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Making sense of old handwriting

Latin Names

Deciphering names in an old handwritten document is not as easy as one might suppose. This could be due to the widespread use of abbreviations, the difficulty in reading the handwriting, or the unique practices found in the language. To make this process easier, below are glossaries of names and explanations of the naming practices you will encounter.

Masculine Names


Feminine Names


Latin Names in Parish Records

Latin Roman Catholic records provide given Latin names for individuals mentioned in the record. Some individuals referred to this Latin name as their Christian name. Beyond the records, the individual was often known instead by a corresponding name in their own language. For example, the Latin name Joannes was often a Latin variant of the local name Ivan or John.

Because a given name in the local language might be translated into different name variations in Latin, learning to keep an open mind and recognize possible variants of a name is important for reading the names in these records. For example, the name Matthaeus is different from Matthias, but both may be found in records as the Latin given name of the same person.

It is also possible to find the given name of the same woman recorded differently in different places. For example, a woman may have been called Maria, Marianna, and Margaretha in various records. In addition, spelling preferences for some Latin names varied among the priests. For example, the name Philipus may have also been spelled as Phillipus, Philippus, Fillipus, Filippus, or Filipus.

The provided tables list Latin names that may appear in the records. Be aware that an individual’s Latin name might also be associated with several other Latin variants.

Latin Names: To Translate or Not?

Latin given names are declined as nouns. To learn more about Latin nouns and how they are declined, see the Nouns page.

The names in these records don't require translation. It is best to keep the Latin form of the name. However, names should be changed into the nominative form when you are translating a record. For example, change the genitive "Jacobi" into the nominative "Jacobus."

Although it is advised to keep the Latin form of the name when translating a record, you may also find a version of the name in the local language of the record. The website Behind the Name is helpful for this. You may search for a name and learn about its origin and its versions in many different languages.

Latin given names can either be masculine or feminine (male or female). The given names tables have been divided into these categories. Remember that in a document, masculine and feminine names will be declined differently, with different word endings.

  • Portrait 1: Peter Paul Rubens, Portrait of Julius Caesar, 1619, Painting, Digital image, Wikimedia Commons ( : accessed 20 July 2023). This image is in the public domain.
  • Portrait 2: unknown, Portrait of Paquius Proculo restored, c.50 AD, Fresco, Digital image, Wikimedia Commons ( : accessed 20 July 2023). This image is in the public domain.

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