Posted: Apr 23, 2013 11:00 AM
 
As you compile the names of uncles, second cousins and great-great grandparents, you'll soon discover that researching your family history is like having your own personal baby name book.

Modern parents have become so creative with regards to baby names — using unique spellings (Camryn, Lukaas) or even making up their own (Cazen, Michaeleigh). But there was a time when baby names were automatically drawn from the family tree, passed down from one generation to the next.

But family names don't have to travel in a straight line, so you don't have to resort to Frederick II or Martin Jr. Find out how genealogy can help you come up with the perfect name for your baby.

Create a family tree

Children should know their heritage, and researching your lineage is like a personalized history lesson. It may seem overwhelming, but these steps will help you get started:

  • Write down everything you know: Record relatives' names, birthdates, death dates and more.
  • Gather photos: Label the backs of pictures with as many names and dates as you can identify.
  • Interview relatives: Talk to extended family members to fill in the blanks from the first two steps.
  • Take field trips: Visit courthouses and cemeteries to locate relatives.
  • Hit the internet: Conduct online genealogy searches to learn even more.

Before long, you'll have a family tree that can serve as your personalized baby name book.

First names

Pay tribute to Dad or Grandpa by passing along his first name — it's the easiest way to preserve your family's history. (For your child's sake, avoid using lasting nicknames, such as "Little Bill" or "Junior," that he may find undesirable as he gets older.)

Not sure which relative to honor? Combine their names! Name your daughter after both grandmothers, for example. Or take parts of different names to create one new name: Grandfather James' and Grandmother Anne's names might become Jan, Jane, Jeanne or Amy.

Don't be confined by gender. Name your son Stephen after dear Aunt Stephanie or your daughter Michaela after beloved Uncle Michael.

Middle names

Middles names offer an opportunity to pay tribute to that special relative whose name is not your cup of tea. Grandma Myrtle was so good to you, but Myrtle is just not the right name for your baby-girl-to-be. Look to see if Grandma's middle name is more suitable, or use Myrtle as your baby's middle name.

Last names

There was a time when it was customary to use Mom's maiden name as a child's middle name. Reviving this custom not only preserves your pedigree but also gives your baby a unique middle name.

Last names can make surprisingly good first names, too. Get creative with a surname on your family tree to create a special first name. For example, convert Johnson to John or Andrews to Andrea.

Places

Your family tree offers more than just names for inspiration. Take a look at the cities, ethnicities and occupations of your ancestors.

  • Cousin Ethel lived in Cheyenne. Name your daughter trendy Cheyenne instead of old-fashioned Ethel.
  • Your family descends from the Caddo Native American tribe. Name your child Caden or Cadence.
  • Great-grandpa Mortimer was a tailor. Go with Taylor (for a girl or a boy) rather than Mort.

Start researching your family tree today, and before long you'll have plenty of baby name inspiration.

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Estelle Hayes April 30, 2013
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I love family names and names that have special meaning or connection to someone or something. I was named after my great grandmother and I kind of hated it as a kid, but now I appreciate it. We named our daughter Emerson after Ralph Waldo Emerson and I'm always surprised how many people assume she's a boy, based on the name. Great piece. Wish I had more babies to name!