What’s in a Name?

Editor’s note: I began this research for my Dad before he died this winter on his 90th birthday, January 25, 2021. I write this post in loving memory of my Dad.

James Madison Ragland

My father, James Madison Ragland (1931-2021) was named after the first Ragland to bear the name James Madison Ragland. 

1743, Virginia

The first James Madison Ragland was born in the fourth generation (as best as I can tell) of the Raglands in America (1743-1818).

First Generation 

Evan Ragland was the first of our tree to immigrate from Wales to Colonial Virginia. He married Susanna Pettus and together they had five children:

  1. Catherine Ragland was born in 1681 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia
  2. Evan Ragland, 1683-1739 
  3. Thomas Ragland, 1685- 1719
  4. Stephen Ragland, born 1688-1747
  5. John Ragland, born 1690-1751

Second Generation

My history continues through Evan’s son, Nathaniel James.

Nathaniel was born in 1707 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia and died in 1760. Like his father and grandfather, he was a farmer. About 1735, Nathaniel married Elizabeth Love (1714) and they had two children before her death:

  1. John (1736-1737)
  2. Nathaniel (1738 to about 1769)

Nathaniel remarries in about 1742 to Belinda Blandina. Together they had eight children.

  1. James Madison (1743-1818)
  2. Joseph (about 1757-1810)
  3. Samuel (about 1747-1799)
  4. William (1753-1805)
  5. Nancy (1755-)
  6. David (about 1757-1810)
  7. Edmund (1758-1818)
  8. Elizabeth (about 1760-1814).

What’s in a Name?

Why did the Ragland’s of Virginia start a tradition of naming their sons, James Madison? 

I confess to being perplexed. Nathaniel died before the Revolutionary War so that’s not the connection. Was it because Ragland farm was near Montpelier, the Madison plantation? Or, did they know Dolly Todd Madison because she lived in the same county? 

It’s all conjecture on my part but still this first James Madison Ragland was born to a contemporary of James Madison, the fourth president and architect of the US Constitution and so begins a tradition within the Ragland Family Tree of naming future generations James Madison.

It’s not just my branch within the Ragland Family Tree that bears witness to James Madison. I found namesakes throughout the many limbs and branches of the tree. 

And my Dad, James Madison Ragland (1931-2021) was the seventh generation descendent of the original James Madison Ragland. Did I answer his question about the origin of his name? Not really but he died proud that his family heritage is tied with the founding of the nation we live in today.


1 My thanks to Bill Ragland of Clinton, Missouri for his extensive Ragland Ancestry research.

Debora Buerk
Writer, Editor. and
sometimes family historian