I have always been fascinated by language, specifically where it originates and how it adapts, mutates, and relates to other languages. That is why I found the recent series of blogs by Andrew’s Kindred so intriguing. It combined my love of etymology with my love of genealogy. I was so inspired, in fact, that I decided to try my hand at chronicling the origins of our families’ surnames.
This is the first installment of a series of posts documenting the etymology of many of our families’ surnames (recent and distant, direct and indirect.)
Since A is the first letter of the alphabet, let’s start there:
Abernathy (my mother’s paternal line)
Scottish—This famous clan surname has an uncertain etymology. It would seem that the name is locational from the Monastery of Abernethy in Strathearn; however, it is possible that the origin might be occupational. In ancient times, families would be granted a hereditary status for maintaining and improving church lands and property. This was a form of over-tenancy common in Gaelic regions as the erenagh, a lay lord—in the case of Abernethy, an abbot—whose family held the office from generation to generation. What is known is that the first nameholder Áed, son of Gille Míchéil. Áed was the Abbot of Abernethy, and he was succeeded by his son Orm.
Achenbach (my father’s paternal line)
German—Habitational name from places in Hesse and Westphalia named Achenbach, from the obsolete word ach or ache, meaning running water or stream, and the word bach, meaning brook.
Addleborough (my mother’s maternal line)
English—A possible locational surname for person originating from either Aldborough or Attleborough. Aldborough is a village in the civil parish of Boroughbridge in the Borough of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, England. In the Domesday Book, Aldborough was referred to as Burgh (from the Old English word, burh, meaning ancient fortification). By 1145, the prefix ald (meaning old) had been added. Attleborough is a market town and civil parish between Norwich and Thetford in Norfolk, England. The Anglo-Saxon foundation of the settlement is unrecorded. A popular theory of the town’s origin makes it a foundation of an Atlinge, and certainly burgh (or burh) indicates that it was fortified at an early date. According to the mid-12th Century hagiographer of Saint Edmund, Galfridus de Fontibus, Athla was the founder of the ancient and royal town of Attleborough in Norfolk. In the Domesday Book, it is referred to as Attleburc.
Alden (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—Alden is a medieval English surname, deriving from the personal name of the pre-7th Century ealdwine, meaning old friend. The Latinized version, Aldanus, and Alden are recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086. Another early recording although not as a surname is that of Gamel filius Alden in the Pipe Rolls of Westmorland in 1196.
Allemong/Allamon (my spouse’s stepfather’s paternal family)
German—This surname derives from the Alemanni were a confederation of Germanic tribes on the upper Rhine river. First mentioned by Cassius Dio in the context of the campaign of Caracalla of 213, the Alemanni captured the Agri Decumates in 260, and later expanded into present-day Alsace, and northern Switzerland, leading to the establishment of the Old High German language in those regions. In 496, the Alemanni were conquered by Frankish leader Clovis and incorporated into his fold. Mentioned as still pagan allies of the Christian Franks, the Alemanni were gradually Christianized during the 7th Century. The Pactus Alamannorum is a record of their customary law during this period. Until the 8th Century, Frankish suzerainty over Alemannia was mostly nominal. But after an uprising by Theudebald, Duke of Alamannia, Carloman executed the Alamannic nobility and installed Frankish dukes. During the later and weaker years of the Carolingian Empire the Alemannic counts became almost independent, and a struggle for supremacy took place between them and the Bishopric of Constance. The chief family in Alamannia was that of the counts of Raetia Curiensis, who were sometimes called margraves. One such margrave, Burchard II, established the Duchy of Swabia, which was recognized by Henry the Fowler in 919 and became a stem duchy of the Holy Roman Empire. The area settled by the Alemanni corresponds roughly to the area where Alemannic German dialects remain spoken, including German Swabia and Baden, French Alsace, German-speaking Switzerland, and Austrian Vorarlberg.
Allen (my mother’s maternal line)
English—This distinguished surname, with more than 50 heraldic Coats of Arms granted to name holders and having several notable entries in the British Dictionary of National Biography, is equally widespread in England, Scotland and Ireland. It derives from the Gaelic and Breton personal name of the pre-Christian era Ailin, which loosely translates as little rock, although it may also mean harmony. The first recorded name bearer was Alawn, a legendary poet of the 5th Century, reputed to be one of the three foremost musicians of the period. From early times the spelling form has varied considerably not least in the Celtic countries where it has ranged from Eilian to Alwyn and Alleyne. The Bretons, who were originally British settlers in France, returned as invaders with William, Duke of Normandy, otherwise known as The Conqueror, in 1066; in so doing, it is claimed, re-introduced the name into England. Certainly Alanus, without a surname, is recorded in the Domesday Book for the county of Suffolk.
Ames (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is of medieval English origin, and derives from the Old French given name (or nickname) Amis, meaning friends, ultimately from the Latin amicus, a derivative of amare, a word that means to love. The name was introduced into England after the Norman Conquest of 1066, and the forms Amicia (feminine) and Amicus (masculine) are recorded respectively in documents relating to the Danelaw, Lincolnshire, dated 1189, and in the Curia Regis Rolls of Hertfordshire, dated 1211. One Rogerus filius (son of) Ami was noted in the Cartulary of Ramsey Abbey, Norfolk, circa 1250, and a Robert Amys appears in the 1273 Hundred Rolls of Cambridgeshire.
