas, John, Charles, Richard, James, Lewis, *George, *Benjamin. -- For women: Elizabeth, Mary, Frances, Ann/Nancy, Mildred, *Lucy, Henrietta. Those names marked with a ( * ) represent names which are significantly more dominantly used among one branch of the family compared to the other. Other names which seem to be exclusively used by only one branch of the Yancey family include: Archelaus, Bartlett, Zachariah, Hezekiah and Stephen among the Charles Yancey branch and Philemon, Ludwell, Kavanaugh, Birkett and Ambrose among the Lewis Davis Yancey branch.

The name of Charles is an interesting name to analyze in the Yancey family.

Child naming patterns:
Many researchers have noticed the following naming practice among some families in the early Southern United States – especially those of Scotch-Irish descent:

First son – named after paternal grandfather (father’s father)
Second son - named after the maternal grandfather (mother's father)
Third son - named after the father

First daughter - named after maternal grandmother (mother’s mother)
Second daughter - named after the paternal grandmother (father’s mother)
Third daughter - named after the mother

Although this pattern seems to have been rarely, if ever, followed "to the T" for a particular Yancey family – here are some examples of interest among Yancey families in early Virginia:

The Lewis Davis Yancey family of Culpeper County, Virginia:

Father: Lewis Davis Yancey (1698-1784)
Mother: Winifred Kavanaugh
Child: Elizabeth Yancey
Child: Charles Yancey – quite possibly name of father of Lewis Davis Yancey
Child: Philemon Yancey – name of maternal grandfather
Child: John Yancey
Child: Lewis Yancey – named after Father
Child: Winifred Yancey – named after Mother
Child: Ann Eleanor Yancey – name of sister of Winifred
Child: Richard Yancey
Child: Robert Yancey

The Robert Yancey family of Louisa County, Virginia:

Father: Robert Yancey (????-1746)
Mother: Temperance Dumas
Child: Charles Yancey – named after Paternal Grandfather
Child: Robert Yancey – named after Father
Child: Jeremiah Yancey – named after Maternal Grandfather


Use of surnames as given names:

One interesting occurrence among some early Yancey families is the use of the mother’s maiden name as a first name for one of her children (also the Grandmother’s maiden name for a grandchild). Examples of surnames being used as first names include: Kavanaugh Yancey, Thornton Yancey, Bartlett Yancey, Davis Yancey, Major Yancey and others. These can be clues used in identifying maternal ancestral lines in many cases.

Common Nicknames

Another interesting topic is the use of nick-names. Although it is not surprising to think that our ancestors used nicknames – just like many people do today. When researching families of the early southern United States from the early 1700’s thru the 1800’s – one comes to realize the common – and surprisingly consistent use of nick-names – many of which are not in common use today. Among the Yancey family the practice was most common among women. Some examples include the use of "Nancy" for the proper name of "Ann" - with some modern researchers often erroneously interpreting the name as "Nancy Ann". Other nick names such as Polly (for Mary), Betty (for Elizabeth), Peggy (for Margaret), Sally (for Sarah), Fanny (for Frances), Winny (For Winifred) were very consistently and commonly used across most branches of the early Yancey family.
For examples of other common nick-names see the following WEB sites:

Common Name Abbreviations:
Abbreviation of names on legal and personal records seems to be much less common than it once was. And some abbreviations that were once very common and often the standard – are no longer in use. One of the most common examples in early Virginia and even back into England – was the use of "Jno." as an abbreviation for John. Some people have a hard time accepting this idea – why would someone abbreviate the four letter name "John" to the three letter and confusing "Jno.". But a review of early American documents makes it clear that this was a most common practice. Other common names abbreviations found on Yancey family records include: "Thos." (for Thomas), "Jos." (for Joseph) and "Wm." (for William).

Religion and naming practices:
The Yanceys of the 18th century (1700’s) were pretty much all members of the Protestant Episcopal faith (the Church of England in America). The names most common among the Yancey family were also common among most people of Protestant Episcopal/Anglican background. At about the end of the 18th century the Protestant Episcopal church quickly lost its stronghold in the newly formed United States. Religious sects such as the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians quickly gained converts from those of the earlier dominant faith. It is interesting to note families around this time period who began to use non-traditional names for children. Names like John Wesley and Francis Asbury are names very common among Methodists and can be found in some Yancey families of Methodist belief. Also of note are families where use of "Old Testament" names like "Elisha", "Elijah", "Levi", "Nathaniel" all of a sudden become quite common.

Related Topics

Reading early handwriting:

Name & word spelling:

Names and their meanings: