Gravestones and name changes

Andrew Krea 1Anyone who has researched genealogy knows that names can be spelled many different ways across a variety of records. I once found twelve different spellings of one family’s surname during a research project here at NEHGS. Recently, in my own personal family research, I’ve realized that another problem can occur when names are shortened across the generations.

My father’s side of the family is Greek. My brother and I made our annual visit to the Woodbrook Cemetery in Woburn, Massachusetts, to view our Greek family gravestones on the anniversary of my grandmother’s passing. As we looked over the various generations in the family plot, it occurred to me that some generations in my family had shortened our last name, and some had not.

Andrew Krea 2My great-grandfather’s name was Victor Michael Kreatsoulis.

My grandfather’s name was Stephen Victor Krea (pronounced “Kray”).

Andrew Krea 3


My grandfather’s brother’s name was Nicholas Kreatsoulis.


How could my grandfather’s name be Stephen Victor Krea, while his brother’s name was Nicholas Kreatsoulis? The only explanation I could think of was that, at some point, my grandfather changed his name officially.

Recently, while visiting my family, my father showed me his birth certificate, which lists his last name as Kreatsoulis. How could my father’s name be Kreatsoulis when his father’s name had been shortened to Krea?

When asked about an official name change made by my grandfather, my father said no, there was nothing official about it: My grandfather owned a restaurant, one in which my grandmother and father worked. My grandfather eventually got tired of writing the 11-letter last name of “Kreatsoulis” on all of his checks and financial papers, so he began only writing the first four letters, “Krea.”  When my father was born, his official birth certificate said “Kreatsoulis,” but his parents were using the name “Krea.”

My brother and I are the first members of our side of the family to have the official name “Krea” on our birth certificates. My son, recently born, is the second generation to officially have that last name. Realizing that names can change (or not be changed!) throughout generations is something to remember in one’s research.

About Andrew Krea

Andrew Krea holds a B.A. in English Literature from Brandeis University, in Waltham, Massachusetts, and a Master’s Degree in Library Science from Simmons College in Boston, Massachusetts. He has previously interned at the Massachusetts Historical Society. His areas of interest and expertise include New England research, specifically genealogies dating back to the inception of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and researching and writing historical narratives of family genealogies.

9 thoughts on “Gravestones and name changes

  1. Mom was a RADER. When the family research was done and published, the author prefaced his work with a list of 25 spelling variations he had uncovered. He began with the Mutterstadt Germany immigrant ROEDER (1730) to Ephrata Colony (PA) to VA by 1776 then to OH, through 1920.

  2. I have Ryder/Rider in my family. A great-grandfather and his children went by Ryder, while his father and grandfather are listed in census records as Rider. They were of German ancestry and the surname gets mixed up with the English Ryder/Rider and so over-lap in error for some families.

  3. Until I found a receipt for a burial site in Newark, New Jersey in my husband’s aunt’s belongings he had always thought his last name was Phillips. The burial receipt was made out to Ludwig Philipowitz, his grandfather. On a trip to the East Coast we visited the cemetery and his grandfather and grandmother and the eldest son who was born in Poland are buried with the headstone Philipowitz. All the younger children born in the United States are buried as Phillips. No formal name change. Did give me more clues to research though.

  4. Of my three most noted names, Hill can’t really be done much to, except adding as “s” to make it Hills, Balch has a few other variations that I have found, but they all lead one right back to the original, Balch, however my Mothers name of Clayborn well that gets really interesting rather quickly, you have Clayborne, Clyborn, Cliburn and a bunch of others, and some of them, I am not sure if they go back to the original at all…. whenever I am searching for her family, I start with Clayborne, because that seems to be the original, but there are so many variations mixed into the lines of even that one, that it gets confusing quickly. And my own family was guilty of using Clayborn, not the original, and even sometimes going back to the original, when they thought it was called for.

  5. I always thought that my middle name was Douglas. When I applied for a copy of my birth certificate, I discovered that it was spelled Douglass – double s. I recognized my father’s handwriting and noticed that he wrote that he lived on Frederal St. instead of Federal St. He must have been nervous or excited; his signature usually included his middle name, Frederick, after his grandfather.
    Sometime later, it occurred to me that during the war, he probably mailed many letters to his new bride who was living with her parents. She lived on Douglass St. in Portland, ME. So I am named for a bunch of cobblestones.

  6. My great grandmother was Bessie Jane Belew, previously spelled Bellew, Ballew, Belue, Beleu, maybe Belioux and other French-like spellings, which suggest they came from France. I haven’t been able to confirm anything before about 1730 in South Carolina, a search obviously complicated by the various spellings. Then I have a 2x great grandmother Catharine Blue who was born in Toronto to Scottish immigrants who migrated again to Illinois shortly after her birth. Thank goodness that’s the only spelling I’ve found for that line. Whew!

  7. The first ancestor on my Waggoner side seems to be an immigrant named Hans Wagner, who was in the Carolinas by 1758. Little else is known about him, even his nationality or where he came from or the number off wives or children he had. His son Isaac, from whom I descend served in the Rev. War as Wagner, but as an old man in IL was known both as Wagner and Waggoner. His descendants used those names, plus Wagoner, Wagoneer, and several others, sometimes siblings using different surnames. The TX clan appears to have the most different surnames. Why??

  8. My mother attended Burdett Business(Secretarial) School after graduating from Woburn High School. When it was time for her to graduate and look for a job, she was told by her instructor that she would never get a job with such a lengthy last name. She changed her last name from Kreatsoulis to Krea. She was your grandfathers older sister (5 years older).

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