Anyone who’s ever looked at genealogy records will probably have come across several spellings for the same name. Sometimes a name can be spelt several ways but not always so why does this happen? Well it could be for many reasons but in general I think it comes down to one thing. Accents.
We all have one no matter what we think. You only have to watch TV or listen to those around you to realise this. Sometimes when you’re watch something you wonder what they’ve said as people’s accents can be really thick and if it’s not an accent you’re used to it can be confusing. So it’s logical to think that people’s accents have had an impact on records relating to our ancestors.
Accents change throughout all countries by regions and so how people pronounce their name will appear different. It is not uncommon for people from the south east of England to pronounce words with extra letters in them so they say carstle and barth instead of the correct way of castle and bath. So if those writing down the records spell names as they hear them they may have got it wrong. Take my surname Dobby as an example. I pronounce it Dob bie but one teacher I had at school always said it as Doe bie no matter how many times I corrected her as that was the way she read it. So if someone had heard her say my name and written it down it would have been wrong. In Scotland the more common form of spelling is Dobbie so there’s no common ground in spellings.
Also many of our ancestors couldn’t read or write so they spelt their names as they heard them and an accent could make this sound much different to how it should have been spelt. Take for example the surname Beckett. I’ve come across it spelt Becket, Bickett, Backett. If you consider them with a Yorkshire accent then they are all possible. So if you’re searching for an ancestor and you can’t find them then you need to consider where they lived and attempt to put an accent to the name to find other possible spellings.
But this doesn’t always follow. If your ancestors moved from where they lived then an accent local to the address they lived at may not have helped. Take my double great grandfather for example. He was Scottish coming from near Govan so he possibly had a thick Glasgow accent. He moved to Sunderland where it was a soft Geordie accent and then to the east end of London. All I can say is that it was a good job he was using the surname Smith by the time he got to London.
It’s not only accents though that may make life difficult for researchers. Throughout the country their will have been regional name variations which mean the same names were spelt differently. Take the surname Smith. In some places it is spelt Smyth. So although it is the same name it might not come up in the search results. This means you have to be creative in your thinking.
So if you take all of this into account then finding people may become easier, or harder as you may get so confused it’s unbelievable. Just because you spell your name one way now doesn’t mean your ancestors spelt it like that. They may have gone with the spelling the registrar used on a birth or marriage certificate, but as levels of literacy improved their decedents changed the spelling again. It in effect could have ended up like Chinese whispers where one name went in and another came out.
Hello and thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings on genealogy and history in general. I hope you find it informative and hopefully funny!