Maybe I have too much time on my hands. One of the projects I was working on this week involved finding the ancestry of my dad’s best friend, Cleve Henry.

One of my middle names — Cleve — is after this guy. He and my dad were cowboys together in the glory days of their youth. Then they married sisters. Then they divorced the sisters. By the time I was born Cleve counted still as my uncle but purists would snarl.

The way I heard the story, Uncle Cleve was named after a plantation his family had before the Civil War. And somehow he was a distant, very distant, cousin. So it was the name coming back to our branch of the family.

When I was doing genealogy in my teens this was one of the stories I wanted to know about.

It was easy to find the plantation. It’s famous. Cleve Plantation in Virginia belonged to Charles Carter, of Cleve (1707-1764). A very famous family.

But as it turned out, it would be very generous to say my family is related to those Carters. Charles Bowen Howry (1844-1928), an ancestral 2nd cousin, was married to a Carter descendant, but that’s as close as it gets.

Then I found out that there is a Henry family that uses the given name Cleve. They’re descended from Oliver Cleveland Henry (1805-1863). I couldn’t find Uncle Cleve’s father among them but his full name was Oliver Cleve Henry, so I was pretty sure he would turn out to be a descendant. So, that’s it, I figured. There’s no connection on that other side either.

This weekend I did another push to find Uncle Cleve’s missing father. As I often do. But this time I found him. Here in Denver.

And, now I know the end of that story. Uncle Cleve was not descended from the Carters of Cleve, probably wasn’t named after Cleve Plantation, and is not descended from Oliver Cleveland Henry.

He’s just some guy whose parents like the name Cleve. And that pleases me greatly.

Name of Jesus

I wonder sometimes. Genealogists are supposed to use the earliest attested name. The rule is often glossed as requiring genealogists to use the “birth name“. We had a debate on a while back about the name of Jesus. I still don’t feel comfortable with the result.

The Messianic Jews argued stridently in favor of Hebraicizing his name. The Christians argued just as stridently in favor of continuing the Grecized versions of his name common in different European languages.

Here’s the basic issue.

The common language of Palestine in Jesus’ time was Aramaic, while the commercial language was a dialect of Greek called Koine. The New Testament was probably written in Greek. The surviving Aramaic version of the New Testament is probably a translation from the Greek. Probably. A minority of experts believe the Aramaic version came first and the Greek version is the translation.

The name of Jesus in the earliest Greek version is Ιησους – that is, Iēsoûs, the name that became both Jesus and Joshua in European languages. In the Peshitta, an Aramaic text, Jesus’ name is ܝܶܫܽܘܥ – that is, Yeshuwe. In Jesus’ time the normal Hebrew version of his name was ישוע‎ (Yeshua), a shortened form of יהושע‎ (Yehoshua, Joshua), while the normal Aramaic version is argued to have been Yeshu.

It’s not such a complicated landscape. None of this is obscure or surprising to experts in the field.

What surprises me is that some amateur genealogists think it’s necessary to weigh the evidence and make a decision on a subject where even the experts are split.

And worse: the debate is driven by unacknowledged ideological baggage.

The name Yeshua is closely associated in modern times with Messianic Judaism. Indeed, the original debate on began when a particular user demanded that Jesus’ name be changed to Yeshua, while traditional Christians wanted to keep the familiar forms of his name in their respective languages.

At the same time, the preferred Jewish form of Jesus’ name is Yeshu. Jesus is invariably called Yeshu, while other men with the same name are called Yeshua. In fact, in the Jewish tradition the form Yeshu seems to be unique to Jesus. There are no undisputed Aramaic or Hebrew texts as referring to anyone except Jesus.

I wouldn’t say the original name of Jesus is unrecoverable. Almost certainly it was some form of Yeshua, but in my opinion there are methodological problems with trying to be more exact than the evidence allows. It’s the genealogical sin of inventing information.

I would have preferred in this case to keep the earliest attested form of his name, with a short commentary.

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Name Choice

“Sancho Panza by name is my own self, if I was not changed in my cradle.” — Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547-1616), Don Quixote

Name Choice

Name Choice Freedom is not a new concept; it’s just that few people exercise or realize that they have such freedom. The result is that nearly every woman gives up her name at marriage and nearly every child is given the surname of fathers.

The Lucy Stone League is dedicated to:

  • Equal rights for women and men to retain, modify and create their names, because a person’s name is fundamental to her / his existence.
  • Equal actual frequency of name retention, modification and creation between men and women at marriage and throughout life.
  • Equality of patrilineal / matrilineal name distribution for children.

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