Genealogy Tip: What’s His Name Again?

Genealogists pay careful attention to names, searching diligently to find the complete names of every relative.

But sometimes those names have been changed.

Recently actor David Hasselhoff changed his name to a shortened version: David Hoff.

It might be that one of your ancestors or cousins did the same thing – and it is also likely that changing it took some effort on their part, a process often reported in the local newspaper.

article about name changes, Salem Observer newspaper article 26 April 1828

Salem Observer (Salem, Massachusetts), 26 April 1828, page 1

For example, in 1828 in Massachusetts it took an act of the state Senate and House, passed by both houses and signed into law by the governor, to change your name.

In this article from the Salem Observer we learn that:

  • Joseph Dowding Bass Eaton became Joseph Bass Eaton
  • George Watson Patrick became George Watson
  • Henry Augustus Emery Humphrey (a minor son of George Humphrey) became Henry Smith Humphrey
  • Samuel Smith became Samuel James Hall Smith
  • William C. Johnson became William Johnson Cochrane
  • Nathaniel Russell Sturgis, Jr. became Russell Sturgis
  • Etc.

Men, women and even minor children had their names legally changed.

Genealogy Tip: Individuals wanting to change their names had to take legal action to make it official. The laws varied from state to state and over the centuries – but the legal action of the state legislature or court was routinely published in newspapers across the country.

Search GenealogyBank’s 300+ years of old newspapers in our Historical Newspaper Archives to see if the names of your relatives were ever changed.

Related Name Search Articles:

Index to Early Philadelphia Obituaries – Public Ledger 1836