In America, families used various patterns in naming their children. Though these rules were not followed by everyone, enough people followed these naming customs that you can utilize them to get valuable clues about your ancestry. The three major patterns were familial, Biblical and those having a moral significance.
From colonial times to the early 1800s, people frequently used a combination of the three with emphasis on the familial. For example, the first son was typically named after his paternal grandfather, the second son after his maternal grandfather, the third son after his father or his paternal great-grandfather. The fourth son could be named after his father’s oldest brother or mother’s paternal grandfather. The fifth son was named after his mother’s eldest brother or father’s maternal grandfather.
Females frequently followed a pattern also: the first daughter was named after her maternal grandmother, the second was named for her paternal grandmother, the third daughter was named after her mother or for her mother’s maternal grandmother. The fourth daughter could be named after her mother’s oldest sister or for her father’s paternal grandmother and the fifth girl was named after her father’s eldest sister or for her mother’s paternal grandmother.
A popular custom in both Virginia and New England was the use of surnames as given names. This occurred mostly with males but could be seen occasionally in female names also. In my family, there are generations of men named Jacqueline, which was the maiden name of an ancestor.
Puritans preferred naming their children with Biblical names or names encouraging moral qualities. Noah, David, Mathew, James, John, Zephaniah, Ephraim, Isaac, Israel, Jabez and Solomon were common Biblical names for males, while Hannah, Sarah, Deborah, Mary, Aseneth, Abigail, Dorcas, Esther, Hope, Faith and Tabitha were female names from the scriptures. Examples of girls’ names having moral significance include Contentment, Mindwell, Obedience, Patience, Charity, Mercy, Comfort, Delight and Thankful. Though fewer in number, men had names such as Reason, Courage and Justice.
Nicknames and the use of middle names for every day were common practices. Examples of common nicknames for women are: Margaret could be Maggie, Madge, Peggy or even Daisy (Marguerite is French for Daisy). Mary was Polly, Mamie, Marie, Maria and Mia. Ann, Nancy, Hannah, Nannie and Anna were frequently interchangeable. Patsy and Mattie were nicknames for Martha. Male names included Jack for John, Bill, Wm and Will for William, etc. For a comprehensive list of nicknames, go to here.