Sunday, February 27, 2011

What’s in a name?

In "Going Gently" John Gray wrote of Names and titles . Surnames became necessary when governments introduced personal taxation. In England this was sometimes known as Poll Tax. Throughout the centuries, surnames in every country have continued to "develop" often leading to astonishing variants of the original spelling.

My mother’s family name was Walker and it is said to be the third most common first, third or middle name in the western world. Walker’s were ‘travellers’ – tinkers, tinsmiths, cloth pullers (a Fuller), carpenters and joiners – so you can see how many ‘Walker’s’ got assigned different names – Tinker, Smith, Puller, Fuller, Carpenter, Joyner, etc. Walker is also an occupational surname for a fuller, or one who "walked" on raw, damp cloth in order to thicken it. Derived from the Middle English walkcere, meaning "a fuller of cloth," and the Old English wealcan, "to walk or tread."

What name you got depended upon how insistent you were on what it was and how determined you were that it was spelt and pronounced correctly – otherwise some government official, a magistrate or a tax collector for example, would write what they felt disposed to call you and how they chose to spell and pronounce it. Usually what you got stuck with what they recorded (happened a lot with Australia's early convicts, many of whom would not have known a 'family' as we know it!) Often you were given some means of ‘Identity’ that was common to all officials – your ‘Mark’ –  and 'Marks' were very common in trades, especially 'smithing', so, if you did not have a ‘mark’ you were assigned an ‘X’ as your mark!

As an occupational name, a "fuller" was the regular term during the Middle Ages in West and Northern England, but now the surname is fairly widespread. The highest concentrations are in a patch of Northwest England centred on Leeds, and in the Grampian Region of Scotland. As a Scots surname it has also been used as a translation of Gaelic Mac an Fhucadair. Walker’s are still common to Northumberland and it is reported that the origin of the name may also be from Middle English “wall + kerr” (Roman) wall + marsh.

In the period somewhere around 1100AD the descendants of my mother’s family made their way to the coast of Wales, across Mount Snowdon and settled in a place called Aberystwyth in the County Ceredigion, where Wales' heart beats strong. This is a steadfastly nationalist area, with a spirit forged through the 11th-century Norman resistance. Here, far from the English border, Welsh remains the first language of three out of every five inhabitants. Aberystwyth is the county capital, an old seaside town of traditional values fused with modern university verve. (For steam buffs, it's also the place to ride one of the country's best railways.)

Our current family name is "Daley", another name which has been very Anglicised - Daley, Dalley, Daly, Dally, even D'Oyley and Doyle. Its origins are Celtic Irish O'Dálaigh -descendant of Dálach'. (Dál meant `assembly'; the modern Irish word, of course, is dáil.) The "O" was dropped by the family when the English invaders recognised the way it was used (something like the same way the Scots used "Mac"). Our family male elders were, reputedly, 'counsellors' within the clans, tho’ it depends on who’s story you listen to as some said they were clever connivers, tricksters, even 'con men', who were able to twist men’s minds with words - they were renowned for having "the gift of the gab" and to have 'kissed the blarney'! Some also say they fled Ireland and dropped the “O” as they had made too many enemies of opposition clan chieftains who often came out on the ‘sticky end’ of the O'Dálaigh’s negotiations. Others say they were hounded and hunted by the English because of the influence they had over the chieftans for other clans. They were men of importance amongst the clans and reputed to have set up a series of intricate non-verbal communications that allowed clans people to give 'pre-warning' to others, particularly travellers, of some risk or peril ahead - a marking on a gate, a cloth slung from a window, an open gate, etc. Some were so hunted that they fled across the Irish Sea from Wicklow, Wexford and Waterford to Wales where they found a receptive cultural group who appreciated their song, verse and wisdom and they integrated into the Welsh community, changing the name of O'Dálaigh to fit in more with their locale.

The O'Dálaigh were a literary family and the males, especially the eldest males, were always well educated. Cuconnacht O’Dálaigh was a 12th century poet in Meath; Donagh O'Dálaigh, known as `the Irish Ovid', died in County Clare in 1244; and Muireadhach Albanach O'Dálaigh is remembered for his spirited poetic defence of his action in killing of a tax collector.

It appears the O'Dálaigh males and the Walker females were well matched from Aberystwyth to Llandudno!

So I have no worries about 'continuing the family name', 'cos, in many ways my ancestors are like the Romany Gypsies - you never know where they will pop up or in what guise but they have their own ways of making themselves known to each other - a trait derived to aid survival! Here are a few examples of key phrases by which our family recognise each other - by statement and response and always, as educated people, using Latin!

Cura et industria By care and industry

Dum spiro spero While I have breath I hope

Honesta quam magna How great are honourable things

 In Domino confido I trust in the Lord

 Juncti valemus Being joined we are powerful

Nec sperno, nec timeo I neither despise nor fear

Nil conscire sibi To have a conscience free from guilt. (To be conscious of nothing of one’self, i.e. against one’s self .)

 Nil desperandum Never despair

No sine periculo I swim without danger

 Non est vivere sed valere vita Not living, but health is life

Passibus œquis (Walk) With measured tread

Per varios casus By various fortunes

Prœsta et persta Promise and persevere

Semper vigilans Always watchful


Sharon said...

How interesting and wonderful that you can trace your ancestry back so far! I am in awe!

Jim said...

What's in a name? Great read John! Very interesting about your 'names' too. Gotta love the Irish!
My mother was a MacIsaac. There is a 'story' as to their origin. Way, way back three Hebrew brothers arrived in what is now Ireland and they settled there marrying the 'local' gals. Everyone referred to them as Isaac and that name 'stuck' until they moved to Scotland and helped out the MacDonalds in their battles against the Campbells. For their efforts, the MacDonalds 'allowed' the Isaacs to 'adopt' their tartan because of course they wouldn't have one and 'gave' them the Mac to use.....MacIsaac. Thus goes the tale! A lot of the MacIsaacs are of darker complextion than other 'Scots' and a few of us have been thought to be either of Jewish or Greek descent.