Scotch-Irish-L ArchivesArchiver > Scotch-Irish > 2011-12 > 1323968129
Subject: Re: [S-I] Surname Spellingssss in Deeds/Wills by Clerks
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2011 16:55:29 +0000 (UTC)
Hi Dave, we need to give up the notion of 'correctness' when researching surnames. That's a 20th century notion -- a correct way to spell a surname. It assumes the person spelling it knows what the correct spelling is, but when your grandparents were illiterate, how could they possibly tell you what the correct spelling 'is'? There is no correct spelling because the name actually had never been written down, except by some priests and clerks.
It's not just a matter of reading and writing. The fact is, until very recently, our culture was oral. The important stuff was oral. Eventually some bloke came along and wrote things down to preserve it. Smart people knew that was wrong because it would kill the story or whatever it is: destroy the organic fluidity that allowed the story or the name or whatever to change to reflect changing life conditions, changing events, etc, etc etc. Every time you had an important experience such as killing a few of the enemy (the guys living on the next hill), your name could change to reflect that.
Currently we like things spelled the same way. That doesn't mean anything at all in the past. It's quite impossible to spell a name correctly that has never been spelled at all! Everyone knows what it is so why write it down? the only reasons are to make you pay taxes or control you in some way. Many of your ancestors would have thought you were daft to even ask the question of how to spell a name. They'd never thought about it at all since they were illiterate.
These surnames aren't like stones in a river bed: each unique and solid as can be. They're fluid. At one time in Scotland there were many many more patrynomics that were not necessarily fixed surnames. They coalesced dynamically into tribes of various sizes, that identified themselves by a name. At first a totem animal, later the important founder (even if he was a seal). Then bigger tribes gobbled them up and forced them to assume the name of their founder and then that one was gobbled up too. Pretty soon there were very few clans or surnames in Scotland. Or so the scholars decided. I am just repeating, like a parrot, what I have read.
This is kind of at odds, though, with populist notions of surnames in Scotland: for example that everyone with a su rname is related in a big happy clan. No. The DNA and the historians tell us they were territorial. If you lived in their area, you owed allegiance to that clan. The day after Clan Campbell took over the McDonald lands little baby Campbells began to appear in the baptismal rolls. Not nine months after the rapes. The next DAY. That's because the surname had nothing to do with genes or even your father. It had to do with your clan and when it changed, your 'surname' changed too.
Check out the front essay of Black "Surnames of Scotland". It explains these things.
These things didn't happen so much in the lowlands. Scott was amazed to meet a man on a second hunting trip in the highlands. However this time he was using a different surname. Scott queried him: Aren't you the man I met 20 years ago who was then named ....? The man said yes, but he'd moved over the hill since. So even in Sir Walter's day the lowland Scots had stopped these highlander Gaelic customs and accepted fixed (though badly spelled) surnames. However in Ulster this occurred much later because the Gaelic Irish were in charge. This story is in Black's "Surnames of Scotland". He also shows how fast Irish assimilated into native Scots in three generations (or less).
My grandmother was conceived in Polmont, Scotland (near Falkirk) and born in Ohio. This area is close to Edinburgh and squarely in the middle of the happy lowlands of Scotland. Her mother's maiden name was always hard for us to get. She said something like Mummich. It was clearly not an English name. Later we got her birth certificate and it was spelled (usually) Mennoch or in various records Munnoch. Now I would not pronounce the spelled name as my grandmother said it. It was almost as if my grandmother was very uncomfortable with the final ch sound, which is found in Scots and German but not English. Though she spoke, when need be, a very very broad Scots that no English speaker could understand. We know because a cousin on my mother's side married a gal from Glasgow. No one could talk to her at all, so we brought over my dad's mother. They conversed for a very long time in broad Scots with no difficulty though we could not understand a word either said.
The surname is a very old one and seems indiginous to the area. It would seem to suggest that Gaelic was once spoken there. Donno....but in this case it seems the English spelling didn't match the Scots pronunciation at all unless the spelling was also Scots and pronounced differently. However saying that surname was always uncomfortable for my grandmother because she lapsed into broad Scots to say it and no English speaking ear could really grasp it. What was it originally? Some unpronounceable Pictish word, maybe? Perhaps there was a rune that represented it, but more likely it was never spelled at all until only a few hundred years ago when the priest wanted to document the baptism of a child. He'd have had to come out from Falkirk. No church in Polmont till much later on, long after the monastery land was given over to the Hamiltons.
Andrew Jackson would have liked your Ulster Covenant ancestors. He once said he had no respect for a man who could only spell a word one way. Of course if you tell your spelling teacher that you'll have an opportunity to learn whether corporal punishment is practiced in your school system <grin>.
----- Original Message -----
From: "D H" <>
Sent: Thursday, December 15, 2011 10:41:12 AM
Subject: [S-I] Surname Spellingssss in Deeds/Wills by Clerks
It's not just clerks.... I've a Will signed by a person, a codicil added signed by the same person and both signatures are spelled differently. This
man could read and write, so why 2 versions?
On the Ulster Covenant I've 5 sisters, 3 spell their name one way and other 2 a different way, they were educated, some were trained teachers. So
which name is correct? Both!
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