Friday, February 20, 2009

Anglo-Saxon fun stuff

I inhabit several e-mail lists.  On one of them, I "know" someone whose last name is Elphick.  Now, Elphick is not a very common last name.  And I doubt if anybody would associate it with anything remotely Anglo-Saxon.  But if you go back, say, 1000 years, you will find people whose given names, eventually gave rise to "Elphick".  But back in "them days", their names weren't "Elphick".  They were called "Aelfheah".  You might get a clue as to how "Aelfheah" morphed into Elphick, eventually, if you run across some Victorian writers who wrote this name as "Alphege"(it was the name of a bishop, I think, but I'd have to look this up).  Really, though, the name was "Aelfheah".  What's even more interesting is, "Aelfheah" originally meant "high elf", or maybe "arch-elf".  A bishop named Arch-elf might seem kind of strange to us, but then, such names were common 1000 years or more ago, at least in England. 


Finally, let us not forget that there are a number of last names that derive, ultimately, from Anglo-Saxon sources, and most of them are a lot more familiar than Elphick.  Godwin/Goodwin is one of these; there is a plaque at our central library dedicated to a lady with a hyphenated name(one of the names is Japanese)-Goodwin.  And then there are people called things like Dunning, which was a man's name back 1000 years or more ago.  Some first names(especially for men) have made it into the modern world, too.  How many Alfreds or Edwards  or even Harolds do you know?  Probably you know some. 


In any case, these connections to a seemingly vanished world still exist.  And that's a fun fact, if you think about it.

Anne G


  1. On the bishop, I think you are right.. I think he was Bishop of Winchester in the late 900s. I found this out when researching the setting for my paranormal mystery series set then and there.

    I wonder if "Hawthorne" is Anglo Saxon? It was not my father's last name.. his was Hass. In the first blush of early 70s feminism I changed my laast name to Hawthorne.. and never looked back. What a treat if it turns out I was true to my historical passion as well.

    Nan (no longer Nanette.. legally shortened) Hawthorne

  2. Probably a no-brainer.. but here it is:

    "Recorded in many forms including Hawthorn, Hawthorne, Hathorn, Haythorne, Hathorn, Heathorn and Hethron, this is an English topographical surname. Of medieval origins, it denotes residence at or by a bush or hedge of hawthorn. This was probably not as simple as it sounds, the 'hedge' was probably a defensive 'wall' not only to hold cattle in, but to keep marauders out! The name can be locational from the village of "Hawthorn" in County Durham. However spelt the derivation is from the Old English pre 7th Century word "haegporn" meaning "thorn used for making hedges and enclosures". The name development has included Henry atte Hauthorn of Worcester in the year 1327, Phillip Haythorn in the Subsidy Rools of the county of Surrey, in the year 1332, and Adrian Hawthorne of Oxordshire in 1551. Nathaniel Hawthorn (1804 - 1864), the American novelist and author of "The Scarlet Letter" and many other books, was a direct descendant of Major William Hathorne, one of the English puritans who settled in Massachusetts in 1630. The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of William de Hagethorn, and dated 1155. This was in the records of the Priory of Durham during the reign of King Henry 11nd of England, 1154 - 1189. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling."

    I also found a reference to the name as being Northern Irish.. I know the only other nan hawthorne I have ever found is a librarian at a university there, so she is. Probably hates me for crowding her off Google.

  3. Wasn't he the archbishop who was stoned to death (using cattle bones) by some rowdy Vikings? Cnut's time, or Sweyn's, if I remember rightly, rather than Alfred's.

    Re hawthorn, you beat me to it.

  4. Carla:

    Yeah, I think that Aelfheah *was* stoned(or something) to death by a bunch of drunken Vikings. If I said it was Alfred's time, I was probably thinking of somebody else.

  5. I see that the post is two years old so a belated thank you for the info on Anglo Saxon origins of the Hawthorne name. In the past few years I had come to realize that all the Hathorns, my branch in particular, weren't Scots as I had been told in the past. I knew that my folks came from Berkshire and had begun to suspect Saxon origins for the name after running across some Haythornthwaites. Stacye Hathorn.