What I love about doing family history is the sense of connection that I have when I find something new. I so often think that not only have my ancestors given me their DNA - I'm the literal legacy of these people - but sometimes, the need to pass on a little bit of a beloved relative or friend can be seen in how a child is named. Names connect us to the people who came before us. That is very much the case in my family. In doing interviews I think one of my favorite questions is "Who were you named for?" because so often, people ARE named for someone important in either their lives or in the lives of their parents.
The "O'Neal" and "Dale" Tradition
My grandmother's name was Doris O'Neal. When I asked her where that name came from she said "it's a family name, but that's all I know." In doing the family history, I've found that it actually isn't REALLY a family name. Instead, it seems to be more of a regional naming tradition based on an Alabama Civil War colonel Edward O'Neal, and an acknowledgement of O'Neal's Brigade at the Battle of Gettysburg.
My grandparents, in keeping with naming traditions of their own, gave two of their children their own middle names: Cynthia Dale and Patrick O'Neal. Here's the cool thing: my grandparents created their own naming traditions in naming these two children AND my grandmother continued the Alabama naming tradition that she, herself, was a part of. My aunt and uncle are now only connected to their parents through the shared name, but my uncle is also connected to a larger naming movement as a whole - and to a historical figure that meant something important to many people living in Alabama.
The "Samuel Wylie" Naming Tradition
With each Wylie born in my line, the decision to pass on the lineage and the connection to Samuel Wylie (1754-1814) was made with this naming tradition. However, as this tradition evolved, as people continued to name their children for their fathers and their grandfathers, a new legacy and a new tradition developed. Although these three men: senior, junior, and the third are all connected to each other with the same names - each of them also has a connection to the patriarch Samuel Wylie. Each of these names, while connecting to the man that came before them, also carries on the legacy of their Revolutionary War ancestor.
When my mother told my father that she was pregnant he told her "It's a girl and we're naming her 'Heather'." My mom said that she spent the next eight months trying to decide what went with the name "Heather." She decided that "Elizabeth" was a good fit. I'm named for three women named that also carry that name. The first is my adopted aunt Elizabeth "Beth" Peterson. The second is a woman my father worked with when he was teaching named Elizabeth "Beth" Bailey. And the third is for my mother's long-time friend Liz.
When I think about my names I feel not only connected to my Aunt Beth, specifically, through the name that we share - a name that I was given partly for her - but I also think about the love that my father has for me. I was his Heather Elizabeth before I was connected to anyone else.