Compound Surnames – Suffixes
Surnames began as a way to distinguish men of the same first name, John the Barber, John the Miller, John the Carpenter, John the Baptist, John the Red, John the Farmer, etc., etc., etc. Then there was Eric, John the Miller’s son. He could have been Eric Johnson or Eric Miller, or Eric the Tanner. As surnames evolved, so did middle names. In some countries, middle names were introduced during baptism honoring saints or godparents or family. As they evolved, they also differentiated people with the same first and surname. Maiden names have been used as middle names for wives and children. Patronymic naming systems evolved in Scandinavian counties that led to Larson, Nielson and Anderson with son as the suffix inherent inside the surname. If it stopped there, the family became the Larson family upon immigration to the United States, while in the originating country the name changed again upon the next generation, to Ericson or Ericdottir.
The second and sometimes more aggravating suffix problem arises when there is a line of men with the same name, with different numerals or generational markings, I, II, III or Sr., Jr., and III or 1st, 2nd, 3rd. In some recording systems, the suffixes are immaterial, in some it matters which style is used. In computer systems, it will always matter as Jr. will sort before Sr. and III will sort before both Jr. and Sr, also Sr. and I (the first) won’t group together and neither will Jr. and II. When one of these men passes away, generally the eldest also known as Sr. or I, then all the others can and sometimes do move up a notch and sometimes they don’t. If one in the middle dies then III may change his suffix to Jr. or II, effectively appropriating his father’s name again, not just first, middle and surname but also the suffix. This leads to genealogically mixed up generations. Anytime men or women with the same name are melded it becomes a problem for future researchers. Sometimes, it’s two men with the same name in the same place and time and sometimes, it’s a father and son, an uncle and nephew, or even a grandfather and grandson. Once two people are melded it is really hard to differentiate them, sort of like untangling double sided tape, sides stuck to together every which way.
If a deed reads Charles Brown or Charles Brown Sr. or Charles Brown Jr. at some time in a man’s life, all three of those names may apply. If a marriage record reads Charles Brown Sr. with no age is connected you can imagine it is a second marriage of the first Charles Brown as there would be no Sr. involved if he had not yet married and propagated. You can also imagine that it is a marriage of the second Charles Brown after his father died. You can imagine that Sr. is a typographical error and it was really Jr. The only thing known for sure is it that you will need to read all the marriages in a seventy year period to be certain this man didn’t have a previously unknown underage runaway marriage or even a May-December marriage in his eighties or nineties.
Suffixes can help the research process if they are applied evenly and systematically to establish various identities of people with the same name. Hints to look for multiple related men with the same name, are nicknames like Bud, Chip, Junior, Skip, Sonny, Trey, Trace. On the other hand generational suffixes can just as easily obfuscate the real identity of a man.
There is the southern custom of calling a man junior after his father when they don’t even have the same name, or having Junior as a middle name, or what is worse flat out naming a child, Junior, General, Major, or Doc, but that is the subject of another blog on given names. More detailed information about compound word surnames is available in the article by that name.