What’s in a Name?

By Candice Buchanan, Greene Connections Archivist

Originally published April 11, 2016.

Have you ever wondered how or why an ancestor’s name was selected? Taking the time to research this basic, profile fact – one that we so often fill in and move past – may reveal fascinating details, not about your subject, but about his or her parents. With this new baby in their arms, they chose this particular name. Was there a reason and what might we learn from it?

For example, there is a fair chance that an early US genealogy will have a George Washington so-and-so somewhere in the progeny. Celebrity politicians and military leaders were popular baby names. These moniker selections likely indicate the civic perspective of the household. Politics were hot and lively in the old days too, so knowing which party your ancestor was partial to is a revealing factor that may offer more room for research to grow. Religious leaders, often including preachers and missionaries, may reveal another weighty worldview of your great-something grandparents. Sermons and writings of popular clergy were published and circulated. They may have also toured through the area during their ministry and had a direct personal contact with your family that made an impression. Studying these specific individuals whose names were so-honored could give you relevant insight into the life and times of your ancestors. It’s a unique way to gain some rare understanding of their personal lives.

Keeping it in the family was, of course, very common too. This is something to scrutinize every family group in your tree for, including collateral lines. Depending on your ancestral origins, naming patterns could be key to unraveling the previous generation pedigrees. Surnames built into a child’s first or middle name often reveal mothers’ maiden names or other family alignments. Watch for these clues and drill into them as leads. There may be more to it than just bestowing beloved Uncle Moses’s name on the new infant, the child’s birth may coincide with Moses’s death or a significant event that brought attention to him.

To maximize the learning opportunities of any of these possibilities, search sources for complete and accurate names of all ancestors including siblings. This is why middle initials just are not enough! Knowing the whole name and assuring it is accurately evidenced from solid records is vital to gaining knowledge from the name itself.

Beyond the family circle, our ancestors were deeply bonded to friends, neighbors, classmates, co-workers, and community leaders, whom they loved and respected just as we are so-connected to our peers today. These people too, impacted the name choices granted to newborn babes, and from these folks we also can enrich our family tree stories and understanding.

The story that follows is excerpted from research recently published in A Waynesburg College Family: The Legacy of Alfred Brashear & Margaret Kerr (Bell) Miller and used here with permission.[1] The book obviously focuses on Alfred and Margaret, who were both inspiring teachers, responsible for leading Waynesburg College. They were pivotal players in the school’s extraordinarily early offering of coeducation, resulting in equal Bachelor’s Degrees for women in the 1850s. There is much to be said about them, but this particular focus is on their lives as quite a young couple, married only two and a half years. He was not yet President of Waynesburg College, but was a Professor at the small school. Margaret was Principal of the brand new Female Department of Waynesburg College, a revolutionary and hard-fought concept that had just graduated the first three women from the school with male-equivalent Bachelor’s Degrees on 23 September 1857.[2] This program had evolved from the unequal Female Seminary initially established, which denied women access to the full curriculum and granted lesser diplomas. Though the school had only been established in 1849, Alfred and Margaret, with dedicated faculty colleagues, determined students, and fresh alumni, were already working hard to accomplish something amazing for education right here in Greene County, Pennsylvania. It was in this atmosphere, that Margaret Kerr (Bell) Miller, bore her second child, on 28 October 1857, a daughter given the name Lucy Lazear Miller.

Our Namesake and Her Eponym: Lucy Lazear Miller and Lucy Lazear

*An eponym, by definition, is a person after whom a discovery, invention, place, etc., is named or thought to be named. In this case, our eponym is Lucy Lazear.

**A namesake may be defined in both directions, but most commonly refers to the target person or thing that has been given the name of another. Our namesake is Lucy Lazear Miller.

LEFT – Lucy Lazear, Waynesburg College Female Seminary, Class of 1853 (Waynesburg University Paul R. Stewart Museum Collection, Greene Connections Archives Project)

RIGHT: Lucy Lazear Miller, circa 1875 (Robert Silas & Eva Mae (Christie) Merrick Collection,
Greene Connections Archives Project)

All of Alfred and Margaret’s children were named for people influential in their parents’ lives. Family friends, relatives, religious leaders, and scholars are all on the list. Lucy Lazear Miller takes her name directly from the family’s Waynesburg College roots.

