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At times when infant mortality was high, families might give a child the same name as a deceased brother or sister.

For example Aurelius and Ann MEDWELL had two daughters named Cornelia. They were born April 1850 and June 1851 and died May 1850 and October 1925. It is easy to mistakenly conflate them into a single individual 1850-1925.

What naming system will allow me to distinguish the individuals in such cases? My current hack of calling one Cornelia d (for dead) is not only inelegant but also incorrect since they are now both deceased.

Suggestions

The following list has been extracted from the responses provided below. You should read the complete answer to understand the full intent of each.

  • Make appropriate use of existing distinguishing data, such as vital record dates.
  • Roman numerals can be used to indicate birth order and visually distinguish individuals.
  • Don't add additional (non-name) information to a principal name field.
  • Exploit additional name-linked fields (Title or Suffix) where available for this purpose.
  • Be alert for identically named non-siblings (such as cousins) alive at same time.
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I usually write a little note next to the name "Died in infancy". –  American Luke Oct 11 '12 at 13:28
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We could have a sub-feature to this question, "Ode to George Forman." Among others, Wikipedia ("George Forman"), "Foreman has 11 children, and each of his five sons is named George." –  GeneJ Oct 11 '12 at 17:09
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This is also relevant when there are a lot of cousins in an extended family born around the same time and all named (for example) after Grand-dad. –  ColeValleyGirl Oct 12 '12 at 11:46

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

I agree with others that the differentiation should not be included in the personal name field, e.g. 'John (b. 1845)' and 'John (b. 1855)'.

Depending upon what software you use, there may be a title field for each person which is separate from their personal name(s). This would be the field that is used to identify the person in reports, charts, etc., and is where the differentiation should occur.

In principle, it should be possible to have two siblings with totally identical data - including name and date-of-birth - although I know of no such case in real-life. The point is that it comes down to specific software products whether cases of identical names are reported as errors, or merged by over-zealous algorithms, or simply left indistinct during presentation.

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The use of a "title" field (or, in other packages, "suffix") is the key to a neat consistent solution. Thank you. –  Fortiter Oct 13 '12 at 11:27
    
The two John's should be stand alone records within the family. John b: 1845 is record one, John b: 1855 is record two. I should not have to enter data into any other field. The birth DATE is what tells the difference. Of course, the Death Date for the first record would be BEFORE the birth date of the second John. –  Russ Worthington Oct 13 '12 at 11:44
    
Re:birth date being after death date Russ, this is not always the case. For reasons not yet understood, I have an ancestral family where two concurrent children were given the same forename but different middle-name. –  ACProctor Oct 13 '12 at 12:19
    
@ACProctor Try heavily Roman Catholic families where every daughter is Mary Something... –  Crwth Oct 15 '12 at 20:12

I have always relied on the dates of birth and death to distinguish between siblings, but recorded the names as they were given. I include a note about the death in the notes section, but not in the name field.

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I agree with Lorraine. I record them with the same name and depend on dates to disambiguate them. George Foreman the boxer has five living sons, all named George. –  Tom Wetmore Oct 11 '12 at 14:14
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I would call George Foreman's five sons - George (I), George (II), George (III), George (IV) and George (V) - otherwise, because they are all of the same generation with the same father, they are very hard to disambiguate. The Roman numerals are used in order of birth. –  PolyGeo Oct 12 '12 at 1:43
    
@PolyGeo, You are prescient, as that is exactly how they are named, though for "daily use" they each have their own nickname. –  Tom Wetmore Oct 12 '12 at 2:09
    
I also use lifedates to distinguish between them. –  ColeValleyGirl Oct 12 '12 at 11:45

A common naming convention in Norway was to name the first son for the father's father and the second son for the mother's father. Since there are many very common first names it wasn't unusual for both grandfathers to have the same name. Thus there were often living brothers with identical names who were differentiated by the suffix d.e and d.y. that is the elder and the younger. I have used that convention. My grandmother had two siblings named Johannes. Additionally, the Norwegians also often named a child for an older sibling who had died, so there are instances of three sons with identical names!

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In my tree I, too, have many pairs of duplicated names for siblings as well as descendants. For siblings I use 1st, 2nd, 3rd in the title field but use the Roman numerals I, II, III, IV for only direct, consecutive line descendants. Equally important is the need to be consistent.

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Welcome to Genealogy and Family History SE! Thanks for your answer! –  American Luke Oct 27 '12 at 1:36

Similar to Roberta's observations [infra] on the Norwegian naming convention I often find it helpful to distinguish by ages, if known. Then everything old is new again, so I have relied on the phrases from English antiquity — the Elder and the Younger. Of course that wouldn't help with a situation the Brothers Forman face.

However, in line with some of the valid concerns expressed, I surmise that Totem1's solution [below], of using Arabic numerals within the same generation. Then Roman numerals for direct descendants, results in a far more intuitive method for distinguishing between those subjects with duplicate names.

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In my tree I have many pairs of duplicated names for siblings which occur when the first one dies at a young age, and in one case the same name gets used a third time when the second sibling also passes away while young.

If they are all called John, I call them John (I), John (II) and John (III) in order of their births.

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