Genealogy Humor: Unusual & Funny Names of People

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary shares some of the odd and humorous names she’s run across while researching family history in old newspapers.

Like anyone else, genealogists enjoy a good laugh. Sometimes, when searching through old newspapers, we run across an old article or announcement that provides a welcome chuckle. This can be especially true with some of the old names we find while doing our genealogy research, such as those shown in this Blog post.

Some people seem to think that my own last name is “funny”—to be polite, they often comment that my hyphenated name is “unusual.”

If you think about the name “Mary Harrell,” it somewhat rhymes. Some people find that funny—although it’s an honorable name, and one that suits me well! And I’ve always said: if someone can spell my name correctly, he or she would make a wonderful proofreader!

I often wonder how other families select their children’s names, especially when I encounter people’s names that seem more unusual than mine. Certainly the baby name choices affect the children throughout their lives—and when one has to deal with an unusually outrageous name, hopefully the child will grow up with a good sense of humor.

Preserved Fish

Take, for example, the name Preserved Fish.

Throughout history there have been numerous people by this moniker, including the Preserved Fish who married Mary Shepherd in 1840. The writer of their 1840 matrimonial notice reported:

“Not the first time that a Shepherd has hooked a fish. The victim is a great catch, for, though there is nothing scaly about him, he has plenty of shiners; and his nett income is immense.”

marriage announcement for Preserved Fish and Mary Shepherd, New Bedford Register newspaper article 30 July 1840

New Bedford Register (New Bedford, Massachusetts), 30 July 1840, page 1

Harry Bear

Ever met a Harry Bear? In 1913, Mary Myers married Harry Bear in Hagerstown, Maryland. So Mary married Harry, and was therefore in good company. I counted 25 Harry Bears at Find-A-Grave, which makes one wonder what happened when any of these Bear families gives birth to their first child.

Miss Mary Myers and Harry Bear Wed in Md., Patriot newspaper article 28 October 1913

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 28 October 1913, page 3

Were they subjected to this kind of fairy tale banter?

“So Pappa, how are the three bears? Was this morning’s porridge too cold, too warm or just right—or did Goldilocks come by and eat every bite?”

What about Byrds?

I’ve got a close friend whose maiden name is Byrd. Although she has a fairly common given name (Linda), her parents could have had fun with it. Have you ever heard of Earl E. Byrd, Lady Byrd, or Southern Byrd? And to take this further, there are even a few Byrds who were known to marry a Fish or a Bear.

birth announcement for Kenneth Southern Byrd, Patriot newspaper article 20 December 1915

Patriot (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania), 20 December 1915, page 7

Sterling Silver

It can be funny when people with unusual names work in related industries, such as tailors who were Taylors, aviators who were Pilots, funeral directors who were Graves, and Silvers and Sterlings who were jewelers. This report from 1961 notes that Mrs. Sterling Silver was a clerk at C. H. Lee’s Silver and Jewelry Shop, and that her first name was Goldie!

Funny Old Town, Seattle Daily Times newspaper article 27 November 1961

Seattle Daily Times (Seattle, Washington), 27 November 1961, page 23

Kitty Graves

Along this line are various kitties, including Kitty Graves of Stephenville, Texas, who gave one of the “swellest dinners of the season” in 1900.

notice about Kitty Graves, Dallas Express newspaper article 13 January 1900

Dallas Express (Dallas, Texas), 13 January 1900, page 7

Nutts

Ever met any real Nutts? If so, it shouldn’t surprise you that W. N. Nutt was elected president of the National Nut Growers Association, or that Mr. Thomas James Nutty of Mamaroneck, New York, petitioned the court to change his surname to Nutley.

job notices, Kalamazoo Gazette newspaper article 11 November 1915

Kalamazoo Gazette (Kalamazoo, Michigan), 11 November 1915, page 12

Ima Hogg

Here in Texas, we defend the honor of philanthropist Miss Ima Hogg (1882-1975), almost more than we do the Alamo.

She was the famous daughter of Sarah Ann “Sallie” Stimson and Governor James Stephen “Big Jim” Hogg, and a beautiful young woman. Her residence, the extraordinary Houston treasure “Bayou Bend,” is part of the Museum of Fine Arts and one of my favorite places to visit. (See www.mfah.org/)

Here is a photo I took last month at the visitor center.

a photo of the Bayou Bend Visitor Center (Houston, Texas)

Photo: Bayou Bend Visitor Center (Houston, Texas). Credit: Mary Harrell-Sesniak.

But let’s dispel the myth that Ima Hogg had a sister named Ura; it certainly isn’t true!