Lucy Lazear, born 1835, was the daughter of a prominent Waynesburg couple, Jesse and Frances (Burbridge) Lazear; her father was a founder of Waynesburg College and served as Greene County’s United States Congressman during the Civil War.[3] Lucy was one of Margaret’s earliest students in the days of the Waynesburg College Female Seminary.

Evidence of Margaret’s significant influence is recorded in Lucy’s handwritten valedictory address as she spoke for the women of the Class of 1853. This eloquent teenager addressed each segment of her audience. When she came to the Waynesburg College Trustees, she cajoled, “Open the fields of Literature to the female as to the male, then the world more refined and elevated will acknowledge you as the greatest benefactors of your race.” Lucy’s urge, of course, was soon to be heeded, because just four years later, a different kind of graduation ceremony would bestow the first equal degrees to Waynesburg College women. For now, Lucy accepted a lesser diploma, still a great opportunity for a female education in her day, whilst making her voice heard. Upon giving a worthy general tribute to the faculty, Lucy, asked a moment more for this specific homage:

One word more, beloved faculty, and we leave you. Bound to you all by sentiments of lasting regard, you must forgive us if our hearts yearn most fondly towards the conductress of the department where our duties have been exclusively confined. Being immediately under her care, more constantly in her presence, this partiality is natural. Greater intimacy necessarily engenders deeper affection, especially when it is the occasion for the display of those engaging qualities which adorned her department during our whole intercourse. That sisterly devotion which labored so ardently for our good — making our interests her own, that affectionate sympathy which joined in all our sorrows, that sweet gentleness which calmed every ruffled feeling of our breasts, forgave every error, and threw a mantle of charity over our weaknesses, all contributed largely to hallow our school-days — a green isle in the ocean of memory. Dear Miss Bell, as teacher and pupils, the bonds of the past are forever dissolved. Not so the tie that endears your name to our affections. This is a personal tie, unchangeable by time or distance, & stronger even than death. But preceptors, counselors, friends, — a last, a sad farewell![4]

It was not only Margaret whom Lucy knew so well. Lucy Lazear was the counterpart to her teacher’s future beaux. As Lucy led the ladies of the Female Seminary, Class of 1853, so did Alfred Brashear Miller lead the men of Waynesburg College, Class of 1853, on graduation day.[5] In the classrooms where the men and women combined in these early days of easing in coeducation, these two individuals were classmates and obviously friends.

Lucy (Lazear) Stephenson tombstone, Green Mount Cemetery

“Lucy J. Stephenson
Wife of Kenner Stephenson Esq.
And Daughter of Jesse and Frances B. Lazear
Died April 6th A. D. 1856
Aged 20 Years and 6 Months
She the beloved has passed away
Her blameless life is over
And grief dost hold its mournful sway Till in a fairer, happier day
We meet to part no more.”

(Photograph by author)

Lucy furthered her education the following year in New England, where she met Kenner Stephenson, whom she wed on New Year’s Day, 1856. On the bridal trip, during an open sleigh ride over the frozen Ohio River, Lucy caught a cold and never recovered. She died 6 April 1856, only 20 years old, with so much potential unfulfilled.[6] Margaret’s student and Alfred’s classmate, the Millers mourned her deeply. On New Year’s Day 1857, a year to the date of her wedding, Alfred wrote in his diary:

Went to the Cemetery & visited the grave of Mrs. Lucy Stephenson who was married on last New Years Day – now over her lifeless remains stands a beautiful monument telling the beholder that youth and beauty and amiability were no safety against death. [7]

Later that year, when their second daughter was born, they named her in honor of their friend.

This story introduces us to baby Lucy Lazear Miller in the family chronology, but moreover it lets us into the personal lives, influences, and relationships of her parents.

Who are your eponym / namesake pairs and what stories might they tell?


[1] Candice L. Buchanan, A Waynesburg College Family: The Legacy of Alfred Brashear & Margaret Kerr (Bell) Miller (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015), 12-14, 38-39.

