Using given names to find populations of common descent #names

Robert Weinberg

Over the past 50+ years as I've pursued research on my Westphalian family I have noticed strikingly variable  patterns of first name usage in various regions within the province of Westphalia.  Since the practice of naming a newborn after a deceased relative was followed, it seems rigidly, these clusters seem to form large kindreds that are descended from common founding ancestors and may (in parallel with genetic/DNA studies) indicate relatively recent settlement and expansion of founding families 3 or 4 centuries ago.  As examples, among the men's names, the area of the Münsterland had many Leffmanns which were virtually absent in neighboring areas to the south and east, Cosmann localized in the area closer to the Rhine including the Ruhr area, Nachmann was virtually absent in most areas of Westphalia but common to the southeast, Sussmann was used almost exclusively in the northern parts of neighboring Hesse (and possibly further south)., Bendix was common in most areas of Westphalia but relatively uncommon further south, Feibes in eastern Westphalia incl. the Münsterland.  I could extend this list and have not studied women's given names because they often appear as diminutives.  I'm wondering whether any of us have ever undertaken such survey to complement the results of DNA sequencing analyses since his approach is able to associate common descent in populations of long-deceased member of these often-large kindreds.

Bob Weinberg, Brookline MA


There is an interesting graduate student thesis on a similar topic - how Ashkenazi names were Americanized - that includes a statistical analysis of immigration records (for the Yiddish name) and censuses and city directories for the American name.  It is very dense, and I haven't read it all.  You can find it yourself at:
From Rochel to Rose and Mendel to Max: First Name Americanization Patterns Among Twentieth-Century Jewish Immigrants to the United States (

I have the same question as Robert about names in Austria Hungary.  The given names Herman and Jacob and David appear frequently in the SPIELBERGER family.  But I cannot tell if it is one Spielberger family or several families that took the same surname.  Some of the families "daughtered out" so the DNA is inconclusive.

If anyone knows of an article about "Most Common Given Names" in the 19th Century, please share it!

Peggy Mosinger Freedman
Atlanta, Georgia, USA

David Oseas

The Social Security Administration's website has a list of popular given names by decade.  However, it only starts in 1880:

David Oseas

Herb Weisberg

The Washington Post had an interesting article Friday July 1 by Andrew Van Dam on "How Amateur Genealogists Helped ShatterMyths about Immigrants."  Ran Abramitzky with Leah Boston analyzed US census data in which people and families could be traced across generations to look at how changes occur.  According to the article, their book "Streets of Gold" focuses particularly on economic change and adult success.  But near the end of the Washington Post article there are is an interesting discussion on first names:
"Given the limitations of census data, cultural assimilation is harder to measure. But Abramitzky, himself an immigrant from Israel, noticed something about his own family. When he was new to the United States, he gave his first son a typical Israeli name, Roee. Friends and teachers struggled to pronounce it. For each subsequent kid, Abramitzky and his spouse tried harder to find names that fit their culture but sounded more familiar to American ears — first Ido and, finally, Tom.

The economists found the same pattern in the census data. The longer they were here, the more likely immigrant parents were to pick less-foreign names for their children. That correlates closely with other measures of assimilation, such as intermarriage and proficiency in English.

By the time Ellis Island-era immigrants had been in the United States for 20 years, they already had closed half the “foreign name gap” with native residents. For today’s immigrants, birth records from California — one of the biggest modern name databases available — show an identical pattern."
Herb Weisberg



Hi Bob,

I have also noticed this and have been taking advantage of it in my own research. I’ve been following these patterns in families with the same surname using the same combinations of given names. I’ve also used it in examining unusual/unique given names and given name combinations to identify families from the same general region that may be related to one another in earlier generations. Interestingly, it has led me to the same cluster of towns, and to repeated marriages between the same group of families sharing unique given names.

Cary Pollack
Tamarac, Florida, USA


I can only speak for my family from Moravia and Hungary, but from about 1800 to 1930 the Hebrew names Jeremias and Aaron were used for father/ eldest son.
Thus the two names being used were Aharon ben Yermiyahu ; and Yermiyahu ben Aharon.
The Aarons used Adolf as a secular name until it became unfashionable so they switched to Andor, the Hungarian equivalent of Andrew.
The Yermiyahu were either Jeremias or Isador.

Tom Beer
Melbourne, Australia