I often receive a somewhat perplexed reaction from people when they find out my given birth name is James. This reaction is followed by the question, “How did you end up becoming Jake?” I identify with my given name very little. I was born with the given name James Connor Fletcher over 25 years ago, but since I can remember, my parents called me Jake. Remembering back in school or any time a roll call for attendance was performed, hearing the name “James Fletcher” made me slightly uncomfortable because I then had a choice. Do I just decide to roll with it or should I speak up and explain I go by Jake?
The culmination of my genealogy pursuits has led me to ponder how James turned into Jake. Both are given names, most people named James will often resort to the nickname of Jim, such as my father. Jake is more commonly a name for Jacob. I decided to ask my mom about this because I really wanted to know what motivated them to call me Jake. If they didn’t like James, then why give me the name in the first place?
My mom couldn’t necessarily provide a direct cause for the decision. Part of her answer suggested a compromise between my parents. My mom wanted me to be Jacob and my dad wanted me to have his name, James. The conversation left me with more questions than answers. How does a name suit someone better? How exactly does a name speak to our identity if we are not the ones choosing it?
Furthermore, the fact that I’m both James and Jake in a sense, is based on what purpose I am providing my name. This provides the occasional internal dilemma. What name do I go by? I feel that Jake has more weight legally than a nickname, but to the government and any other institution: I am James Fletcher.
Because I spend so much time documenting deceased people who use two or several names, the genealogist inside me asked another question. Hypothetically, if someone two hundred years down the road, decided to look for me, how difficult would it be for them to research me, having to account for both James and Jake Fletcher in every search they do? It’s kind of a crazy thing to think about, and I said hypothetically, because as a genealogist, I’ve taken care of the hard work for my descendants.
However, the decisions of our ancestors that might not make sense with out context could send family historians into many hours deep of research looking for that elusive person. Researchers need to take into account the spontaneity of our ancestors and should never assume the facts about someone’s life. Going against the old adage that humans are “creatures of habit,” our ancestors equally defied traditional conventions. The motivations for their decisions can be hard to understand when we don’t have the chance to speak with them personally. My own personal story of how I “became” Jake exemplifies one scenario of how it could be difficult to find an ancestor you’re looking for. My parents raised me by a name different from the one I was given, so I’ve essentially adopted it as my identity. My legal documents all indicate James, but in theory, other sources could identify me as Jake. Unless a source clarified that two were the same, Jake and James could be discerned as different people.
Copyright (c) 2016 Jake Fletcher.
Jake Fletcher, “A Genealogist’s Reflection On His Own Name,” Jake Fletcher, posted 21 Jun 2016. http://travelyourgenealogy.com/2016/06/22/a-genealogists-reflection-on-his-own-name