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Traditional Naming Patterns


originally printed in the October 2007 issue of genesis, the quarterly journal of eGGSA,
internet branch of the Genealogical Society of South Africa

This article discusses the traditional way of naming children, and gives examples of how it can be used to guide genealogy research.

Many, if not most, South African families of European descent named their children according to European tradition. This tradition was strong in Ireland and Scotland (less so in England) across to eastern Europe, including the Netherlands and Germany. In South Africa, the custom seems to be most prevalent from about the mid 1700’s to the first part of the 20th Century.

The naming pattern is shown in the following table.


Named for

1st Son

Father’s father

2nd Son

Mother’s father

3rd Son


4th Son

Father’s eldest brother

5th Son

Mother’s eldest brother



1st Daughter

Mother’s mother

2nd Daughter

Father’s mother

3rd Daughter


4th Daughter

Mother’s eldest sister

5th Daughter

Father’s eldest sister

Additional children continue the pattern, being named after the next eldest siblings of the father and mother.

Names are usually not used more than once. So, the first son of a first son would carry the names of both his father and his paternal grandfather. The third son would be named for the father's eldest brother (and hence also for his father's maternal grandfather).

The naming pattern can be very useful:

1. To establish the birth order of children.

2. To identify the parents and siblings of the mother and father.

3. To unravel the children of a first and second marriage.

In some cases, the naming pattern seems to apply partially, or the names are out of order. This may be a clue that one or more children died young. (Note that Wills, Death Notices and census records include only those living at the time.) For example, suppose the first three sons in a Death Notice are named:


Named for

1st Son

Mother’s father

2nd Son


3rd Son

Father’s father

<P< p>

One might guess that there was another son, born before the first listed above, and who died young, perhaps after the birth of the second listed above. So, if names are reused, the pattern will be out of order; if not, there will be gaps.

This naming pattern is both a blessing and a curse for the genealogist. The blessings are given above, and below in the examples. The curse is that it causes many family members to have the same name, and it becomes very difficult to distinguish people. For example, if two brothers marry two sisters (and use the naming pattern) many of their children will have the same names, have similar birth dates, and will likely have lived in the same area.

It is very important to look at the baptism registers, and to note the names of the witnesses. The reason is that the persons for whom the child was named usually appeared as witnesses with their spouses. Thus, the witnesses at the baptism of a first son of a second son would be the parents of the father, and possibly also the father's elder brother (and his wife, if married).

For example, the first child of Hendrik CLOETE and Maria Josina Christina WATNEY was baptised as Jan Gerhard in Durbanville on 29 July 1855. The witnesses were:

1. Anna Petronella Ulrica KUCHLER, widow of the deceased Jan Gerhard Cloete, Hendrik's son, and

2. Jan Gerhard CLOETE, Jan Gerhard's son.

These are clearly the mother and brother of the father of the child. This evidence helped to correct an error in the published Cloete genealogy [1].

Another example is the family of b1c7 Marthinus Gerhardus OOSTHUIZEN (baptized 1752), as listed in both de Villiers / Pama [2] and in SA Genealogies [3]. He is said to have had sixteen children, baptised between 1775 and 1803. The date of his second marriage is not given. Which children belong to which wife?

The bigger question, noted by Ariel Rudolph, is that his first wife, Hester Cecilia Olivier, remarried Johannes Petrus Meintjes on 23.9.1792, and had two (additional) children [4]. It would have been highly unusual for a couple to be divorced, and for both to then remarry and have additional children. What actually happened?

The sixteen children, as given in SA Genealogies, are listed in the next table.



Father’s Name?

Mother’s Name?


Anna Cecilia = 16.12.1775

Marthinus Jacobus Wynand Petrus [5]

Hester Cecilia [5]


Ockert Johannes = 3.5.1778

Marthinus Jacobus [3]

Hester Cecilia [3]


Gerhardus Frederik = 9.7.1780




Marthinus Rudolph Jacobus = 8.4.1781

Marthinus Rudolph Jacobus [3]

Hester Cecilia [3]


Hester Adriana = 30.3.1782




Gerrit Johannes = 18.5.1783




Magdalena Margaretha = 26.9.1784


Barbara Magdalena [6]


Hester Hendrina Elisabeth = 18.3.1787




Nicolaas Johannes = 29.7.1788




Barbara Petronella = 6.5.1790

Marthinus [7]

Barbara Petronella [7]


Willem Maartens = 17.1.1791

Marthinus Johannes Petrus [3]

Hester Cecilia [3]


Johanna Wilhelmina * 30.6.1793




Elsie Jacomina = 14.6.1795




Marthinus Gerhardus = 6.8.1797

Marthinus Gerhardus [3]

Barbara Nicolasina Henrietta [3]


Nicolaas Jacobus = 12.1.1800

Nicolaas Jacobus [3]



Adriana Susanna = 6.3.1803

Marthinus Gerhardus [8]


For each of the children, we looked at the names of their children. For example, the first child, Anna Cecilia, married Johannes Jacob NORTJÉ. Her first daughter was named Hester Cecilia, her second son was Marthinus Jacobus Wynand Petrus. (Examination of the names of other children, not shown in the table, enabled us to assess whether the naming pattern was being used or not.)

Hester Cecilia Olivier remarried before the baptism of d13 above. The glaring problem is that Marthinus’ first few children by Barbara appear to be born before his last child by Hester. We noted that the father of Hester’s children was likely Marthinus Jacobus, and the father of Barbara’s children was likely Marthinus Gerhardus. So, we inferred that these might be two different families, and that the husbands of Hester Olivier and Barbara van Rensburg were not the same man.

Indeed, our subsequent research [9] showed that Hester Cecilia's first husband was deceased at the time of her remarriage, and that the children named above are from more than one family.

Certainly, this naming pattern does not prove any fact. But, it can suggest strong circumstantial evidence, and does provide good indications for further research.

Keith Meintjes, Hierdie e-posadres word teen spambots beskerm. Jy benodig JavaScript geaktiveer om dit te bekyk., and Ariel Rudolph, Hierdie e-posadres word teen spambots beskerm. Jy benodig JavaScript geaktiveer om dit te bekyk.


[1] Keith Meintjes, 'The families of Hendrik Cloete and his wife, Maria Josina Christina Watney', Familia 43 (4), p. 155 (2006).

[2] C.C. de Villiers, 'Genealogies of Old South African Families', edited by C. Pama, Balkema (1981).

[3] J.A. Heese, South African Genealogies 6, edited by GISA, Genealogical Institute of South Africa (2001), p. 145 (Oosthuizen).

[4] Johann Meintjes, 'Meintjes 1675 - 1971', edited by Keith Meintjes (2004), p.27. Available (free) at

[5] J.A. Heese, South African Genealogies 6, edited by GISA, Genealogical Institute of South Africa (2001), p. 447 (Nortjé).

[6] J.A. Heese and R.T.J. Lombard, South African Genealogies 1, Protea Book House (1999), p. 324 (Bonnet).

[7] J.A. Heese, South African Genealogies 6, edited by GISA, Genealogical Institute of South Africa (2001), p. 140 (Oosthuizen).

[8] J.A. Heese, South African Genealogies 6, edited by GISA, Genealogical Institute of South Africa (2001), p. 130 (van Onselen).

[9] Ariel Rudolph and Keith Meintjes, 'Martinus Gerhardus Oosthuizen b1c7 (1752 - 1838)', genesis 14 (2007).

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