10 Billion Gilbert Thomsons

Back in the day, many Scots followed tradition when it came to naming their children.  When researching family in Scotland, this tradition can be both a blessing and a curse.  It can be used to help identify potential family members, but it can be difficult to keep people straight when everyone is using the same names over and over and over and over…….

The “Traditional” Naming Pattern

Children were usually named after grandparents, parents and other relation.  The first name was assigned based on the child’s gender and birth order, and the name-holder’s relationship to the child.  The custom goes something like this:

1st Born – Paternal Grandfather (father’s father)
2nd Born – Maternal Grandfather (mother’s father)
3rd Born – Father
4th Born – Father’s Oldest Brother or Paternal Great-Grandfather (father’s paternal grandfather)
5th Born – Mother’s Oldest Brother or Maternal Great-Grandfather (mother’s paternal grandfather)

1st Born – Maternal Grandmother (mother’s mother)
2nd Born – Paternal Grandmother (father’s mother)
3rd Born – Mother
4th Born – Mother’s Oldest Sister or Maternal Great-Grandmother (mother’s maternal grandmother)
5th Born – Father’s Oldest Sister or Paternal Great-Grandmother (father’s maternal grandmother)

The “Tradition” Kept By Our Thomsons

If we go back and look at the names used by ancestors, we can see they kept this tradition to some degree:

Known Children of Gilbert Thomson and Margaret Neilson (Birth Years 1848-1877):

#1 John Thomson, born about 1848  (paternal grandfather – John Thomson)
#2 Thomas, born about 1853 (father’s paternal grandfather – Thomas Thomson)
#3 Alexander, born January 1, 1856 (maternal grandfather – Alexander Neilson)
#4 Gilbert, born June 23, 1862 (father – Gilbert Thomson)
#5 James, born September 8, 1864 (mother’s maternal grandfather – James Boyd and father’s maternal grandfather – James Miller)
#6 William, born September 2, 1866 (mother’s paternal grandfather – William Neilson)
#7 Hugh, born May 5, 1868 (mother’s brother)*
#8 Hugh, born May 22, 1869 (mother’s brother)*
#9 Henry, born March 15, 1872
#10 David, born June 14, 1874
#11 Arthur, born 1876

*When a child passed, it was customary that the name be used again to ensure the name continued.

#1 Martha, born March 30, 1850 (maternal grandmother – Martha Boyd)
#2 Mary, born about 1855 (paternal grandmother – Mary Miller)
#3 Grace, born January 28, 1858 (mother’s maternal grandmother – Grizel “Grace” Paterson)
#4 Margaret, born April 4, 1860 (mother)

Let’s stop and think about the ramifications of this practice.  Gilbert Thomson had 10 sons.  Most likely, all of them would have named their first-born sons Gilbert.  That is 10 more Gilbert Thomsons in the next generation.  Gilbert also had 4 daughters, and they would have most likely named their second born sons Gilbert.  That is an additional 4 Gilbert something-or-others.  One family unit solely responsible for 14 grandchildren named Gilbert.

Did I mention that “Thomson” has been the 5th or 6th most common surname in Scotland for the past 110+ years?

My eyes. Popping out of my head. Right now.

Known Children of John Thomson and Mary Miller (birth years 1813 – 1829)

#1 Thomas, born July 28, 1817 (paternal grandfather – Thomas Thomson)*
#2 James, born March 29, 1819 (maternal grandfather – James Miller)
#3 Thomas, born July 4, 1821 (paternal grandfather – Thomas Thomson)*
#4 John, born February 22, 1827 (father – John Thomson)
#5 Gilbert, born August 21, 1829

#1 Ann, born July 6, 1813 (maternal grandmother – Ann Williamson)
#2 Elizabeth, born May 11, 1815 (paternal grandmother – Elizabeth Hamilton)
#3 Marion, born February 9, 1824 (a version of “Mary”, mother)

*Indicates the first Thomas may have passed between 1819 and 1821.

Known Children of Thomas Thomson and Elizabeth Hamilton (1793 – 1797)

John Thomson born June 1, 1793
Janet Thomson born December 18, 1795
James Thomson born September 16, 1797
Thomas Thomson born September 16, 1797

I don’t know who Thomas and Elizabeth’s parents are, but we can refer to the naming pattern for clues as to who they may have been.  Assuming that John Thomson is the first born son, we could propose:

John Thomson (paternal grandfather)
Janet Thomson (maternal grandmother)
James Thomson (maternal grandfather)
Thomas Thomson (father)

We might look to see if there is a record of a Thomas Thomson born to a John Thomson.   We also might look to find a record of an Elizabeth Hamilton born to a James and Janet Hamilton.  These are things I will consider when searching for their birth records (or any other record that might give us information).

End of a Tradition

This practice started to taper off by the beginning of the 20th century.  Perhaps there is a Thomson from this line that still carries the name Gilbert?

What about you?  If you are a parent, did you continue a family tradition when naming your child?  Did you name any of your children after family members?


  1. JaNelle was named after my Grandmother Nelle Fleak Knowlton. We just liked the name and the spelling. Capital N.

  2. I feel your pain! I have 10 billion Caleb Lindseys for the same reason. And James. And David. You are not alone, that’s for sure. My grandpa stopped the naming tradition – he thought babies should have their own names. But I named my daughter after his mother 🙂 Great post!

    • I think it’s neat to honor family that way. I did end up carrying over their grandfathers’ names when I named my kids, but did it using the middle name. The best of both worlds!

Leave a Reply