What's in a name? Tracing the life of Ann Pepper

Elizabeth Yule offers advice on the sometimes tricky task of researching a name and its variants.

When researching family trees, one thing that can always be counted on is that our ancestors will appear in the records under different variants of their name. This might mean using a forename and middle name interchangeably, or a shortened version of a name – or simply a nickname that appears to bear no relation to the actual name.

Think of Jack or Polly; both were used for the names John and Mary, but also, seemingly at random!

A birth record from 1882 is a case in point. The enigmatically named Ann Bertha Cecilia Diana Emily Fanny Gertrude Hypatia Inez Jane Kate Louisa Maud Nora Ophelia Quince Rebecca Starkey Teresa Ulysis Venus Winifred Xenophen Yetty Zeus Pepper was born on 19 December 1882 in West Derby, Liverpool.

Here is the birth certificate of Ann Pepper from the General Register Office, 1882:

Ann Pepper birth certificate

Her parents were Arthur Pepper, a laundry man, and his wife, Sarah Jane Pepper (formerly Creighton). When they came to baptise Ann in the Anglican church of St Peter, Liverpool, on 2 January 1883, she was recorded as Ann Starkie Pepper, thus using a spelling variant of Starkey, as shown on her birth certificate.

Perhaps her parents chose to record this as the most important of her middle names, or the minister recording the event simply didn’t have enough room for the rest. This was the only name given to her that was also a surname, and perhaps commemorated a maternal line from further up the family tree.

Below is the baptism record of Ann Pepper from St Peter’s Church, Liverpool, 1883:

baptism record

Census records reveal the Pepper family in the 1891 census, having moved down to London. Arthur and Sarah didn't have any more children, and had clearly decided to name their daughter creatively!

The 1891 census shows Ann as ‘Anne Pepper’, with no indication of her middle names, and a slight variant in spelling of her first name. Below is the 1891 census of the Pepper family living at 16 Grove Mews, Hammersmith:

census record

But what became of young Ann, and did she use her alphabet-inspired surname in later life? Her parents died relatively young – her mother in 1899, her father in 1908. There is no trace of Ann in census returns or English General Registration after this time, and it appears likely that she therefore left the country.

In fact, shipping records show one Nan Pepper of the right age travelling to the US in 1906. The below shipping record shows that Nan Pepper arrived in New York from Liverpool on 6 October 1906, on board the S.S. Etruria:

shipping record

Following her through later records in America, she was recorded as both Ann and Nan, and continued to use the middle name of Starkey. She married Arthur Wait, and passed her surname of Pepper on to her son.

Thus, over her lifetime, Ann is found under a number of variants of her unique birth name. She used Ann, Anne and Nan as her forenames, and Starkey and Starkie as a middle name, seemingly dropping the 23 other middle names given to her by her parents!

In terms of the legalities of name changes, when Ann was living at the turn of the 20th century, and as is still the case, no legal process was actually required. However, today it is probably easier to obtain formal recognition of a name change with a deed poll enrolment to make it official. Notice of such name changes appeared in The London Gazette from 1914 onwards (Gazette issue 28796).  

While Ann didn't formally change her name, searches of digitised newspaper records find regular reference to Ann after her birth in 1882. The earliest reference found is from the Shields Daily Gazette of 3 November 1884, which commented on her unusual names (3 November 1884):

Shields Daily Gazette excerpt

According to one article appearing in the West Sussex County Times on 13 December 1919, Ann is mentioned in a book published by Dr Courtney Dunn, ‘The Natural History of the Child’. Her unusual names were still meriting attention in newspapers into the 1950s.

Like most of our ancestors who used different names, Ann Pepper was unlikely to have formally changed her name. She simply used variants of her first name, and chose to only use one of the many middle names given to her by her parents. Life must have been much easier that way, but this demonstrates the difficulties that can be encountered in genealogy when dealing with such name variants.

About the author

Elizabeth Yule is the director of research for the long-established genealogical research company Achievements, and is a member of the Association of Genealogists & Researchers in Archives.

See also

What's in a one-name surname study?