I have a number of people on my family tree that did/do use a different first name than the one they were given at birth. In some cases, they have used their middle name as their first name, in others they have seemingly just picked a name that they liked and used that instead.

This obviously causes havoc in research, with birth and marriage records not matching the name others in the family remember them as.

Is there any consistent/typical reason for a change of name, other than just personal preference? Any research been done into this area that you're aware of?

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    Hi, welcome to G&FH.SE. Since you've joined us from SO, you already know how SE works, but take a look at the help center to see how your question can be improved, especially What types of questions should I avoid asking?: "You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." Rather than asking why individuals change their names, it might be more productive to ask what naming patterns are typically found in a particular community (and name the time and place, ethnic origin, etc.).
    – Jan Murphy
    Jun 3, 2015 at 15:05

1 Answer 1


I don't have any definitive sources, but I'd say a lot of cases it will simply be personal preference, or a family nickname or joke that stuck. For instance, my grandfather was Edward George, but to his immediate family and close friends he was known as Jim. Apparently this was because one of his siblings thought he looked like a character (I think Sunny Jim?) from in an advertising campaign at the time, and the name stuck right through his life.

In some cases it might be that a middle or other name was used to avoid confusion - perhaps the son had the same name as the father. Or maybe a name chosen at birth went out of fashion.

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