08 January 2016

Wallace B. Dixon : Name Changer

You Can Call Me Wally

In a previous post regarding a birth record for my grandfather, Wallace B. Dixon, I raised the question of his name change. I had been told many times by  a variety of people that he had been given the name Bernard Wallace when he was born, but legally changed it to Wallace Bernard when he became an adult.

Since this whole genealogy thing revolves around Proof, I've been looking for sources that confirm that he did, indeed, change his name.

Here's the birth record that I have for him
View of Birth Date (02Mar1905), Place (Elizabeth, N.J.), and Name (Wallace Bernard Dixon)  from delayed birth document for Wallace B. Dixon
1942 document recording Wallace Bernard Dixon's birth in 1905.

While this is a certified copy of birth information recorded in official documents, it was created nearly 40 years after the event, and is a derivative document. On a scale of 1-4 for reliability, I'd give it a 2-3.

In the 1905 New Jersey State Census he is recorded as Bernard. The same is true in the 1915 New Jersey State Census. (Sorry, no images yet. These were index only records.)

We can see here that in the 1920 Federal Census, he was being called Wallace.

The Census Enumerator spelled the last name wrong, but this is Wally's family. Note the absence of his father, William A. His mother is claiming that she is widowed, but William was still very much alive in 1920. Another mystery.

Of course, it is entirely possible that he was named Wallace Bernard when he was born, and the family just used his middle name. Perhaps, somewhere between the ages of 10 and 15, he decided that he much preferred to be called Wallace or Wally.

Next Steps

In order to prove my grandfather's birth name and possible name change I will need to do a few things.
  • See if I can get a photocopy of the original birth record.
    Where can I find that? How do I procure a copy?
  • If the original birth record shows that he was named Bernard Wallace at birth, then I will have to find a source for records of legal name changes in NJ. Is that information even available?


"New Jersey State Census, 1905," database, FamilySearch (https://beta.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KMHK-VXD : accessed 23 November 2015), William A Dixon, , Union, New Jersey, United States; citing p. 6, line 44, Department of State, Trenton; FHL microfilm 1,688,625.

"New Jersey State Census, 1915", database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:QV9W-WW8H : accessed 23 November 2015), William Dixon, 1915.

1920 United States Federal Census (Provo, UT, USA, Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010), Ancestry.com, Year: 1920; Census Place: Elizabeth City Ward 10, Union, New Jersey; Roll: T625_1070; Page: 10A; Enumeration District: 97; Image: 823. Record for Wallace Dickson.


  1. I would be surprised if someone of that era took any legal action to reverse their first and middle names. In 1905 even having two names was just starting to get popular. A hundred years earlier and few people had a middle name (some Germans excepted). Also in 1905 not a lot of states had well established centralized recording of births. It strikes me that name order--like spelling before it--was a bit fluid. A fair number of examples of this in my own family tree. Another thought: since social security IDs (that were not supposed to be IDs) are one thing that has really locked people in to a first name, middle name, last name format, it may be that the choosing of name order at the time of application for social security may have been viewed as a "legal" change of sorts. I can tell you that these days if you have a court order that gives one name and a social security card with another, your employer, school, etc. is going to call you by what is on the social security card, not what's on the court order.

  2. Hi Unknown,

    Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. I appreciate your insights on names, etc. The idea of going through the trouble to legally reverse the order of your first and middle names always seemed rather drastic to me. I know plenty of people who go by their middle name. I always thought there had to be more to the story.

    I just received a copy of my grandfather's birth record in the mail. It had some surprises on it. I'll be writing about it soon, so stay tuned!

  3. I'm not all that unknown. I'm Amy. Just in case my name doesn't pop up this time either.

  4. Today, I went to the beawch wijth my kids. I found a sea shell annd gave it
    to myy 4 year old daughter and said "You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear." Shee placed the sheell to her ear
    and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinnched her ear.
    She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is entirely offf ttopic
    but I had tto tell someone!

    1. Hiya, not sure who you are, but that is a funny story. I have much happier memories of digging for hermit crabs at the Jersey Shore when I was a kid. Hopefully your daughter will recover and learn to love the beach!