Variants of names
There are many reasons for the variant forms of names, different spellings, and the inconsistent use of surnames over time and through the generations. Factors include:
- surnames assigned by European or Asian (Chinese) employers, or derived from places of employment
- the way government and mission officials wrote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander names
- the practice of name exchange
- the adoption of aliases by Indigenous people as a way to avoid control by police and government.
When searching for records about your Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander relatives you may wish to consider the following.
Variations in spelling
Search for records using a variety of spellings, and consider phonetic ("sounds like") spellings.
For example: the name Lamb might appear within records as Lamp / Lamm / Lam / Lame / Lane.
The practice by Aboriginal women of taking the surname (or first name) of their male partner was common. While this practice was not unique to Aboriginal women, it appears to have been more common for an Aboriginal woman to assume her partner's name even without a legal marriage. Occasionally, Aboriginal men have been recorded under the name of their female partner.
Many Aboriginal people had a single or common first name only and no surname. This tends to occur in older records, but has occurred more recently (after 1950) within remote Aboriginal communities. Common examples of female names include Polly, Dolly, Nellie (also Nelly), Tilly (Matilda), Jenny, Jinny, Molly, Maggie, Topsy, Lizzy, Sally and Dinah. For men, common names include Billy, Willy, Bobby, Alfie, Bertie, Johnny, Tommy, Jimmy, Charlie and Toby.
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