Friday, February 13, 2009

The Name Game

Totternhoe Memorial Hall

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.

How did our ancestor get their names?

Place Names. Many surnames originated from the name of the place where a person was born and raised. 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 first names that go nicely with the last name, 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! Really.

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. A patronymic 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.

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, Clutterbuck, 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!

What are your favorite names?


kenju said...

I have been collecting funny/odd names for years, and posted some of them on my old blog (justaskjudy). What I wonder now is how the geneaologists of the future will view some of the current popular names, may of which are made-up.

Olive's Granddaughter said...

I've often wondered the same thing!

Olive's Granddaughter said...

Judy, Send me a link to the blog with names!

TravelinOma said...

I knew a woman named Iza Bird and a girl named Kelly Green, plus a Dr. Payne. My daughter's last name sounds like "Blue" and I suggested her twins be Hyacinth and Violet. No deal. I'll suggest Navy for her next one.

In the obituaries one time there was a lady, born on July 24th, named Utahna Deseret. And the mother of a friend was named May Day.

Fun post!

Jo said...

I live close to some of the places that you mention - Whipsnade, Totternhoe, Leighton Buzzard - so if you ever need some research doing around here let me know and I'll see what I can do.

Olive's Granddaughter said...

Thanks for the offer. My family names in that area of England are JOHNSON (gee,how common!), TEARLE, ATTWELL, BUDD and other.