Anderson (my spouse’s father’s maternal line and my brother-in-law’s maternal family)
English and Scottish— Of English and Scottish origin, this surname is a patronymic of the surname Andrew, which is derived from the personal name from the Greek Andreas, a derivative of andreios, mainly from aner, meaning man, male. The personal name was first recorded as Andreas in the Domesday Book, and the surname was first recorded in Scotland with one John Andree, who was present at the perambulation of the boundaries of Kyrknes and Louchor in 1395.
Appleton (my brother-in-law’s maternal family)
English—Of Anglo-Saxon origin, this surname is locational. Several places are called Appleton, in the counties of Cumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire, Norfolk, Cheshire, Berkshire and Kent. Recorded as Apeltun and Epletune in the Domesday Book for the various counties, the name derives from the Old English pre-7th Century word aeppeltun, meaing an orchard—a compound of aeppel, an apple, and tun, an enclosure or settlement.
Arbaugh (my spouse’s father’s maternal line)
German—A form of Arbach, this surname is a habitational name from any of several places called Arbach, as for example a village in the Rhineland, west of Koblenz, which is named from Middle High German ar(n), meaning eagle, and bach, meaning brook.
Archambault (my brother-in-law’s paternal family)
French—This surname was originally derived from the Latin word Arcambaldus. However, according to etymologists, this Old French personal name of Germanic origin, is composed of the Old High German word ercan, meaning precious or excellent, and bald, meaning bold or daring.
Ardinger (my father’s maternal line)
German—A varient of Erdinger, this locational surname for person originating from Erding, one of the oldest parts of Bavaria. Erding was located midway between two centers of power in the Wittelsbach state, Munich and Landshut. Circa 1230, a castle was built on the River Sempt in order to secure the road. This castle grew to become the city of Erding.
Arenghi (my spouse’s father’s paternal line)
Italian—From the Medieval Latin word, arengum, meaning ring or circle, Arenghi is the plural form of Arengo. The Arengo was the name of the assembly that ruled San Marino, from the 5th Century to 1243. San Marino might possibly be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world, as the continuation of the monastic community founded on 3 Sep 301, by stonecutter Marinus of Arba. Legend has it that Marinus left Rab, then the Roman colony of Arba, in 257, when the future emperor Diocletian issued a decree calling for the reconstruction of the city walls of Rimini, which had been destroyed by Liburnian pirates.
Arter (my spouse’s stepmother’s paternal family)
Scottish and English—This surname is the subject of some controversy regarding its origins. Certainly, it derives from the Celtic personal name Arthur, but there is some doubt as to the etymology of the name. It is thought to be composed of Old Welsh word arth, meaning bear, and the Old Welsh word gwr, meaning hero. The Old Norse personal name Arnthorr, derived from arn, eagle, and Þórr (pronounced Thor), the God of Thunder, has been absorbed into the Celtic name Arthur, the legendary King of the Britons, who fought against the Saxon invaders.
Artley/Ertley (my spouse’s stepmother’s paternal family)
English and German—Although this is a known English surname, the original family surname was spelled Ertley. This family was of Germanic background. As of this time, I have discovered no concrete entomology for this surname. However, I can postulate that this name derives from Ertle/Ertel, a surname originating from South Germany from the Old High German word ort, meaning point (of a sword or lance), tip, or extremity. Specifically, this was a German name for someone who lived at the top of a hill or at the end of a settlement.
Asbury (my mother’s paternal line)
English—This name is of English locational origin from a place in Cheshire called Astbury, recorded as Esteburi circa 1100 in the Pipe Rolls of that county, and as Asteburi circa 1180. The name derives from the Old English pre-7th Century word este, meaning east, and burh, meaning a fortified town.
Atwood (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This is a very old topographical surname of Anglo-Saxon origin for someone who lived by a wood. The name derives from the Old English pre-7th Century word aet, meaning at, with the Old English word wudu, meaning wood.
Audley (my spouse’s mother’s paternal line)
English—This surname is of Anglo-Saxon origin and is a locational in origin, deriving from the place called Audley in Staffordshire. This place name is recorded in the Domesday Book as Aldidelege and in the Staffordshire Pipe Rolls of 1182 as Aldithelega. The name means Ealdgith’s glade, derived from the Old English pre-7th Century female personal name Ealdgyð, composed of the elements eald, meaning old; gyth, meaning battle; and leah, meaning clearing in the woods, glade.
Avent (my mother’s maternal line)
French and English—This surname is of Old French origin, introduced into England after the Norman Conquest of 1066. It derives from the Old French word auenant, the present participle of the verb avenir, meaning to arrive, happen, or come to.
Aynsdale (my mother’s paternal line)
English—Although a variation of spelling, the origin of this surname is most likely locational, referring to one who originated in Ainsdale, in the county of Lancashire.
Well, that’s it for the A surnames in our families. Next up are the B names…