Kahaha Ka

Hawaii, our 50th state, has its share of residents with curious names, including Kahaha Ka. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Andrew J. Bright, she was named in honor of her uncle John E. Maia, who passed away after completing a fast of forty days. According to this newspaper article, her name means “40 days.”

How Hawaiians Get Their Funny Names, Tucson Daily Citizen newspaper article 2 February 1922

Tucson Daily Citizen (Tucson, Arizona), 2 February 1922, page 7

Unusual British Names of People

In 1891, it was reported that the British registry of births has many names of “dull propriety,” but also some that put a smile on the clerk’s face. A few of these were Ether Spray, Foot Bath, River Jordan and Rose Shamrock Anthistle, “whose name must please any patriotic man.”

an article about British names, Jacksonian newspaper article 3 December 1891

Jacksonian (Heber Springs, Arkansas), 3 December 1891, page 3

Weather & Holiday Names for People

There are also amusing weather and holiday people names, such as O. Snow, Mary Christmas and Chris Cringle of Cleveland, Ohio; Slay Bell of Merrysville, Ohio; and even A. S. Kating of Iceland—all distinguished guests of Richard’s Euclid Avenue House in 1878.

The Euclid Avenue House, Plain Dealer newspaper article 19 December 1878

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 19 December 1878, page 4

Genealogical Challenge

Other funny and unusual real people names that I’ve encountered in my genealogical research are B. A. Mann, B. A. Husband, Mother Hubbard, Peter Piper and Rose Bush. Do you suppose there is someone out there stuck with R. U. A. Crook or Justin Case?

It’s possible, but readers—perhaps you have uncovered more humorous name examples!

So here is your genealogical challenge.

Let’s see who can find the most belly busting, giggle producing, ridiculous or funny name ever to be found in newspapers! Share them with us in the comments section. Of course, if the name is too off-color, please check with us first. (No XXX rated examples.)

I’m thinking my Nantucket ancestors, Tristram and Dionis (Stevens) Coffin, had their share of death and dying jokes whenever someone in their family passed away!

“We’re going to need a coffin for Coffin.”

article about the Coffin family in Nantucket, Baltimore Patriot newspaper article 21 July 1826

Baltimore Patriot (Baltimore, Maryland), 21 July 1826, page 2

And certainly anyone by the name of Dunn heard “done” jokes, as was reported when Miss Gertrude Buell Dunn was “done” with her supposed soul mate, Ferdinand Pinney Earle.

The 'Soul Mate' [Gertrude Dunn] Is Coming Home, Grand Forks Daily Herald newspaper article 15 September 1909

Grand Forks Daily Herald (Grand Forks, North Dakota), 15 September 1909, page 1

Now that I am “done,” it’s your turn to share your funny name finds with us in the comments!

Finding My Relative’s Story: The Search for Madge E. Richmond

The other day I asked myself: what can I realistically find about my relatives in GenealogyBank? How many details about my family can I discover?

So I decided to find out by searching GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives for a family member we know little about: Madge E. Richmond (1866-1942).

collage of newspaper articles about Madge Richmond

Collage of newspaper articles about Madge Richmond

Her Career as a Teacher

Madge Richmond was a teacher for 25 years; almost all of those years were spent teaching at the Technical High School in Springfield, Massachusetts.

photo of the entrance to the Technical High School in Springfield, Massachusetts

Photo: Technical High School, Springfield, Massachusetts. Credit: Temposenzatempo.

Beyond that we had the family traditions of her kindness, intellect and work ethic. We knew little else about her.

The family has two pictures of her—one as a young woman.

photo of Madge Richmond as a young woman

Credit: Portrait in possession of the family

The other picture of her was taken in the years after her retirement.

photo of Madge Richmond in her retirement years

Credit: Portrait in possession of the family

Madge Richmond was an “ordinary person”—your typical relative. She was beloved by the family and the school community where she worked, but otherwise she was an unknown person to the world at large.

What could I hope to discover about her in GenealogyBank?

Would newspapers have published anything about such a plain, ordinary person?

All of our relatives are special to us but—for the most part—unknown beyond our family and friends.

The Search for My Relative Begins

In my initial search on GenealogyBank I used only my relative’s name: Madge Richmond.

That first and last name search produced 331 record matches—far too many for me to sort through them all.

So I decided to try searching for my relative again, this time narrowing my search to only the newspapers in the New England states.

I did this simply by checking all the New England states on GenealogyBank’s newspaper search page.

Selecting New England states on GenealogyBank's newspaper search page

Selecting New England states on GenealogyBank’s newspaper search page

That refined search produced 80 search results.

