Surnames As Middle Names

Do you ever wonder how people come up with their children’s names? Sometimes it’s easy if they are a junior or have a name like John or Elizabeth and then sometimes you have to search a little deeper.

I wrote about my great-grandfather, Eli Bernard Stabley, a few months ago. You can read about him here. He and his wife, Ida Jane, had two sons, Bernard Dettinger Stabley, and Richard Luther Stabley. The middle name of Luther came from one of Ida’s brothers. Bernard’s middle name, Dettinger, was Ida’s maiden name. It was common (and still is) to use the woman’s maiden name as one of her children’s middle names. Here’s Ida in 1947.

picture of Ida Jane Dettinger Stabley

Ida was born in York County, Pennsylvania in 1879 to John George Dettinger and Julia Dirk. Their family numbered twelve children with Ida right in the middle.

She and Eli married on 17 March 1903 in York County. According to the newspaper, they had a very sweet ceremony.1

clipping of wedding announcement of Eli Stabley and Ida Dettinger.

Ida was left a widow after almost 28 years of marriage. Since Eli was in the military she tried to get a widow’s pension, but they disapproved her application citing “no qualified foreign service.” During the Spanish-American War, Eli was posted at Fort Yellowstone, Wyoming, and did not see any action.

For the next 26 years, Ida lived near her two boys but had her own home and took in a lodger to help ends meet. In 1950 Bernard’s wife, Lillian, died. Read about her here. Bernard was my grandfather and he and my dad lived with Ida for several years soon after.

Ida passed away in February 1957. Her obituary is short but packed with plenty of information.2

Ida Jane Dettinger Stabley obituary

So those middle names may not always give you a clue about a surname, but then again, they just might.

Genealogy tip: If you are researching an ancestor and they don’t have a typical given name for their middle name, consider it could be a surname from a generation or two before or the maiden name of the mother.

1 “Pretty Home Wedding,” The Gazette (York, Pennsylvania), p. 2, col. 3; digital image, ( accessed 22 Oct 2019).

2 “Deaths and Burials,” The York Dispatch (York, Pennsylvania), p. 28, col. 1: digital image, ( accessed 21 Mar 2020).

2 thoughts on “Surnames As Middle Names

  1. This was such an interesting read! I never knew that using a woman’s maiden name as a middle name was such a common practice. It makes me wonder if there are any other naming traditions that were popular in the past. Do you have any other examples or insights to share?
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    1. Hi David, I don’t have anything concrete, I just know that in my family history using a woman’s maiden name as a child’s middle name was fairly common. Here’s an article stating the same: As another example in my tree, Richard Dennis married Elizabeth Haskins and they named their last child Edwin Haskins Dennis.
      I’m glad you like the post! Have a great day…

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