Saturday, January 26, 2008

What’s in a Name?

As a genealogist, I run across unusual names all the time. Over the years, I have collected names I’m particularly fond of. First names, last names, names of places--they all amuse me. Most of my research involves England and America, so it is Anglo-Saxon names I gather.

Place Names in England
Name of places in England are wonderful. One has to question how many of the names came to be. Among my own ancestral favorites are: Swadlincote, Whipsnade, Totternhoe, Maidenhead, and Skippool, a village in the parish of Poulton-le-Fylde. Other favorites include Ightham Mote, Blubberhouses, Biggleswade, Leighton Buzzard, Sunningwell, Lostwithiel, Altarnun, Ashby de la Zouch, Peatling Parva, Chipping Sodbury, to name just a few. England has over ten thousand parishes in an area the size of North Carolina. Within each parish are numerous hamlets and villages, each with unique names. A wonderful pastime is pouring over maps of England just to read the place names.

Personal Names
It is always entertaining to find names in the records such as: Daisy Flowers, Jack Frost, Snow White, Ivory White, Forest Green, Kelly Green, Jet Black, Navy Blue, Spider Webb, Tom Turkey—all legitimate names! An unfortunate name in England is Fanny Diaper. Of course, a diaper in England is called a “nappy”, so Fanny Diaper isn't as embarrassing as it would be in the United States.

Equally as interesting is finding a listing in a record of a person whose name matches his occupation. In the England census records, it is not unusual to find a man named James Carpenter who is, in fact, a carpenter by profession or Robert Butler whose job is that of a butler.
Occupational Names
Surnames did not come into existence until about the 13th Century. Occupational surnames became a common means of acquiring a surname, such as: Baker, Shepherd, Wright, Cooper (barrel maker), Clark (a clerk), etc.

In my own experience, I have personally known a Dr. Kalm, who is a Psychiatrist, and a banker named Rich Persons. I have also found in English records Frederick Death, an undertaker in Surrey and Thomas Law, an attorney in London.

Of course, there are three other ways Anglo-Saxons acquired surnames: Patronymics, Places and Nicknames.

Patronymic names
This is when the surname is taken from the first name of the father or grandfather, such as Wilson, son of Will; Thomson, son of Thomas or simply Davis, son of David. In Ireland and Scotland, "Mac" means "son of," while "O" means "grandson of." Examples: Donalds or Donaldson - son of Donald (English); O'Donnell or O’Donald - grandson of Donald (Ireland); MacDonald - son of Donald (Scottish).

Place names as Surnames
More than half the English surnames used today derive from geographic descriptions, such as Churchill. Various suffixes which indicate a topographical feature are lee (meadow), bank, ton (town), field, house, and thorp (village).

Nicknames as Surnames
Nicknames became surnames by describing the person or his personality. Examples: Reid - red, ruddy complexion or red hair; Stout - Body size; Small - Body size; Armstrong - strong arms.

Before the 1861 Census of England was indexed, I was asked to search the census of Great Yarmouth, page by page, line by line, looking for a specific name. This took the better part of a day. I began to notice all the “Nature” names in Yarmouth. Bird surnames such as: Goose, Duck, Starling, Crow, Partridge, Owles, Sparrow, Swan, Crane, Jay, Dove, Raven, and simply Bird. Did the original bearers of these names have characteristics of birds? There were also animal names in Yarmouth such as: Rabbit, Fox, Wolf, Beaver; and earth names such as: Moss, Wood, Forest, Frost, Stone, Lake, Marsh, Greenacre, and Brooks.

My favorite English surnames
Some of my favorite names are difficult to put in just one of the above categories. Just saying them makes me chuckle. These are legitimate surnames in England: Cowmeadow, Frogpitt, Cluttterbuck, Sheepwash, Beaglehole, Middleditch, Littlejohn, Longbottom, Cakebread, Ramsbottom, Rawbones, Honeybone, Keylock, Thickpenny, Broomhead, Fairhead.

My own ancestral favorite names are Catherine Makepeace and Farmery Fullilove. How wonderful to go through life telling people your aim is to Makepeace and that you are Fullilove!

1 comment:

Marty said...

I love to pour over maps just for fun, too. I also notice the names of streets and rivers, and wonder how they came about.

There was a lady in the paper just today whose maiden name was Diaper!