A new way of naming children?

This story is based on data from the UK only, but the findings and principles involved probably relate to other countries also.

There is an assumption in this research that a child will be given the surname of the father. A known exception to this rule is in the case of an illegitimate child who may be given the mother's surname. This circumstance is of course not new, but is particularly evident from the Births Index records since they started to include the mother's maiden surname in 1911. This is not to say that illegitimacy started in 1911, as there are many parish records of Christenings where the church minister has included the word "illegitimate" or "bastard" in the record. The earliest relevant example of this is Rychard CRYMES who was Christened at Bunbury, Cheshire in 1600!

There has always been another rather unusual way in which a child could be given the mother's maiden surname, that is where the mother and father have the same surname before marriage. There is a CHRIMES example of this: Ezra John CHRIMES married Annie CHRIMES in 1896 in Cheshire and they had nine children (though sadly three died in infancy).

Since about 1980 the traditional norm of marriage has diminished in popularity, and with it the traditional norm of naming children after the father. So, in some cases parents deliberately choose to name their child after the mother. In parallel with this change, some births have started to appear in the Births Index TWICE, once in the surname of the father and once in the surname of the mother. I had previously thought that this reflected uncertainty as to which surname the child would use, but that is not the case. I have now established that, where the parents are not married, the registrar is required to index the birth under both parents' names. Turning this statement around, we can say that if a birth is indexed under two surnames, then the parents were not married at the date of the birth. This is, on the one hand, useful information for us researchers but, on the other hand, still does not tell us the child's surname.

I also now know that the informant is required to give the child's surname at the time of registration. This might seem obvious, but if, like me, you have a hand-written UK birth certificate, you will find that it does not give your surname. Only since computerisation have UK birth certificates given the child's surname. The child's surname given by the informant may be the father's surname, the mother's surname or something else entirely! Whatever surname is given, that surname will appear (as the, or one of the entries) in the births index.

There are a few cases where the birth is indexed three times, typically in the style SMITH, JONES and SMITH-JONES. This would appear to add more confusion, but in fact it gives us a direct indication of the child's surname. In such cases, the parents were not married at the date of the birth, and the child has been given the double-barrelled surname.

I should make it clear that, despite these modern-day complications, a child will always have just one Birth Certificate, which will clearly indicate their surname. Unfortunately we One-Name-Study researchers generally don't have access to these Certificates, so we must attempt to interpret the Births Index to the best of our abilities.

I have included in this research all children who have a CHRIMES or CRIMES Births Index record, but I must acknowledge that some of them may not in fact have that surname.

Can you help? Do you have any experience of dual indexing of births? Can you confirm or correct my understanding?

Revised March 2021 David Chrimes

Return to List of Stories