Thursday, 10 June 2010

What's in a name?

What is my view of the Senatorial election candidates? As readers of this blog might expect, I have a sometimes quirky approach to these matters, and I'm proposing instead, to say "And now for something completely different".

I'm look at something distinctive about the candidates, probably of little value in assessing voting merit (although there have been some remarkably snide remarks about Irishmen on Stuart Syvret's blog), but certainly of educational value. What do their surnames mean? Where are they derived from?

Balleine writes about the origin of Jersey surnames in a 1940 article:

Surnames began to appear in the Eleventh Century. Till then everyone had been content with the one name given him at the font. But, when a dozen Jeans lived on the same fief, something had to be done to distinguish one from the other. So gradually and quite haphazard the custom arose of adding a second name to the Christian name. There was no plan or system about it. A surname at first was merely a nickname given a man by his neighbours. It was at least three hundred years before the process was complete. But by the end of the Fourteenth Century most people in France and England had a surname as well as a font name. These surnames fall into five easily distinguishable groups.(1)

What were these groups?

1) Christian names - names which became surnames, but which started life as first or "font" names. These have mutated, and are also French in form, so difficult to spot, not as easily as, for example, Elton John. Other examples - Peters, James, Simon.

2) Names from Occupations - an English example would be Archer, Carter, Barker, Baker, Thatcher or Smith.

3) Descriptive Names - These are nicknames about appearance or habits - Brown, Black, White, Longfellow, Proudfoot, Little, Large. A Jersey example might be "Le Gros"!

4) Geographical Names - These are names about the locality people come from Orange, Scott, London. Guernsey has some "De Jerseys", both Islands have "Langlois" meaning L'Anglais, the English.

5) Address Names - Rivers, Hill, Willows, Bush, Bridges. These are places people lived by within a locality such as a town or village.

And here are the candidates surnames, and their derivations:


A Jersey name: First mentioned in the Assize Roll of 1309, the derivation is probably from a parent's Christian name in the form "Baudain". Surnames Baudains, Baudain and Baldwin share the same root - Stanley Baldwin was, of course, Prime Minister in the inter-war years in the UK. In Jersey, the French form is retained. It was a name given to scores of mediaeval babies. Charlemagne had a nephew Baudain. Baudain de Beauvais, Baudain Chaudron., and Baudain du Bourg were heroes of the First Crusade.(1)


A Jersey name: Also mentioned first in the Assize Roll of 1309. It derives from the pre 12th Old French 'Cornier' a word which describes a trumpeter or herald, and a position of considerable importance. The equivalent English surname is Corner, which dates back to the Norman invasion of 1066.(2)


A Jersey name: This is a descriptive name meaning slim. But be warned - Balleine notes that "some names which sound complimentary, Le Gresley, for example, which meant slim, from the Latin gracilis, and Beloeil, beautiful-eyed, may have been given by rustic humorists to men who were conspicuously the opposite."(1)


Recorded in several spellings including Maguire, MacGuire, McGuire, and even Macquire, this is a famous Irish surname. It derives from the pre 10th century Gaelic "MagUidhir". The prefix "Mac" written as "mag" before a vowel means "son of", with the personal byname "Uidhir", the genitive of "odhar", dun-coloured.(2) Maybe that's why he wears such distinctive waist-coats!


This is an Italian "cereal" surname, referring to a producer-dealer of rice, or a "spot name", to do with someone who lived in an area where rice was grown or sold at market. Risi is another variant.(3)


This fine Irish surname, chiefly recorded in the Munster counties of Tipperary and Limerick, is an Anglicized form of the Old Gaelic "O'Maoilriain", descendant of Maolriain, a male given name, the first element of which has two possible interpretations. Firstly, "maol" may derive from the pagan Irish "mal", chief, related to the Welsh "mail", hero, and secondly, it may stem from "maol", literally meaning "bald, tonsured, but probably used here in the transferred sense of "devotee". The second element "rian" is so ancient that its meaning is obscure, however, it is believed to come from "rian", an Old Irish word for "water", thus connecting the name with the cult of a water deity; hence, "heroes of Rian", or, "worshippers of Rian". (2)


This unusual name is of Anglo-Saxon origin, and is a topographical or regional surname derived from the Old English pre 7th Century "sutherne", southern, "the man from the south". The surname has two possible interpretations; firstly, it may be a purely topographic name for someone who lived to the south of a village or settlement. Topographical surnames were among the earliest created, since both natural and man-made features in the landscape provided easily recognisable distinguishing names in the small communities of the Middle Ages. Secondly, Southern(s) may be a regional surname describing "a southern man", one who had migrated from "the south".

The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Geoffrey le Sutherne, which was dated 1243, witness in the "Assize Court Rolls of Staffordshire", during the reign of King Henry 111, known as "The Frenchman", 1216 - 1272. (2)


A Jersey name: Syvret is another Christian name that became a surname. It is either a French form of Selfrid (Two Selfrids, Bishops of Chichester, are called Sifroi by the Norman Chroniclers) or of the Latin Severiacus. (1)

It is a development from the pre 7th century personal name 'Sige-raed'. Meaning "Victory-counsel" it is composed of the elements "sige" meaning victory, and "roed", counsel. Whether this may have originally described a sort of army staff officer, one who gave wise counsel in the event of war, is unclear. What is clear is that the surname is one of the earliest on record and that in the modern idiom, the spelling forms include Sirette, Sired, Syred, Syrad, Syratt, Syvrett and possibly others.(2)


A Jersey name, in part. Remon is a Christian name that became a surname, from the French Raymond, or the Teutonic Ragenmund. Mentioned in the Extente Of 1331. "Raginmund" (perhaps the earliest form) is a compound of the elements "ragin", counsel, and "mund", protection.(1)

Whorral is English, and is recorded in the spellings of Worral, Worrall, Worrell, Worrill, Whorall, Wyrall and Wyrill, is of English origin. It is a locational name either from the district of Wirral in Cheshire, or from the village of Worrall near Sheffield in the West Riding of Yorkshire. The former place, recorded variously as "Wirhealum" and "Wirheale" in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle dated 894, and as "Wirhale", circa 1100, in the Cartulary of the Abbey of St. Werburgh, Chester, is so called from the Old English pre 7th Century "wir", meaning a bog, and "halh", meaning a corner or "a piece of flat alluvial land by the side of a river".(2)

(1) G.R. Balleine, Societe Jersaise Bulletin, 1940
available as a booklet at
(3) "Our Italian surnames" by Joseph Guerin Fucilla

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