Naming Patterns--Barking up the Wrong Tree.

Copyright February 2001 by Robert W. Scott


      Genealogists have been trained to watch naming patterns in families. And it's good advice. Naming patterns are often good clues to relationships in families before 1900. But buyer beware. Names of politicians, ministers, and celebrities given to members of your ancestors' families can have you chasing non-existent relationships. These names may have been well known in their times, but are barely remembered now. A great example of this is Elmer Ellsworth, who gave his name to many post-Civil War men. (See below for explanation.)

     One of the more extreme cases of a family naming its children after religious figures occurs in the family of Benjamin Tevis (1806-1868) of Milton Township. His sons included the following: Melancthon, after Philip Melancthon (1497-1560), an ally of Martin Luther during the Reformation; Armenus, presumably after Jacob Arminius, (1560-1609) whose name gave us the term Armenianism as a revolt against Calvinism; Whitfield or Whitefield after George Whitefield, (1714-1770) an early Methodist leader; and Tillotsin, probably after John Tillotsin (1630-1694), an archbishop of Canterbury. Then there are the families whose names show a patriotic bent. In Ripley County, the family of Greenbury Hayes and wife Mahala Buchanan included sons George W., Henry C., Zachary T., Winfield S., Abraham, and Fremont. Such a pattern is easier to spot than some names of religious leaders.

     These names can often tell you something about either your family's religion or politics, particularly regarding the Pro-Union or Pro-Secession sympathies. I once spotted a family in northern Indiana which had a son named Vallandigham, obviously after the famous pro-Southern Ohio politician Clement Vallandigham. You can bet this family didn't contribute to the campaign to re-elect Lincoln. On the other side, the Hayes family shows a distinctly pro-Unionist mix that include three pro-Union Whigs (Henry C. is presumably Henry Clay and Zachary T. is Zachary Tayor, and Winfield S. is Winfield Scott), and two Republican candidates for president--Abraham Lincoln, and John Charles Fremont.

     Here are some names in Southern Indiana that can mix up things. (And we won't even bother with presidents on this list.) Some of these names are purely local to Southern Indiana, such as Allen Wiley. My judgment is that Methodist families were more likely to adopt names of local ministers than were members of other denominations. I find little evidence of families using the names of locally prominent Baptist ministers. And because the name origins are usually obvious, I won’t get into Catholic names derived from Popes or other European religious figures (Clement, Boniface, and Benedict for example) which one exception. Francis M. for a male is generally one named after the Revolutionary War “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion, and indicates a Protestant family while someone named Francis X. is generally a Catholic taking his name from Francis Xavier.

     Generally, I have only included names that I have seen in more than one family. The names have been alphabetized by first name since researchers may not be familiar with the last names of some of those cited. Remember this is just a guide to spur your thinking. It is by no means intended to been seen as comprehensive.


Albert (1819-1861). Husband of Queen Victoria. Credited with keeping the English out of the Civil War on the Southern Side during the Trent Affiar.

Alley Wiley. Methodist circuit rider in Southern Indiana. Active from about 1814 through the 1830s.

Barton W. Stone (1772-1844). One of the leaders of the reform movement that lead to formation of the Disciples of Christ.

Calvin Ruter (born 1794) Methodist minister, born in Vermont. Worked in Indiana and Ohio.

Charles Lanham. Christian minister, active from the 1830s on in Jefferson, Switzerland and Ripley Counties. Uncle to the better known minister Rev. James W. Lanham of Manville. Buried in an unmarked cemetery at Salem Cemetery near Cross Plains.

Charles Wesley (1707-1788). Co-founder of Methodism with brother John Wesley.

Dewit Clinton (1769-1828). Governor of New York who spurred the construction of the Erie Canal.

Don Carlos Buell (1818-1898). Union general in the Civil War.

Ebenezer Erskine. (1680-1754) Leader of a dissident branch of Presbyterians.

Elmer Elsworth (or Ellsworth) (d. 1861). First Union soldier killed in the Civil War. Died in Northern Virginia at the age of 24.

Francis Asbury (1745-1816). Methodist Bishop who worked with John Wesley.

Hayden Hayes. Methodist Circuit Rider, active in the 1840s in Jefferson, Switzerland, and Ripley Counties.

Lorenzo Dow (1777-1834). Itinerant preacher on the frontier. Sometimes associated with the Methodists.

Horace Greeley (1811-1872). New York newspaper editor who said, “Go west, young man.” Strongly Pro Union.

Hosea J. Durbin. Methodist Circuit Rider. Preached on the Vevay Circuit in Switzerland and Jefferson Counties. Active in the 1830s and 1840.

Inez. Gained some popularity during and immediately after the Spanish-American War. I thought was a member of the Spanish nobility, but have not tracked down a reference I once had (or thought I had).

Jesse Bright (1812-1875) Madison resident who became Lieutenant Governor of Indiana and U.S. Senator. Expelled from the Senate for alleged disloyalty.

John Calhoun (1782-1850). Vice president and later U.S. Senator from South Carolina. Leading exponent of States rights by advocating the right of states to nullify laws they opposed.

John Wesley (1703-1791). Founder of Methodism.

Joseph Tarkington (1800-1891). Methodist minister, active in the Vevay Circuit in Switzerland and Jefferson Counties.

Lyman Beecher. (1777-1863) New England theologian. Father of Harriet Beecher Stowe and Henry Beecher.

Milton Stapp. (1792-1869) Early mayor of Madison, son of Achilles Stapp. He moved to Texas in 1860 where he died.

Oliver P. Morton.(1823-1877) Pro-Union Governor of Indiana, later Senator, who withstood a legislature that wanted to negotiate with the South. Namesakes are often called Morton.

Pleasant Richard Henderson (1735-1785). A land promoter from North Carolina. He name spurred widespread use of the Pleasant among families that emigrated from North Carolina. He organized the Transylvania Company which sent Daniel Boone to Kentucky.

Victoria (1819-1901). The long-reigning Queen of England.

William Ralston (1786-1869). Milton Township Physician.

Winfield Scott (1786-1866). General in the Mexican War and Civil War. Whig candidate for president.


Copyright by Robert W. Scott, 2001.

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