[2] Margaret Leonice Needham, Laura Weethee and Lydia Weethee were the first three women to receive male-equivalent Bachelor’s Degrees from Waynesburg College, graduating 23 September 1857, as identified in: Waynesburg College, Annual Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Waynesburg College for the Academic Year Ending September 1857, 6, 17. At least one school, the renowned Oberlin College in Ohio, is proven to have graduated women with male-equivalent Bachelor’s Degrees prior to 1857, Oberlin having graduated its first degreed females in 1841. In Pennsylvania, Westminster College of New Wilmington, appears to be the only school prior to Waynesburg College to graduate women equally; their first class having graduated in July 1857 just a couple of months before Waynesburg did the same in September 1857. As an additional point, though Westminster held commencement ceremonies earlier, thus giving them the credit as the first to give the degrees, Waynesburg’s program of equal coeducation predates Westminster and was the first in Pennsylvania to initiate the opportunity. Excepting Oberlin and Westminster, numerous schools in the nation graduated females prior to 1857, Waynesburg included, but diplomas or degrees of a lesser value were awarded; they were not male-equivalent Bachelor’s Degrees. In a letter from Dr. Paul R. Stewart (Waynesburg, PA), President of Waynesburg College 1921-1963, to Mrs. C. Tubbs, 11 January 1929; held in 2003 by Bonnie (Watts) Cook, great-granddaughter of Margaret Leonice (Needham) Still, Stewart says, “it has developed that [Margaret] was the first woman to graduate from this institution from the same course as the men and with the same degree. This is all the more important since this college was the second college in the world to grant degrees to women on the same basis as men.” For additional information on early Waynesburg College female graduates see: Candice Buchanan, “The Early Coeducational Institution as Matchmaker: A Study of Romantic Attachments at Waynesburg College 1850-1875,” Western Pennsylvania History, volume 91 (Fall 2008): 46-57 and Dusenberry, Waynesburg College Story, 1849-1974, 41-42, 419n. For additional information on early Oberlin College female graduates see: Robert S. Fletcher and Ernest H. Wilkins, “The Beginning of College Education for Women and of Coeducation on the College Level,” Bulletin of Oberlin College, New Series 343 (20 March 1937).

[3] Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, 1774 – Present (bioguide.congress.gov : viewed 27 February 2004), Jesse Lazear bio.

[4] Lucy Lazear, “Valedictory Address,” handwritten document, Waynesburg College Female Seminary, Class of 1853; archived at the Waynesburg University Paul R. Stewart Museum (Miller Hall, 51 W. College St.; Waynesburg, Pennsylvania 15370). Lucy (Lazear) Stephenson was the valedictorian of the women graduating from the Waynesburg College Female Seminary. A transcript of the original ten handwritten pages was created by Waynesburg University’s History 295 class led by Dr. Elesha Coffman, 30 January 2009. Students participating, in order of pages, were: Marisa Hodge, Breanne Tomi, Ricky Keys, Amber Churney, Sara Schieb, Chelsey Clark, David Burch, Seth Farley, Tyler Emmerson, and Laura Garcia. Transcript and digital scans of original document sent via Elesha Coffman, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, to Candice Buchanan, email, 17 April 2009, “Valedictory address,” Waynesburg College Alumni; privately held by Buchanan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2014.

[5] Waynesburg College, Annual Catalogue of Waynesburg College and Female Seminary for the Academic Year Ending September, 1853, photocopy reproduction only; cover and title page missing (N.p.: n.p., 1853), list of “Male Students For The Year Ending September, 1853,” Senior Class. Archived at the Waynesburg University Museum (Miller Hall, 51 W. College St.; Waynesburg, Pennsylvania 15370).

[6] Waynesburg University (Waynesburg, Pennsylvania), matriculation cards, Lucy Ann (Lazear) Stephenson, Class of 1853. Lucy’s card includes a handwritten account of her education, marriage, and last illness.

[7] Alfred Brashear Miller, “Diary,” (manuscript, Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, 1856-1866), 1 January 1857 entry; archived at Waynesburg University, Office of the President (Miller Hall, 51 W. College St.; Waynesburg, Pennsylvania 15370), 2014. Obtained via auction, 2013.

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