Quick tip – Identity is more than a name

Identity is more than a name.

Just because two records show the same name, does not mean they are for the same person.

The reverse is true too. Just because two records show a different name, does not mean they are for different persons.

People could use different names throughout their lifetime. Some examples:

  • Some people used patronymics and later adopted a surname. They might be listed under their patronymic in one record, and under their surname in another.
  • Some people called themselves after the farm they lived on and changed their name when they moved.
  • Transgender people often adopt a new name, and have that registered.
  • Immigrants with a name that is hard to pronounce in the new country’s main language may change their name. See English versions of Dutch last names for some examples.

By researching different aspects of the person’s identity besides their name, we can often determine whether they are in fact the same person or not. This includes studying their family members, friends, associates, and neighbors; and searching for points of correlation between records.

two boys showing blackboards with their names

Two boys show their first names. Credits: Tropenmuseum via Open Cultuurdata (CC-BY-SA)


About Yvette Hoitink

Yvette Hoitink, MLitt, CG®, QG™ is a professional genealogist, writer, and lecturer in the Netherlands. She has a Master of Letters in Family and Local History from the University of Dundee, and holds the Certification of Genealogist and Qualified Genealogist credentials. Yvette served on the Board of Directors of the Association of Professional Genealogists and won excellence awards for her articles in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly and the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly. Yvette has been doing genealogy for over 30 years. She helps people from across the world find their ancestors from the Netherlands and its former colonies, including New Netherland. Read about Yvette's professional genealogy services.

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