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The Romance of Names

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Author: Ernest Weekley
Published: 1914
Language: English
Wordcount: 64,043 / 205 pg
Flesch-Kincaid Reading Ease: 65.2
LoC Category: D
Downloads: 1,353
Added to site: 2008.01.20 19799

The interpretation of personal names has always had an attraction for the learned and others, but the first attempts to classify and explain our English surnames date, so far as my knowledge goes, from 1605. In that year Verstegan published his Restitution of Decayed Intelligence, which contains chapters on both font-names and surnames, and about the same time appeared Camden's Remains Concerning Britain, in which the same subjects are treated much more fully. Both of these learned antiquaries make excellent reading, and much curious information may be gleaned from their pages, especially those of Camden, whose position as Clarencieux King-at-Arms gave him exceptional opportunities for genealogical research. From the philological point of view they are of course untrustworthy, though less so than most modern writers on the same subject.

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of quite different Origin, and to the multitudinous forms which one single name can assume, such forms being due to local pronunciation, accidents of spelling, date of adoption, and many minor causes. It must always remembered that the majority of our surnames from the various dialects of Middle English, i.e. of a language very different from our own in spelling and sound, full of words that are now obsolete, and of others which have completely changed their form and meaning.

If we take any medieval roll of names, we see almost at a glance that four such individuals as--

John filius Simon

William de la Moor

Richard le Spicer

Robert le Long

exhaust the possibilities of English name-making--i.e. that every surname must be (i) personal, from a sire or ancestor, (ii) local, from place of residence, [Footnote: This is by far the largest class, counting by names, not individuals, and many names for which I give another explanation have also a local origin. Thus, when I say



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