Format 
Page no. 
Search this text 
Serial: Appletons' journal: a magazine of general literature.
Title: American Patronymics [Volume 5, Issue 109, Apr 29, 1871; pp. 499-501]
Author: Crane, W. W.
Article URL: http://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moajrnl/acw8433.1-05.109/504
Table of contents | Add to bookbag
Previous PageNext Page
500 AJIIEBICAN PA TI? ONY3IICS. [Arnui, 29, some of their bearers to be totally different in derivation and mean ing. Thus we find Mr. Smythe disavowing all connection with the plebeian Smith, whose descent from a smiter of metal not covering human flesh is far too plain; and it is said that in the east of Eng land there are people, otherwise rational, who actually spell their name Smijth, and disclaim any relationship to either of the others. So, also we hear of Dixons who profess to be altogether separate from the common herd of Dicksons. They stoutly maintain that Dixon is a Hispanized form of Dijon; for, say they, x and j are the same in Spanish, and Burgundy is not very far from Spain. Whether or not the family was of old seized and possessed of the town, and allowed it, as a favor, to take their name, does not appear. Mr. Bowditch, in his valuable and attractive work on "Suffolk Surnames," gives us much information respecting the names most common in Boston and its vicinity, touching also upon some cases belonging to other localities. Indeed, this work, while presenting its facts in the most amusing and entertaining manner, probably exhausts the particular branch of the subject of which it treats. And, as the surnames of the colonists on the Atlantic coast were, except in New York, almost entirely British, the work applies, in a great measure, to the names of the whole country. It is true that the Norman element seems to prevail in Virginia to a greater extent than in most other States; but this does not make a very material difference. The most striking features of our patronymic system, however, take their origin from another source. They are distinctively Ameri can, and have been produced by the extraordinary mixture of diverse elements that has been and is still taking place on our soil. The sign-boards of foreign tradesmen in the streets of our cities make those thoroughfares look like portions of a great world's fair. But, while they present a source of much interest to the philologer, the ordinary passer-by looks upon them as combinations of many con sonants and few vowels (in most cases), for which he can see no kind of reason. The German names are, according to the popular view, bad enough, and seem, with their frequent use of schw, chst, pf, dt, etc., to be fearfully and wonderfully made. The length of their names, also, constitutes a pet grievance of the average American. Smith, Jones, Brown, and Cox, cannot see why any man should "go to work and call himself" Priesterjahn (a name redolent of the middle ages, with their wondrous stories of the Abyssinian king), Schnaupften schmachter, or Von der Loewenhofenstein. The German Jews, however, with their gorgeous appellations, de scriptive of blooming mountains, valleys of roses or lilies, flowery fountains, and streams of love, have been able to present titles which, if not appropriate, are certainly not ineuphonious or hard to pronounce. But it is against our Slavonic and Hungarian fellow-citizens that the injured American has the strongest case to present. They are to him a sad stumbling-block, and he has been known to wax eloquent thereupon. If he knew that in the Magyar language sz is simply our s (that letter, with them, being equivalent to our sh), he would, perhaps, look upon Szemelenyi with less disfavor. So, also, if he knew that cz is the Polish and Bohemian way of conveying the sound of our oh, and that their w resembles the English v, it might mitigate his wrath at seeing the sign of Mr. Wladimir Czernikowski. As it is, after partially recovering from a strong sense of personal injury, he proceeds to do the best he can about pronouncing it. His laudable efforts in this direction remind us of the laborious attempt once made by the French Assembly and the Paris papers to compass the name of Schiller. M. Regnier, in his " (Euvres de Schiller," tells us that the Assembly of 1792, in conferring the title of French citizen on the German poet, converted his name into Giller. The.