My name is Matthew Robert Campbell Fraser (but you can call me Matt).
I’ve long assumed that my middle names came from my father, Robert William Campbell Fraser, but the original source for the name Campbell was always a mystery to me until very recently. For that matter, I didn’t know where William came from, and I don’t think I gave much thought to the origins of Robert, or even Matthew. My mother once told me, when I was still a child, that she and my father nearly named me Christopher; as my father is fond of calling himself “Robin” instead of “Robert”, the temptation to call me “Christopher Robin” would probably have been too much, so perhaps I should be grateful for small mercies.
Back to the Campbell mystery, however. As children we’re often told all sorts of apocryphal tales about our family histories. I took it as an article of faith, based on these tales, that long ago in Scotland the Fraser and Campbell clans had fiercely feuded with each other, and so I wondered how that name should show up in mine.
However, this story does not appear to be true. While the Campbells certainly feuded a lot, I haven’t seen much historical evidence of it being with the Frasers, with one perhaps notable exception: the clans were on opposing sides in 1746 at the Battle of Culloden, during the Jacobite Risings, and I can see how this may have led to some hard feelings. Still in the past couple hundred years there are many instances of intermarriage between the clans, and today just as there are Campbell Frasers like me, there are also Fraser Campbells out there. So, the feud story isn’t true.
In fact, it’s those intermarriages that finally explain the origin of the name. A Campbell is indeed among my ancestors: Grace Campbell, who in 1835 married Alexander Fraser in Kirkmichael, Perthshire, Scotland. Grace and Alexander are my great-great-grandparents, and their names show up again among their descendants. Their second son was — wait for it — Robert Campbell Fraser.
So, Campbell mystery solved, and now we know where Robert came from. Was I named for my father or my great-grandfather? Both, really, as my father was certainly named for his grandfather.
So what about William? Where does my father obtain this middle name? Here the tradition of naming for grandparents holds; once again, he was named for a grandfather, this time on his mother’s side: William Henry Statter, an Englishman, whose daughter married the son of Robert Campbell Fraser.
Among Frasers there are some names that appear very frequently. Hugh, Simon, Alexander, Robert, John: these are all very popular first names for male Frasers. So, how did I become a Matthew (besides avoiding a Milne reference that would have dogged me for life)? I have a sister named Deborah, so I’ve theorized that my parents went through a phase of using Biblical names, but they didn’t stick exclusively to that. It’s a mystery still.
I suppose I could just ask them.
One thought on “What’s in a name?”