OK—I can work with that. I began looking through the records.

Bang.

The very first record I opened was about was about her! Even better, the article included a photograph of her! It was her retirement notice in the local newspaper.

Will Retire Today, after Long Career in Public Schools, Springfield Republican newspaper article 19 June 1936

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 19 June 1936, page 6

Look at the last line in this newspaper article, a quote from the dedication of that year’s Tech School yearbook:

“To Madge Eleanor Richmond, whose steady poise, clear vision and wise judgment have distinguished her service in this school and have marked every association with faculty and students.”

So—now I know her middle name was “Eleanor.”

I’d always assumed her middle name was Eleanor—but now I have proof.

The old newspaper article explained that Madge was the head of the mathematics department, one of the most popular teachers at the school, and was retiring after teaching for nearly 25 years.

As I looked through more of the search results, I found dozens of mentions of Madge in news articles about school events, lists of faculty and the like. All of these stories, clues and little details I found in the newspaper archives helped me learn about a relative I didn’t know very well.

Here are some of the newspaper articles I found in GenealogyBank that gave me more of Madge’s life story.

These historical newspaper articles have given me a more complete picture of Madge’s life—and a very nice portrait of her.

Here are some of the key moments and events from her life, as captured in newspaper articles.

30 June 1911

newspaper article about Madge Richmond

“Miss Madge Eleanor Richmond was also elected teacher of mathematics in the technical high school. She has been a teacher in the Dover (N.H.) high school.”

Great. I knew she was a teacher in Springfield, Massachusetts, but I didn’t know that she was also a teacher in Dover, New Hampshire.

17 April 1914

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Union 20 April 1914

Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), 20 April 1914, page 9

OK—here’s another fact new to me: Madge was principal of Ansonia High School (Ansonia, Connecticut) for 12 years prior to coming to Springfield.

July-August 1915

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Daily News 12 July 1915

Springfield Daily News (Springfield, Massachusetts), 12 July 1915, page 4

More information: in the summer of 1915 she attended Cornell University.

4 July 1916

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 1 July 1916

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 1 July 1916, page 4

She liked Cornell so much that she and two friends went again the next year.

December 1917

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 30 December 1917

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 30 December 1917, page 8

She spent Christmas of 1917 with her brother and his wife: Dr. and Mrs. Allen Pierce Richmond of Dover, New Hampshire.

June-August 1919

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 27 June 1919

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 June 1919, page 3

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 29 August 1919

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 29 August 1919, page 4

In 1915 Madge attended the summer session at the University of Michigan. She also visited her brother Dr. A.P (Allen Pierce) Richmond in Dover, New Hampshire, and her sister Mrs. William Jordan (Abigail May Richmond) in Lisbon, Maine.

So, she also attended the University of Michigan.

That’s good to know.

15-16 November 1919

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 16 November 1919

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 16 November 1919, page 11

My grandmother— Madge’s niece—was an accountant at the American Optical Company in Southbridge, Massachusetts—and in Boston, Massachusetts?

I didn’t know that.

That’s a real find.

The social briefs in newspapers have been a real goldmine of information about Madge Richmond and the family!

21 May 1921

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 15 May 1921

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 15 May 1921, page 154

In 1921 she went to study at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 17 July 1921

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 17 July 1921, page 11

She left on 16 July 1921 for Colorado.

June 1929

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 23 June 1929

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 23 June 1929 page 36

In 1929 she would go down to St. Augustine, Florida, traveling through the Shenandoah Valley on the trip down and along the coast on the way back. She planned to stay at the St. Augustine Hotel.

January 1934

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Springfield Republican 27 January 1934

Springfield Republican (Springfield, Massachusetts), 27 January 1934, page 10

In 1934 she was named the Head of the Mathematics Department at Tech High School.

14 January 1942

Madge Richmond Dies in Hingham, Boston Herald newspaper obituary 20 January 1942

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 20 January 1942, page 17.

Services in Hingham for Former Teacher, Boston Herald newspaper article 22 January 1942

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 22 January 1942, page 21

newspaper article about Madge Richmond, Boston Herald 21 June 1942

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 21 June 1942, page 23

And finally, in these three old newspaper articles, we learn of her death and the funeral arrangements.

That’s an incredible amount of genealogical and family history information I found in old newspaper articles—lots of stories, lots of details about her life—that have turned Madge Richmond from just another relative (with only name, birth and death dates) on the family tree into a member of the family that we know and understand better.

Dig into GenealogyBank’s newspaper archives to see what family history discoveries you can make and bring your family tree to life!