Here’s a challenge for you. How many different formats for an ancestor’s name can you list? Think Google Searching. I seem to get fixated on a name and rarely consider searching for different formats of a name. As I’ve been working through the weekly newspaper clippings for Russell County, I notice that 90% of the names are given with initials – something I would rarely look for in a Google search. A book index might have your ancestor’s name listed with the last name first.

Think about possible nick-names. You can use Google to find a list of nicknames for a specific name. Another great site for this would be If you enter a name, you’ll get lots of information about the name. Popularity ranking, estimates for the current US population, etc. But if you scroll down, you’ll see a box labeled “Alternate versions”. That box will give you a list of variations for the name you’ve entered. Here’s the list of alternates for the name “Mary”. Alternates_for_Mary

Family tree magazine also has a list of female nicknames. Link

Think also about common misspellings of the name. For example: Stephens vs. Stevens

If your ancestor was from another country, or THEIR parents were from another country, don’t forget to consider foreign versions of the name as well. For example – Andrew vs. Andreas.

Once you’ve created your list, consider adding it to your Research Plan for that ancestor.

To get you started:
First Middle Last
First Middle Initial Last
Last, First
Last, First Middle
Last, First Middle Initial
First Initial Last
First and Middle Initials Last
Nickname Last
Abbreviation Last

If you are brainstorming for a female ancestor, don’t forget that often, females were referred to with their husband’s name. For example, Mrs. A.J. Stephens. Think of ways that “Mrs.” could be included in your list.

Here’s my list for one ancestor:

Andrew Jackson Stephens
Andrew Stephens
Andrew J. Stephens
A.J. Stephens
A. Jackson Stephens
Jackson Stephens
Jack Stephens
Andy Stephens
Stephens, Andrew Jackson
Stephens, Andrew J.
Stephens, Andrew
Stephens, A.J.
Stephens, A. Jackson
Stephens, Jackson
Stephens, Jack
Stephens, Andy
Andrew Jackson Stevens
Andrew Stevens
Andrew J. Stevens
A.J. Stevens
A. Jackson Stevens
Jackson Stevens
Jack Stevens
Andy Stevens
Stevens, Andrew Jackson
Stevens, Andrew J.
Stevens, Andrew
Stevens, A.J.
Stevens, A. Jackson
Stevens, Jackson
Stevens, Jack
Stevens, Andy

In a future “snack”, we’ll be using these variations for another quick exercise.