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What’s In a Name?

 Another account from the book More Civil War Curiosities by Webb Garrison.
At the time of the American Civil War, birth records weren’t recorded as they are today. Most were written down in family Bibles. And the names given at birth were often changed for a variety of circumstances. But these changes were often informal and never made legal.

Many altered names appeared in Civil War army records. Three hundred women were estimated to have joined the fighting forces under assumed male names. Only a fraction of these names were ever reveled with certainty. Most modified names were looked on as the individual’s real name.

Jesse R. Grant and his wife, Hannah, had a name ready-made for their first born son. Born in Point Pleasant, Ohio, in 1822, the child named Hiram Ulysses didn’t realize as a child that his name came from classical mythology, but he was aware that his schoolmates jeered at it. His initials, you see, spelled out the word “HUG”. To stop the teasing, Grant transposed his first and middle name to become Ulysses Hiram.

He was seventeen when he decided to apply to the U.S. Military Academy. He persuaded everyone he knew to write to Representative Thomas L. Hamer on his behalf. He was appointed to West Point by Hamer, but the lawmaker used the maiden name of Grant’s mother by mistake when he submitted the application to the admissions office.

Grant was surprised to learn he’d been enrolled as Ulysses Simpson Grant, but he made no protest. The name was recorded in the official military record and never changed.

Because of a mistake, he was forever known as U.S. Grant. And the term “Unconditional Surrender” became synonymous with his name throughout history.



  1. Caroline Clemmons says:

    Very interesting post! That’s the time period in which my Johnston ancestors dropped to T to become Johnson. Originally it had been Johnstone. Wasn’t it about 1880 that Congress told people to pick a spelling for their last name and stick with it?

  2. I love the history of names and how they came to be. My Danish grandmother was Karoline but she changed it to Caroline when she came to the states in her early twenties. In Denmark it was pronounced Care o leen a, which I really like and cannot understand why she started pronouncing like we do in the states traditionally.

  3. That’s interesting about names, Susan. I changed the arrangement of my name in junior high so my teachers would call me Jeanmarie instead of Jean. I didn’t want to be called Jean. I only let one friend call my Jeanie because he was a nice guy who lived nearby. We were always just friends. Recently I had a bank clerk ask me if the way I signed my name was the way I always signed it. I assured him it was my signature. I guess they’re more concerned that it’s the way you sign your name on all documents rather than if it’s the legal way it’s spelled. My mom changed the spelling of her first name when she was an adult so people would call her Jo Ann instead of Joan. She had to have it approved by an official at the courthouse.

  4. Hi, Caroline, Paisley and Jeanmarie! When my father’s family researched their ancestry they found their name, spelled Xander, was originally spelled, Zander, but was changed when their ancestor moved from Switzerland to Germany.

    And Jeanmarie, my middle son is legally named Christopher, but everyone calls him Chris and when he signs a check made out to Christopher, he still signs it Chris and the bank always cashes it, so I don’t know how anal they are over names either.

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