Tuesday, April 14, 2015

52 ANCESTORS, 52 THEMES, No. 15: "How Do You Spell That?" SPELLING VARIANTS

This year's challenge by Amy Crow is another weekly blog, but based on Themes. Last week, it was Favourite Photo, and this week the theme is about spelling: How Do You Spell That?  

Until I married, I constantly had to spell my full name - every time.  Every year at school, every time I gave my name to any individual, teacher, secretary, friend.  I had to spell "Celia Gillespie."  Celia became CeCelia, Cecilia, Cecile, Cisily or variants, I even got 'Silly' from one confused teacher. GILLESPIE became Gilesbey, Glaspy, Glaspie, Glasby, Gilaspy, Gilezpe, and oh-so-many variants. At one point I had 22 of them, mostly from digging through parish registers. 

As a result, when I started to research my family, it felt perfectly natural to EXPECT variants in spelling, particularly with individuals pre-1840 or thereabouts. 

I used to write out as many variants as I could think of for a surname based on the sound, or on the linguistic changes ("lenition") of a change in consonant (b to v, e.g.), or based on sloppy handwriting.  With messy writing, it can have so many additional misspellings. Is that a T or an F or an I -?  an L, an S, a G -?  After the initial letter, is that an e, i, o, or even a u or v -?  m, n, u or w -?  Really, it's definitely an art to learn how to read early handwriting!  

Here are my favourite badly-spelled surnames [direct ancestors], once we get past my own original surname, GILLESPIE:

PETTYGROVE.  - Looks relatively easy to my eyes, but early forms were usually some variant of PETTIGREW.  It can be spelled with variants: two t's or one, 'grow' or 'grew' or 'grove', with an 'i' or a 'y' after pett.  Etc.  Definitely, "etc." 

TERWILLIGER.  - There are so many spellings for this 'made-in-America' surname, made up by a family in New Netherlands [which became New York when the British took over the Dutch colony]. The Dutch used the patronymic pattern of naming, but the British imposed a more formal surname requirement. Early variants of this family were 'Der Villig"  "Ter Vilig"  "van Der Villiger" (hard 'g' by the way). On the RootsWeb Terwilliger Surname Research Center website, there are 17 variants listed for this surname.  A surname which has only been extant for about 300 years.  

MEIGS - or is it MEGGS or MEGS or MEEGS?  - Actually, the first known Meggs in North America was a Vincent Meggs, who was also known as "LOVE", just to confuse the issue. One of his sons in Connecticut, John, started using the spelling MEIGS for some unknown reason.  And here we are now... 

PIERSOL - or is it Pearsall... or, variants.  Again, I've seen it spelled many ways. There's always a P, an R, an S and an L.  That is, all the consonants are included - but with variants of vowels, probably depending on the accent of the speaker or the ears of the listener.

Some interesting FIRST  names:  
TALIAFERRO Craig b. 1704 Virginia to Jane Craig and a man with surname Taliaferro or however it was spelled - which became TOLIVER in the next generation. 

ZERUBBABEL Jerome b. 1715 in Windham CT.  This one took me a little while to figure out how to say it, let alone spell it!  Truly, how could a parent look at a sweet little boy and say, "Let's call him Zerubbabel."  Boggles my mind.  This is my absolutely hands-down favourite first name. But I don't think any of my grandchildren will name any of their own children with this name, do you?

Although I am quite a good speller, I have never had a negative opinion about 'bad' spelling. The purpose of writing any words down is to ensure the purpose of the written communication will continue to be understood by any person looking at it.  Makes me want to go back to pictograms!  Thinking there is only one way to spell is a rather recent issue, and you may well find legal documents in the 1700s and even into the 1800s using a variety of spellings for an individual in only one document.  Perfectly normal, perfectly legal. Here's a link to a quick guide to the history of the English language. Scroll down to look at the various charts further down the page. That should keep anyone busy for a while!  

If any of these surnames are in your family, do let me know, and I'm happy to share what I can with you. And if there are comments or questions, please connect with me via calewis dot net or in the Comments below, and I will do my best to get back to you.  

Blogger is still not letting me "reply" to your comments, for some unknown reason.  If I don't reply to your Comment, please know that I'm totally thrilled you came to read my post and commented!  You make my day.

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Family, friends, and others - I hope you enjoy these pages about our ancestors and their lives. Genealogy has become somewhat of an obsession, more than a hobby, and definitely a wonderful mystery to dig into and discover. Enjoy my writing, and contact me at celia.winky at gmail dot com if you have anything to add to the stories. ... Celia Lewis