Thursday, June 12, 2014

Two brothers, one name

In doing genealogy research, I've come across habits and traditions of people in different places that sometimes leave me scratching my head. I've written before about some American traditions of this nature, but in my research into Norwegian records I've come across a new one.

My Norwegian ancestors had a habit that is, from my perspective, very unusual. If the family had a child that died young, they would sometimes name a subsequent child (of the same gender) with the same name. I'm not sure if it was just a determination to have the name in the family, or the desire to see a descendant carry on a family name into future generations, or what ever else may have inspired the tradition. But I've seen it happen in multiple generations of that side of my family. For example, my second-great-grandparents Knute and Betsy (Olson) Bergstad had a daughter named Olga, born in 7 January 1900, who died before she was a year old. Knute and Betsy's next child, another daughter, was born 12 Feb 1901, and they named her Olga as well, but added the middle name Sophia. 

Knute's great-grandparents Johannes Sjursen and Brytteva Johannesdatter did something similar a hundred years earlier. Johannes's third child and second son, Johannes Johannesen, was born about September 1807, but died just 15 months later in February 1809. Later that year, Brytteva gave birth to a baby boy, whom they named Johannes Johannesen, just the same as his older brother. The name Johannes is pretty dominant in this family, so maybe they were just determined to have a surviving son carry the name forward. But it still seems a little morbid to me to give a child the same name as an older sibling who passed away. 

However, just recently, I found a new spin on this tradition in the family of Johannes Sjursen's parents, Sjur Nielsen and Marite Johannesdatter. Sjur and Marite's firstborn son, Niels Sjursen, was born in February 1775. 
Baptism record of Niels Sjursen b.1775
I knew from previous research that he died in 1779, and that a younger son, also named Niels, was born in 1779, so I assumed it followed the traditional pattern. But then I found that this wasn't the case. 

Burial record of Niels Sjursen, b.1775, d.1779
By going to the original records, I found that the older Niels was buried on 24 October 1779, but that the younger Niels was baptized on 3 October 1779, three weeks earlier. This took me by surprise; why would the family name one son Niels, and then a second son also Niels while the first Niels was presumably still alive? If the older Niels had died before the younger Niels was born, why did they wait at least 3 weeks to bury him? I am admittedly completely ignorant of Norwegian burial customs, but I doubt the family would have waited a month to bury their son after his passing. So what happened? 

Baptism record of Niels Sjursen, b.1779
After thinking about it for a while, I came upon a possible solution that made me very sad. What could have happened is this - perhaps the older Niels had taken ill or been injured at some point, but not fatally, or at least not immediately so. By the time the younger sibling was born, it was apparent that the older Niels wasn't going to make it, and they named the younger sibling Niels to preserve the name. Then sometime in the next three weeks, the older Niels passed away and was buried, leaving only one Niels in the family. I can't imagine losing one of my kids at any point in their lives. But to lose one so close to the time that another one is about to be (or has just been) born, and to know ahead of time that he was going to die, and so name your newborn son after him, is especially heartbreaking. 

If naming the younger child after the older was a form of paying tribute to the lost child, then the older Niels must have made quite the impression on his mom and dad in the short four years and eight months he was with them. And now, 235 years later and thousands of miles away, little Niels is remembered again. 


Gibson Family said...

I wonder how the mothers of the children who passed dealt with calling the second son by the same name. To me, it would break my heart. Did this not happen with the daughters?

Gibson Family said...

i wonder how the mothers of these boys dealt with this custom. As a mom that would break my heart to call the next son the same name - every time I said it that would remind me of the son who had passed.

Did they not do this with their daughters?

ironhide781 said...

Yes, it did. With the same family as the brothers Niels, actually. They had a daughter named Durdey, who died at 4 months old. They named their next daughter Durdey as well, and she apparently died at about a year old.

Joan Bos said...

In Holland that used to be common practise from ca. 1700 onwards. 1st son named after father's father,2nd son after mother's father, 1st daughter after mother's mother, 2nd daughter after fater's mother. When one died the next child of that gender was named the same. Sometimes 7 children with the same name dying young one after the other.

ironhide781 said...

I remember seeing something similar with one of my German families from Bohemia, not with seven sons of the same name, but giving the same name to another child if the first one died young. I wonder why it was so common in so many parts of Europe?