Kinsearching March 24, 2013




Marleta Childs
P. O. Box 6825
LUBBOCK, TX 79493-6825

     A fascinating new book that will be a valuable reference tool for both beginning and experienced family researchers is THE NAME IS THE GAME (ONOMATOLOGY AND THE GENEALOGIST) by Lloyd de Witt Bockstruck. The fact that the author puts alias Niederbockstruck after his name on the title page emphasizes the subjects of his latest work—onomatology (the study of names) and circumstances that can affect their meanings, spellings, translations, and pronunciations. For his collection of cautionary tales pertaining to pitfalls and obstacles in tracing ancestors, he furnishes examples and brief case studies about the numerous vagaries of surnames (also known as family or last names), forenames (commonly called first, middle, or given names), nicknames, and place names in the U. S.

     In his introductory first chapter, Bockstruck relates instances of problems he encountered tracing his own pedigree. Because he was not aware that the surname Becker was the German form of Baker and that they sound almost identical when spoken in German, he at first was unable to locate the tombstone for Barbara Becker because he was looking for a monument with a different spelling. Another example of a surname change he discovered was the English translation Greenwood of the German name Grunewald, which was sometimes spelled Greenwalt in American records. A more extreme example is that of Scotsman Ian Ferguson. Leaving colonial New York City, he settled among a group of Palatines who translated his name into the German equivalent, Johannes Feuerstein. After his move to Philadelphia, his name was changed to the English equivalent, John Flint.

     Clues about one’s forebears may appear in forenames in various ways. In New England, for example, a son might be named Ichabod if his father died before the child was born; if the mother died in or shortly after childbirth, the child might be named Benoni. German forenames Franz and Xavier usually indicated a Roman Catholic background, while the forename Christian denoted ties to the German-speaking area of Switzerland. The name Levin signified a connection to the colony of Maryland or the Delmarva Peninsula.

     Data on surnames make up the largest section of the publication. His discussion covers such aspects as maiden names, variant spellings, misreading of certain letters of surnames, differences in pronunciation and spelling (i. e., Beecham and Beauchamp), translations from different languages, and some ethnic naming practices. Confusion could also arise when different ethnic groups with similar surnames lived in the same area. In colonial New Jersey, for instance, the Dutch surname Cool appeared in records as Cool and Kool. Several English Cole families lived in the same area. They were later joined by the German Kuhls (Kuhl) family. Since the surnames had the same or similar pronunciation, the families used each other’s spellings over time. Because some names were changed through the court system, Bockstruck provides a bibliography of printed works and a database concerning names changed legally.

     Briefly, Bockstruck touches on toponyms (geographical names) that can cause genealogists much frustration. Lack of geographical knowledge in earlier centuries, usage of “generic” geographical terms (for example, “Barbadian” referred to individuals from any of the English Caribbean colonies, while “Ethiopian” had no specific geographical meaning when it referred to African-Americans), pronunciation differences in various regions, and misinterpretation of abbreviations for countries can create hurdles.

     Fun and easy to read, either at one sitting or in spurts, THE NAME IS THE GAME (ONOMATOLOGY AND THE GENEALOGIST) offers in one volume the wealth of experience and expertise that Bockstruck has accumulated over a lifetime of research. A copy is a “must have” for family researchers and genealogical libraries alike.

     The 85-page soft-cover book has an introduction and a bibliography. To the book's price of $16.95, buyers should add the cost for postage and handling charges. For U. S. postal mail, the cost is $5.50 for one book and $2.50 for each additional copy; for FedEx ground service, the cost is $7.50 for one copy and $2.50 for each additional book. The volume (item order 8006) may be purchased by check, money order, MasterCard, or Visa from Clearfield Company, 3600 Clipper Mill Rd., Suite 260, Baltimore, Maryland 21211-1953. For phone orders, call toll free 1-800-296-6687; fax 1-410-752-8492; website

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