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!

Job Names in Historical Newspapers: Researching Old Occupations

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary provides a fun quiz to test your knowledge of terms used in old newspapers to describe our ancestors’ occupations—and then provides illustrated definitions of those terms.

Genealogy research often finds terms used for occupations that are no longer common in today’s vernacular, such as: cordwainer, gaoler, huckster and suttler.

How well do you know the occupational terms used in old newspapers to identify our American ancestors’ jobs? Test your historical jobs knowledge with this handy Early Genealogical Occupations Quiz. Match the historical occupational names in the left column with the modern occupational name answers on the right. Check the key on the bottom to see how you did.

early genealogical historical jobs quizIf you missed any of the answers on the Early Genealogical Occupations Quiz, read on to see a list of illustrated occupations I’ve compiled from Genealogybank’s archive of early American newspapers. You may be surprised at some of the historical job definitions.

Cooper: In early America, coopers were barrel or cask makers and repairers, as seen in this 1825 death notice for George Lovis describing him as “a cooper by trade.”

George Lovis obituary, Statesman newspaper article 31 May 1825

Statesman (New York, New York), 31 May 1825, page 2

Cordwainer or Cordiner: Originating from the leather industry in Cordovan, Spain, a cordwainer was a shoemaker, as reported in this 1860 definition from the Salem Observer.

definition of cordwainer, Salem Observer newspaper article 3 March 1860

Salem Observer (Salem, Massachusetts), 3 March 1860, page 1

Corsair: A corsair was a pirate. A 1794 statute authorized the president of the United States to create a naval force to protect against Algerine corsairs, i.e., pirates from Algiers.

An Act to Provide a Naval Armament, United States Chronicle newspaper article 1 May 1794

United States Chronicle (Providence, Rhode Island), 1 May 1794, page 1

Gaoler: This was an early spelling of jailer, as reported in this 1799 marriage notice for Obadiah Havens and Nancy Robertson, the daughter of “Mr. Archibald Robertson, gaoler.”

Havens-Robertson wedding notice, Bee newspaper article 3 July 1799

Bee (New London, Connecticut), 3 July 1799, page 3

Gentlemen and Goodwives: These words are based on the term “les gentils,” and indicated a “gentile” who owned freehold property. After the 16th century, the term referred more to one who did not work with his hands, or one who had retired from working with his hands (e.g., a retired tailor). A gentleman’s wife was commonly called Goodwife or “Goody.” Gentlemen typically had Esquire (Esq.) added to their names, even if they were not attorneys.

Husbandman: A husbandman was an early term for farmer, often of a lower societal class.

In this 1825 newspaper article, plaintiff Isaiah Silver of Methuen was described as a gentleman, and defendant Benjamin Town as a husbandman.

State of New Hampshire silver-town legal notice, Daily National Intelligencer newspaper article 23 November 1825


Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.), 23 November 1825, page 4

Gun Stocker: A gun stocker was a weapon maker, or someone who fitted wooden stocks to firearms. In this 1776 reward notice for run-away indentured servant Richard Trusted, the advertiser described him as a gun stocker by trade.

Ten Pounds Reward, Pennsylvania Ledger newspaper article 9 March 1776

Pennsylvania Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), 9 March 1776, page 4

Huckster: A huckster was a door-to-door, road-side or kiosk salesperson, such as Eleanor Keefauver, a young woman who grew and sold her own vegetables in 1903.

photo of Eleanor Keefauver, huckster, Plain Dealer newspaper article 12 July 1903

Plain Dealer (Cleveland, Ohio), 12 July 1903, page 32

Mason: A mason was a builder, bricklayer or stone worker, a term still used today. Many people are intrigued by the mystery surrounding the “Ancient & Honourable Society of Free and Accepted Masons,” an international fraternal and charitable organization known for its secretive rites. One of the earliest references in GenealogyBank dates to 1727, describing a society meeting “where there was a great Appearance of the Nobility and Gentry.” (The gentry held a high societal status just below the nobility).

notice of a Masons meeting, Boston News-Letter newspaper article 25 May 1727

Boston News-Letter (Boston, Massachusetts), 25 May 1727, page 1

Privateer: A privateer was an armed ship, or the owner of the same, who was commissioned by the government to capture enemy ships—a form of legalized piracy. Privateers were often entitled to keep the bounty, known as a “prize.” This 1780 newspaper article reported that the privateer Dart brought a captured ship to Dartmouth.

notice about the privateer "Dart," New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury newspaper article 29 May 1780

New-York Gazette, and Weekly Mercury (New York, New York), 29 May 1780, page 2

Surety: A surety was a bondsman or bonded individual who ensured that an event, such as a marriage, would take place. If the event did not occur, the surety encountered a financial loss. In this 1800 advertisement, surety Thomas Crone guaranteed payment of a reward for the return of Thomas Ball, a deserted seaman.

20 Dollars Reward, Prisoner of Hope newspaper article 2 August 1800

Prisoner of Hope (New York, New York), 2 August 1800, page 99

Suttler: Suttlers were peddlers who sold items to soldiers or the military. This 1761 newspaper notice reported that John Malcom “desires one Thomas Power, a Suttler at Halifax, immediately to come to Boston” to settle his accounts, because Malcom’s “tarry” (stay) at Boston would not be long; he needed to return to Quebec before the breaking up of the lake ice.

notice about Malcom-Power meeting, Boston Gazette newspaper article 16 February 1761

Boston Gazette (Boston, Massachusetts), 16 February 1761, page 3

If you enjoyed these reports of historical occupations found in newspapers, watch for a follow-up in a future GenealogyBank blog article.

Did your ancestors have any unusual occupations? Share them with us in the comments.

Possible Avery Family Artifact dating from 1689-1702 Found

313-year-old English silver sixpence, likely once owned by Rev. John Avery (1685/6-1754) found in Truro, Massachusetts. The coin dates from 1689-1702

The Boston Globe is reporting this unusual find of an early British coin found by Truro resident Peter Burgess while working in his garden.

“At first, I wasn’t sure what it was,” said Burgess. “It didn’t look so much like a coin, but like a brown wafer.”

The coin was minted during the reign of King William III – 1689-1702 who assumed the throne jointly with his wife Mary II – following the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which overthrew her father, King James II. “William and Mary” were the only joint monarchs – both serving with equal authority.

Here is what the original coin looked like

Read the entire story here:
Bishop, Stewart. Cape man finds 313-year-old sixpence. Boston Globe 3 June 2009