Nicknames in 17th century Melrose

In my research in the 17th century regality court records of Melrose I found that nicknames were often used at Melrose to distinguish between people with the same name. These could take different forms e.g.

place names: Eister, Wester, Wynd, Pooll, Townheid, Wall, Peele, Nook, Croce

descriptive: Blind, Blak William, Mikle William, Ranter, Litle, Great, Stoupie, the Bender, Fair, Laird, Tutor, Page, Long, Back Sid, the Preist

genealogical: Jeanes John, Williams John, Hellens John, Long Andro’s sone

Often nicknames seem to have passed from parent to child, especially the place name ones. This can make it harder to rely on them for identification. In addition nicknames changed over time, including how they were recorded. For example two neighbours in dispute at the Melrose court were both John Bowar, both portioners of Eildon. One was ‘Eister’ and the other ‘Wester’ but by 1665 it looks likely that one had died with references now only to John Bowar.

I love these nicknames. They add such character to the people and stories, and are rarely recorded in traditional Scottish genealogical records. Unsurprisingly they seem to have been particularly commonly used for some of the more oft occurring surnames, probably needed to tell people apart in the record.

Similar nicknames have also been found elsewhere in Scotland, including at nearby Earlston around the same time (fortunately – and rather unusually – recorded in many parish register entries), and Arbroath in Angus.