First names no longer in common use

When working with genealogical records for people who lived 100+ years ago, you get to see first names that are not now in common use. Many of the names rarely seen now are female versions of other male names. The table shows a selection, all of which are formed by adding “ina” to the male name.

Male form Female form Derivative
Andrew Anderina
Jacob Jacobina Jessie, Jemima
Hugh Hughina
Laurence Laurina
Robert Robina
Thomas Thomasina Tamar
William Williamina Willa or Mina

One of those names, Thomasina, has an oft used derivative, Tamar, which definitely confused some of the census transcribers. It’s a girls name, and yet frequently I have seen people with this name, listed in census returns as the daughter or wife of the head of the house, transcribed as James. Looking at the way the letters are written in examples of the old hand-writing it is almost forgivable, the “T” does look like a “J” in old script writing, then you have “am”, easy to assume it is “James”.

Example text - Tamar

Example old hand-writing showing how Tamar could look like James

Mind you, the gender of the person ought to have made the transcriber double check, and also, in this case, six lines above there is a real “James” in the same handwriting. Perhaps we can forgive them however, as names are not always used the way we expect them to be, for example, would you expect ‘Bruce’ to be a female name?

Example text - James

To compare to the text saying Tamar, from the same page, here is text that says James

I’ve seen it so often now, that whenever I see “James” I will double check the gender, and if it’s female, smile to myself and think, “that’ll be another Tamar then”.


9 thoughts on “First names no longer in common use

  1. Interesting situation which I always thought was a Highland thing. That said, I knew a Robina in Lanarkshire and know a Donaldina in Ayr. There was a famous person in Ayr civic life (19th century) called Primrose Kennedy! Bit like Johnny Cash’s “Boy named Sue”.

  2. Thanks for this. I didn’t know Tamar was a girl’s name!
    My grandma was “Martha Thomasina”. She hated it – especially the “Martha”. She’d be disappointed that it’s coming back into fashion.

    • Before I started this family tree work, I had not heard of Tamar either, so I would have been in the same position as these transcribers. You do pick up all sorts of things.

  3. Love the list, thanks! Sometimes the male/female versions are hard to sort out. And, I like to never figured our Jno….how is that Johnathon? Whew! The things we have to learn 🙂

  4. When I first looked at your “sample” of Tamar being transcribed as James, I actually thought it read Jenna! LOL At least, I would have had the right gender…. I have come across Thomasina, but none of the others. Quite interesting to see how names have evolved. (I came across a book of baby names which I’m using to also help with nicknames and variations… Like I had NO idea that Lola is a nickname for Delores and Louise.)

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