Naming Patterns in the Toy Family Tree

By | 7 June 2014

Ever notice how often given names repeat in the typical Irish family tree? Ever wonder if this phenomena could be used to corroborate or contradict a bit of family history information? I recently had the opportunity to give this a try.

The Work that’s Come Before

Before the advent of all the Internet sites that allow you to build a family tree, folks constructed descendant charts the hard way, with pencil, paper and drafting skills. Even with the help of a computer, the organization of my family tree leaves a lot to be desired. I can’t imagine what my work would look like if I was doing this 30 years ago.

For researchers of Daniel Toy, there are two such paper genealogies to draw on:

1941 Toy Genealogy

1941 Genealogy PrefaceOne was developed in 1941, begins with Daniel Toy in the United States and covers all his descendants up to the time of publication. This one was developed by Eugene I Toy II (1904-1961) and Francis J McLear (1880 – 1945). Both of these gentleman are descendants of Daniel’s son James A Toy. This document shows Daniel being born in Donegal, Ireland, but provides no birth date and no information about his parents or his marriage to Rosanna Coyle. Click on the image at the left to read the preface to this genealogy.


1986 Toy Genealogy

Eschbach Genealogy

Eschbach Genealogy

The other was developed in 1986 by Elsie Toy Purviance Eschbach (1920 – 1987). Elsie is descended from Daniel’s oldest son, Cornelius. This genealogy is built on the work of Eugene and Francis, but also includes the results of Irish research conducted for the Toys by professional genealogist Charles H. Starr. This genealogy identifies the parents of both Daniel and Rosanna, provides the date and place of their marriage, provides the place of Daniel’s birth (Desertoghill), and identifies a younger brother of Daniel as well as another son! You can click on the image at right to see the details.

I have this information included in my family tree, but it’s always made me a bit uneasy for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve never been able to locate the sources referenced in this Eschbach genealogy, but I haven’t looked beyond what’s available in online databases. Second, I’m troubled by Daniel’s father being named Alexander. Nowhere does this name appear in the 1941 Toy genealogy, and it hasn’t appear in any of the research I’ve conducted over the past two years. It seems odd that there wouldn’t be another Toy named Alexander given traditional Irish naming patterns.

Irish naming patterns

Traditional naming patterns were closely adhered to in Ireland during the 1800’s and earlier, and that tradition was brought with Irish families to the United States. For the firstborn children:

  • The oldest son would be named for the father’s father
  • The second son would be named for the mother’s father
  • The third son would be named for the father
  • The fourth son would be named for the father’s oldest brother

A similar pattern was used for daughters (mother’s mother, father’s mother, mother, and so on).

Toy family names

As far as I can tell, this pattern for boys was well adhered to in the family of James A Toy. His oldest son was Daniel, named after James’ father Daniel Toy. The second son was John Thomas, presumably after Rosanna’s father. The third son was James, and the fourth son was Cornelius, named after James’ older brother. It’s interesting to note that two children were named James and died young before it was given to my great grandfather James F Toy. This reuse of the name was also a practices in Irish families, both to honor the father and to honor the child who died.

If this pattern is applied to Daniel Toy and Rosanna Coyle, we see that son Daniel is named correctly as the third-born son, and the pattern would suggest that the father of Daniel was Cornelius Toy and that Rosanna’s father was named James Coyle.

Where to go from here

I personally haven’t yet been able to trace the Toy’s back to Ireland, beyond the inscription on Daniel’s grave marker which says he’s a native of Ireland, county of Donegal, Parish of Moville. There are few records from this area dating from Daniel’s time, abut one such record is the ‘Flax Growers Bounty List’ of 1796, which identifies people receiving bounties for growing flax. For the parish of Moville Upper, there are five farmers named Toy on the list including one named Neal and three others with the good Toy names of Daniel, Francis and James. There is also one Coyle on the list, with the given name of James.

Not conclusive evidence by any stretch, but I find no support for a father named Alexander or origins in the Parish of Desertoghill in Londonderry. All of this evidence does point to the Parish of Moville Upper in Donegal as the place to continue the search for my Toy family in Ireland.


4 thoughts on “Naming Patterns in the Toy Family Tree

  1. Nancy Van Dyke-Dickison

    Do you know what the “A” stands for in James A. Toy? I also have some other information I came across about an Alexander and Jane Toy in Ireland which I will review and summarize.

    1. Rhys Post author

      Nancy, my best guess so far is that the A stands for Augustus. This is based on naming one of his children Augustus, a second Joseph Augustus, and the fact that his son Eugene had the middle name Ignatius. There is a Latin name theme here… Are there any similar names in your line?

  2. Nancy Van Dyke-Dickison

    I just rechecked the Starr research information and Daniel’s first son was Neil and his second son John Alexander. There is an Alexander Toy, County of Londonderry (down the road from Muff), Barony Coleraine, Parish Desertoghil, Townland Culnaman, listed on “Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation, 1847-1864” shown as leasing land from lessor George C. B. Sterling of 320 acres. Alexander could have stayed behind as a tenant farmer and Daniel left to go to America.

    I think the strongest evidence is the Parish record found by Starr, and if you start with the premise that this record is accurate and branch out to nearby geographic areas, you can find evidence of both Alexander and Jane Toy. There is a Jane Toy on “Ireland, Griffith’s Valuation” of the same date as the one mentioned above.

    On the “Indexes to Irish Wills, 1536-1857, Vol. V” There is an Alexander Toy (Desertoghill) and the date of probate is 1840. This could be why Jane is living in Londonderry after that date. All these names, dates and locations show pretty strong evidence between the names on the Parish record and the proximity of the names in the same or nearby locations. It would be quite a coincidence if they were not all the same family.

    1. Rhys Post author

      Nancy, If I could find the records referenced by Starr, I might agree. But I think the strongest evidence I have in hand is Daniel’s grave marker, which says he’s from Moville and the names in the Flax records for Moville which date to just before Daniel departed for the US. Moviille is about 50 kilometers from Desertoghill Parish, which would be a fair piece to travel around 1800. I just need a way to get access to the Starr records… My thought is to visit one of the LDS centers and see what they have.


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