~oniteur thought this too French to be correct, and so changed it to Gilleers. The Bulletin des Lois, utterly unable to comprehend this, fell back upon Monsieur Gille. With this indorsement on it, the letter went the round of the German post-offices, and reached the poet five years afterward, when his opinion of the French Revolution had entirely changed. Our supposititious American does not have much better success. He gets up some kind of substitute, however, and the foreigner is obliged to receive this in lieu of his proper name, and be known by it always afterward. This seems to have been the actual origin of many apparently anomalous names, now common in various parts of the United States. In some portions of the country, particularly in Pennsylvania, numbers of German names have become Americanized. Thus, Albrecht has become Albert or Allbright; Riuppert, or Ruprecht, Ru pert; JMueller, or Mfidler, Miller; Hauck, Houck; Hofmann, Hoffman; Schneider, Snyder; Kraemer, or Krdmer, Creamer; Griinebaum, Green baum; and Baumgdrtner, Bumgardner. In many cases of this kind the naturalized form is really a com plete or partial translation of the original German name. But this generally occurs where there is a similarity of sound as well as of meaning, as in the names MiiUller and Griinebaum. Sometimes, too, these Teutonic patronymics bear some resemblance to English words of totally different signification; and the change, in such instances, produces a singular effect. For example, there are, in the Shenan doah Valley of Virginia, persons of German descent, named Neiswa ner, who seem to be in considerable danger of acquiring and re taining, instead thereof, the rather extraordinary designation "Ice water." The Knickerbocker names form a singular exception to the rule. They have, with a few exceptions, retained, not only their proper spelling, but also the true Dutch pronunciation-the peculiar sounds of oe, uy, sch, etc., so characteristic of the Dutch language, being notably preserved. Markoe is still Marcoo in sound, and Schuyler has never ceased to be Skyler; while Ten Broek and Van Rensselaer are pronounced very nearly as of old. This is probably owing to the fact that these names were commonly known in Nieuw Nederlanden when the English first came there, and consequently the new-comers adopted and transmitted to posterity the pronunciations that had already be come established. The American names of French extraction have also, in many cases, kept their proper spelling. Their sound, however, has almost invariably been altered, and some have been corrupted in both re spects. The aristocratic De Rosset, though allowed to keep its form, is pronounced Derozit; Deveraux is called Debro; and the Gallic Jacques must submit to being addressed as Jakes. The modus operandi employed in the construction of these popular ized French names may be illustrated by an incident that occurred during our late war. When Colonel D'Epineuil's zouave-corps of French residents went to join the Army of the Potomac, the people in the districts through which it paqsed inquired of the men, as usual, what regiment it was. One individual, in particular, was assiduous in gaining the desired information. Having obtained it, he came back, with the look of one conscious but not proud of.his superior knowl edge, and finally, in answer to numerous inquiries, condescended to explain that they were the "Death-knell Zouaves." The freedmen of the South, particularly those of the cotton-growing States, many of whom possessed but one name before the war, have since had an opportunity to indulge their tastes in the selection of such as suited them. Many have taken the titles of their former owners; and quite a large number, also, have appropriated that of Mr. Lincoln, of General Grant, or of some other prominent man on the Federal side. Some, however, have given full sway to their fancies, and have selected titles that are, to say the least, thoroughly original. It is probable, therefore, that we shall hereafter meet with whole families belonging to this race who rejoice in the somewhat ambiguous appellations of Coonskin, Possumcatcher, Turkeyfoot, or Christmasday. But to what a condition will American surnames be brought when the "coming man," the veritable "Shon" himself, shall consummate his much-talked-of advent! Verily, O Koopmanshaap, you will have much to answer for! Your true Mongolian, of course, considers his pig-tail and wooden shoes a spectacle at which the ignorant and degraded inhabitants of this uncivilized country ought to be duly edified. With the dulcet sounds of his musical language, also, he expects us to be much impressed; and the idea of his actually exchanging his own melodious name for one common among the outside barbarians would strike him with horror. In California and Nevada the signs of Hop Long and Ah Chung are quite familiar, while the celestial clothes-dealer displays over his door the appropriate title Try On. A Californian tradition tells of a travelling painter who was engaged by a prominent Asiatic washer and ironer to paint him a sign whereby men should know that Kt-tzktcheu-whang (being a little rusty in my Chinese, perhaps I am not exactly right about the name; but it was something of that pleasing nature) there conducted the laundry-business in the most supreme, ineffable, and celestial manner. The result was, that a sign was painted, A4MERICAN_ PA4 TR OXYMICS. 500 [APp.m 29,
Previous PageNext Page