Nowadays we tend to think of someone as having a ‘real’ name, with nicknames and diminutives as informal variations on that one official and authentic version of the name. A person’s ‘real’ name is what appears on the birth certificate, of course (and also in the baptismal record, if relevant), and in all subsequent official documents (driver’s licenses, marriage certificates, deeds to property, and so on). Nicknames and diminuitives are for casual, informal use only.
It was different in the nineteenth century, however, when people were much more flexible about name variations (and also about surname spellings, which point is admittedly a bit of a hobbyhorse of mine).
Take, for example, Lillian Doyle. And I call her “Lillian Doyle” because that is the name that I remember her by. Not that I ever met her: she died before I was born. But I recall my father and his sister talking about her, and hers is one of those names that has always stuck in my mind. Dominic Stanton. Evelyn Sullivan. Tommy Burke. Danny O’Neill. Lillian Doyle. A whole cast of colourful characters whom I only “know” by hearsay, or only posthumously, so to speak, but who have always seemed to play an interesting part in the drama (or perhaps comedy?) of my father’s family history.
But speaking of her name, she was born the 15th (or possibly the 10th?) of May 1879,1 the daughter of Peter Doyle and Elizabeth Moran, and was baptized “Lily May Doyle.” Lily might be a diminutive of Lillian, and May or Mae a diminutive of Mary, but she was baptized (St. John the Baptist RC Church, in Perth) Lily May, not Lillian Mary or Mary Lillian. The name “Lily May Doyle” appears on the Ontario civil registration of her birth.
In census records, her name is recorded as “Lilly May Doyle” (1881), “May Doyle” (1891), “Lillie M. Doyle” (1901); and “Lillian M. Doyle” (1911).
When she served as witness to the marriage of her niece Anna Laura Foy to Thomas Bernard Donovan in 1918, she signed the register as “Mary Lilian Doyle.” And when she married William Henry McComiskey in 1920, the priest recorded her name as “Lilian Teresa Doyle,” (was Teresa her Confirmation name, I have to wonder?), but she signed the register as “Lillian May Doyle.”
So: Lillian Doyle; Lily May Doyle; May Doyle; Mary Lilian Doyle; Lillian Teresa Doyle: it was all the same person. You really need to let go of the notion of the one ‘true’ or ‘real’ name or spelling when you’re doing genealogy.
- Ontario civil birth record lists date of birth as 10 May 1879; baptismal record gives birth date as 15 May 1879 ↩