Medieval Naming Traditions - Why is there an instruction to leave the maiden name field blank?

Started by Sharon Lee Doubell on Friday, May 25, 2012


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5/25/2012 at 5:47 AM

Surely, the reason given for leaving the maiden name field blank - that women did not take their husband's surnames - is exactly the reason to fill it in?

Private User
5/25/2012 at 6:46 AM

Good point
But when you fill in the birthsurname field with the birthname Geni puts the name in brackets

So instead I put the birthsurname in the last name field and leave the birth surname field blank, so that is shows normal on the profile

5/25/2012 at 7:32 AM

I fill in both fields identically. If you leave the field blank, Geni will automatically fill it in during a merge (if the other profile is not blank). The end result is that leaving it blank increases the maintenance overhead.

5/25/2012 at 7:47 AM

I do exactly that too, Justin. I'd like to add that point onto the instruction - which I feel is otherwise misleading.

Private User
5/25/2012 at 7:57 AM

Might have to take your advise in the future Justin, thanks

5/25/2012 at 10:41 AM

If a person's name did not change from birth / surname, the best way to reflect that in Geni is by filling in both the birth surname and the last name fields with the same data. If it changed (male or female) the variance data is useful as well. This is particularly useful as spelling and language evolved as well (Houghton -> Howton).

5/25/2012 at 10:43 AM

Sharon to me the birth surname should be blank only if there wasn't one. ?

5/25/2012 at 11:03 AM

In the Biblical tree they use a period to fill in the Last Name and Birth Surname fields. It's a way to make sure the fields don't get filled in with garbage when there is no surname.

We don't really need to use the periods anymore, because curators can lock the name fields, but locking prevents good changes as well as bad, so it's a problematic strategy.

5/25/2012 at 12:04 PM

I like the name locking. It presents much better and challenges the provide facts. "Last name" seems more problematic so I use it less on that field.

5/26/2012 at 3:09 AM

Am adding an excerpt I just found on Medieval French naming traditions, because I think it might be of interest here. Sorry, it's going to come through as a wadge of data here - I've also put it at the end of my Huguenot Settlers project, where it might be easier to read.

A Note on Medieval French Naming Traditions

"It will strike the modern reader as strange that the lady was styled Mademoiselle after as before her marriage, and the use of the title needs a word in passing. The general use of Madame to designate a married woman dates only from the 17th century and even then it came slowly into use. In earlier days the title was reserved for ladies of a certain rank somewhat as ' Lady ' is used in England. These favoured few were the wives of ' les grands ', of the princes of the blood, semi-sovereign princes, Marshals of France, certain of the highest nobility, and of the chevaliers des ordres ; also the King's daughters and abbesses and prioresses ; all these could claim the title of Madame. For other women, whether noble or bour- geoise, wed or single, Mademoiselle was the only title in use.

But whereas in the case of a bourgeoise the husband's or the father's family name followed the title the noble- woman would almost certainly have made use of a territorial name. Montaigne protested against the habit.

" It is a vile habit and one fraught with evil for France for people to be called after their estates, and one that occasions more confusion of families than any other thing. A cadet of good family, who receives as his portion an estate, whose name he bears with credit, cannot abandon it with honour. Ten years after his death the land passes to a stranger, who in his turn bears the title."

Montaigne felt the loss of the hereditary honour which could cling round a name handed down from generation to generation, but he also felt the confusion which arose from the habit he condemns. Every child, girls as well as boys, might bear a different name and much of the significance of events in history may be lost by those who fail to realize relationships through the maze of names.

In England the eldest son of a peer may bear, by courtesy, some secondary title belonging to his father ; his brothers will use the family surname. In France not only great noblemen, like the Constable Montmorenci, whose five sons were known as Montmorenci, Damville, Montberan, Meru and de Thore, but the sons of every little squire with a small property or two to divide was known by a different name Thus in the Mornay family the eldest son was de Buhy, the second du Plessis Marly the third de Beaunes ; their uncle was d'Aubleville and his son Villarceaux, and so on throughout the whole nobility of France. And furthermore, as Montaigne complains, should the property pass into other hands the name went with it and the nobles saw springing up a new class of rich bourgeois proprietors ' roturiers ' who bought the right to use the name along with the territory to which it belonged . One other point is worth calling attention to. On marriage an Englishwoman loses her maiden name and henceforth in legal signatures as in common parlance uses only her husband's surname. An old traveller in England noticed this as one of the peculiarities of the subjection of a woman to her husband.

" Wives," he says, " are entirely in the power of their husbands, their lives only excepted. Therefore when they marry they give up the surname of their father and take the surnames of their husbands."

In France this is not so. A woman never loses her father's surname and signs with it, at least in all legal documents, after as before marriage. Mile, de Buhy was Madeleine de Bee Crespin till her death, just as du Plessis' wife was Charlotte d'Arbaleste when- ever she signed a letter, in spite of her first marriage to de Feuqueres and her second to du Plessis.

5/26/2012 at 3:39 AM

This suggests to me that a women's 'surname' on record could be many things:

- her father's family surname
- her father's titular 'surname' - according to property he 'ruled' (if she was ever the female head of his household)
- her mother's titular 'surname' - according to property rights she bequeathed to her daughter
-her husband's titular 'surname; (where she was the female head of his household)

I think this is still not impossible to cope with as long as we can keep titles as separate from surnames;
BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE HUSBAND'S TITLE BECOMES HIS SURNAME? eg Phillipe du Mornay, Seigneur du Plessis (where his wife can be called Mile du Plessis or Dame duPLessis, while remaining Charlotte d'Arbaleste) can actually become Phillipe du Plessis AS his surname (which is exactly what happens with the du Plessis family name somewhere around this time - originally the name of a property, passed on only to the next Seigneur; it becomes the heritable surname of the family) Does the wife's title then become her surname too?
This is really, I suppose, only a difficulty for one generation - because all her children will take their father's new surname as theirs; but it is difficult to pinpoint when that happened.

(As her father is easily likely never to have used a family surname himself. eg The House of du Plessis-de Richelieu being something that was only just - and very unevenly - coming into being via marriage & land acquisition at this time; and so is actually retroactively imposed by historians in many cases).

But, for me - the most important point for genealogical recording arguments is that in this era, A MAN'S SURNAME DOESN'T AUTOMATICALLY INDICATE A BLOODLINE either!

sorry for the caps - I use them as bold, not shouting - in the absence of that functionality.

5/26/2012 at 3:55 AM

Erica =Sharon to me the birth surname should be blank only if there wasn't one. ?= I agree completely.

& In the cases where there is a Birth Surname, and there has been no further recorded name change, I fill in the duplicate on the Last Name/Surname field too, partly because it upsets the genealogists so much to have the brackets imposed around a woman's maiden name, & I do try not to upset them where I don't have to. :-)

5/26/2012 at 9:54 AM

There is some special code for the use of brackets apparently in pedigrees. Unfortunately that code changed according to the genealogical system used, so a use assigned in one system is contradicted by another system -confusing if you read records. So best to avoid and rely on customized display options IMO. Sorry for the digression.

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